Death and the Maiden Summary

Paulina Escobar was kidnapped and tortured by a man who was never brought to justice. Her husband, Gerardo, has just been appointed to a special commission charged with investigating the many crimes of the recently overthrown dictatorship. Paulina knows that the commission won't bother with her case.

  • Gerardo gets a flat tire on his way back from his meeting with the President of the newly established democracy. Doctor Roberto Miranda happens to drive by and offers Gerardo a ride. Hearing Miranda's voice, Paulina becomes convinced that Miranda is the man who kidnapped and tortured her.
  • Paulina ties Miranda to a chair. Searching his car, she finds a tape of Schubert's Death and the Maiden, which was playing in the background while she was tortured. She takes this as proof of Miranda's guilt. Determined to get justice, Paulina insists that Gerardo act as Miranda's defense lawyer in the trial she conducts.
  • Despite his misgivings, Gerardo agrees to defend Miranda, if only to save his life. At first, Miranda professes his innocence, but in Act III Paulina elicits his confession. He admits that he tortured her and explains that he played Death and the Maiden in order to comfort his victims. In the end, it's unclear whether Paulina kills Miranda or not.

Act I Summary

(Drama for Students)

When the play opens, "The time is the present and the place, a country that is probably Chile but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship." At the Escobars' secluded beach house it is late at night and an uneaten dinner is laid out on the table. Paulina sits on the terrace, startled by the sound of an unfamiliar car motor. She takes a gun from the sideboard, and stands listening as her husband, Gerardo, speaks to the driver of the car and then enters the house. Paulina is disturbed by the unusual occurrence, and Gerardo explains that he had a flat tire on the way home and accepted a ride from a passing motorist. He blames Paulina for the spare tire being flat and for the jack being gone (Paulina lent it to her mother). The couple argue about these details and then discuss Gerardo's meeting with the country's president, from which he has just returned.

Gerardo has been named to a commission examining human rights abuses under the country's previous government, a military dictatorship. (It is revealed through dialogue that Paulina was arrested and tortured while attending medical school during this dictatorship.) Paulina has mixed feelings; she is suspicious of the commission, which is only to investigate cases of abuse that ended in death. A case like Paulina's own abduction, therefore, would not fall within the commission's jurisdiction. Paulina is still traumatized by the memory of being raped and tortured, but she has never discussed details of her experience with her mother or other people close to her.

Gerardo agrees with Paulina that the power of...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

Act II Summary

(Drama for Students)

The time is midday; Miranda is still tied and Paulina speaks to him intimately about her captivity and the night of her release. Gerardo enters after retrieving the car, with a new resolve to talk his wife into releasing Miranda. Gerardo appeals to an ideal of law, implying Paulina is no better than the military regime if she will not allow Miranda to defend himself. Paulina says she has every intention of allowing the doctor to argue his case. She was only waiting for Gerardo's return, having decided that her husband will act as a lawyer for the accused. When Paulina removes his gag, Miranda claims never to have seen Paulina before, calling her "extremely ill, almost prototypically schizoid."

Gerardo continues to plead with his wife, and as they argue it becomes evident that Gerardo has difficulty speaking about Paulina's experience. If she can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Miranda is the same doctor, Paulina asks, would Gerardo still want her to set him free. Gerardo replies, "If he's guilty, more reason to set him free ... Imagine what would happen if everyone acted like you did." Gerardo argues that if Miranda is guilty of the crimes, they should turn him over to the proper authorities. His wife, however, believes that while the new government calls itself a democracy, many of the same men who were part of the dictatorship are still active in the government. Not only does she contend that the authorities would immediately release Miranda, she...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Act III Summary

(Drama for Students)

The final act opens just before evening. Miranda is still bound, and Gerardo, with a tape recorder on his lap, pleads with Paulina to tell him the details of her abduction before he has to hear them from Miranda. Paulina reminds him that she had attempted to tell him these details before, just after she was released, when they were interrupted by the woman with whom Gerardo was involved during Paulina's absence. This memory is a severe blow to Gerardo, and he eventually persuades Paulina to speak instead of her abduction. When she gets to the point in her story of first meeting the doctor and hearing Schubert in the darkness, the lights fade and her voice overlaps with that of Miranda. The lights come up to reveal Miranda making his confession into the tape recorder. He claims that the music was an attempt to alleviate the suffering of the prisoners. He describes how a "brutalization took over my life," and he began to enjoy the torture with a detached curiosity "partly morbid, partly scientific."

The confession over, Paulina sends Gerardo to retrieve Miranda's car. After his departure, however, she changes her tone, saying she was entirely convinced by the doctor's confession and now "could not live in peace with myself and let you live." She informs him that she inserted small errors in her own taped account, which Miranda apparently corrected of his own accord; now Paulina says she will kill him "because you haven't repented at all." On Paulina's...

(The entire section is 399 words.)