Out of the Wings

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La agonía del difunto (c.1976), Esteban Navajas

English title: A Dead Man's Dying
Date written: c. 1976
First publication date: 1976
First production date: 1976
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > justice-revenge, violence > social, violence > revenge, identity > class/social standing, identity > race, identity > hierarchy, history > change/revolution

Gallows humour reigns as mourners come to pay their respects to the dead landowner, Agustino Landazabal.  Winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize in 1976, A Dead Man’s Dying is a wickedly funny tale of peasant revolt.


Wealthy Colombian ranchero, Agustino, has died and his corpse is laid out in the family home.  His wife, Carmen, kneels in penitence before the body of her husband and makes shows of grief.

Two labourers who work on their land, Benigno and Otilia, come to pay their respects to the deceased but farcical episodes of gallows humour ensue.

When Benigno and Otilia leave, the audience discovers that Agustino is not in fact dead, but pretending to be.  He and Carmen have crafted a plan in order to dupe their workers as a means of escaping a peasants’ revolt and takeover of the land, before the military arrives to protect them and reinstate bulls, not people, on their flood plains.  They celebrate the success of their charade by re-enacting comical episodes from the past, as well as the day of their wedding feast.

But Benigno and Otilia make a reappearance in the midst of Agustino’s and Carmen’s revels and it soon becomes clear that their performance of death may not be convincing enough

As Don Agustino continues to play dead, Benigno and Otilia nail him into a coffin as he bangs his feet and head against the wood in a desperate attempt to escape being buried alive.

Critical response

La agonía del difunto was awarded the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize in 1976.

  • Esteban Navajas Cortés. 1976. La agonía del difunto. Havana, Casa de las Américas

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Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 3 October 2011.

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