Peter Shaffer Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Peter Levin Shaffer was born to Orthodox Jewish parents, Jack and Reka Shaffer, in Liverpool, England, on May 15, 1926, with a twin brother, Anthony. Another brother, Brian, was born in 1929. Anthony is also a writer, author of the prizewinning play Sleuth (pr. 1970). Brian is a biophysicist.

A middle-class British family, the Shaffers moved to London in 1936. World War II brought several relocations, in part because of safety concerns and in part because of the demands of Jack Shaffer’s real estate business. In 1942, Shaffer was enrolled in St. Paul’s School in London. In 1944, the twin brothers were conscripted for duty in the coal mines, working first in Kent, then in Yorkshire. Shaffer entered Trinity College, Cambridge University, on a scholarship in 1947.

At Cambridge, Shaffer discovered his talent and taste for writing while editing a college magazine. Taking his degree in history in 1950, he sought employment with various publishers in England, to no avail. He moved to New York in 1951. From a brief stint as a salesperson in a Doubleday bookstore, he moved to a job in the acquisitions section of a branch of the New York Public Library. Shaffer returned to London in 1954 and worked for the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes for about a year. With the broadcast of his teleplay The Salt Land and his radio play The Prodigal Father in 1955, he decided to turn to writing as a full-time career.

The 1958 success of Five Finger Exercise at London’s Comedy Theater in the West End...

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Peter Shaffer Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Levin Shaffer (SHAF-ur) and his twin brother Anthony were born in Liverpool to Jewish parents, Reka and Jack Shaffer, on May 15, 1926. The family left Liverpool in 1936 and moved around England until 1942, when they settled in London. Anthony also became a prizewinning playwright, best known for the play Sleuth (pr. 1970); younger brother Brian became a biophysicist, but after their father’s death he took over management of the family’s real estate firm.

Peter Shaffer attended St. Paul’s School, but World War II interrupted his education and he worked as a coal miner in Yorkshire and Kent from 1944 to 1947. He later attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and earned a baccalaureate degree in history in 1950. While in college he coedited the student magazine Granta with his brother.

After Cambridge, Shaffer moved to New York and worked for Doubleday bookstores in midtown Manhattan. In 1951, Peter and Anthony Shaffer cowrote a detective novel, The Woman in the Wardrobe, under the composite pen name Peter Anthony. They collaborated on two subsequent novels, How Doth the Little Crocodile? (1952) and Withered Murder (1955). During these years Shaffer worked in acquisitions at the New York Public Library (1951-1954) and as a symphonic music editor for Bosey and Hawkes in England (1954-1955), and he served as a literary critic for Truth (1956-1957). He later worked as a music critic for Time and Tide (1965-1972).

During the 1950’s, he began writing radio and television scripts, including The Salt Land (1955) for ITV in Great Britain; The Prodigal Father (1955), a radio play produced and aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); and Balance of Terror (1957), which was produced first by the BBC and later aired on the Studio One television series in the United States. Shaffer’s theatrical career was launched with the London premiere of Five Finger Exercise, a play in two acts, at London’s Comedy Theatre on July 16, 1958, directed by John Gielgud. Shaffer’s only “well-made,” naturalistic domestic drama portraying a family in crisis enjoyed popular and critical success, running for two years in London and winning Shaffer the Evening Standard Theatre Award for best new playwright. When it was later produced in New York in 1959, it garnered the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best foreign play.

His next plays, a pair of one-acts, The Private Ear and The Public Eye, premiered at London’s Globe Theatre on May 10, 1962, then crossed the Atlantic in 1963 to New York. The Private Ear (pr., pb. 1962) concerns a sensitive, artistic, and naïve young man, Bob, who brings home an attractive secretary, thinking she shares his love of music. He fumbles around trying to impress her, but she rejects him when he tries to forcibly kiss her. Its companion play, The Public Eye (pr., pb. 1962), echoes back to Shaffer’s roots in detective stories with a tinge of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Shaffer next wrote The Merry Roosters Panto (pr. 1963), a Christmas pantomime for children that was produced at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. Shaffer’s first “think piece” and probably his most mythical play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun (pr., pb. 1964), was...

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Peter Shaffer Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Shaffer’s plays use unique theatrical design—including sets, props, mime, and stylized action—to present his abstract, psychological, and metaphysical themes in the proper theatrical context: a conflict between people. His plays often depict the victory of the experienced, the civilized, and the godless over the naïve, the primitive, and the romantic. Shaffer’s works have been successful on both sides of the Atlantic and on stage and screen.

Peter Shaffer Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Levin Shaffer (SHAF-ur) is one of the most important playwrights of the twentieth century. He is the son of Jack Shaffer, a realtor, and his wife, Reka Fredman Shaffer. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, London. In wartime he was conscripted for service in the coal mines, where he served from 1944 to 1947. He then completed his education, receiving a B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1950. Shaffer then began to write mystery novels, beginning with The Woman in the Wardrobe under the pseudonym Peter Antony. The next year he collaborated with his twin brother Anthony to write How Doth the Little Crocodile? After living in New York, where he worked in the New York Public Library from 1951 to 1954, Shaffer returned to England and got a job with a firm of music publishers in London, where he worked for a year. In 1955 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) produced his radio play, The Prodigal Father; that same year, an independent television company produced his first television play, The Salt Land. In 1955 the Shaffer brothers published one more mystery, Withered Murder.{$S[A]Antony, Peter (joint);Shaffer, Peter}

It was clear to Shaffer, however, that his genre was dramatic writing, whether for stage or screen. After writing another teleplay, Balance of Terror, produced in 1957 by the BBC, Shaffer wrote his first stage play, Five Finger Exercise, which opened at the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End on July 16, 1958, where it ran for a year before moving to New York in December, 1959. Although the play was conventional in form, in it Shaffer’s fascination with psychology was already evident: The story traces the effects that a German tutor has on various members of a household. From 1961 to 1962 Shaffer served as a music critic for Time and Tide, while continuing to explore various possibilities in drama. In 1962 Shaffer moved toward comedy of the absurd with two one-act plays performed together, The Private Ear and The Public Eye. The following year, Shaffer collaborated with Peter Brook on a screenplay for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954). It was not used for Brook’s film, but Shaffer gained valuable experience for later adaptations of his own plays.

Shaffer’s first major success was the historical play The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a highly stylized play with elements of the Japanese Kabuki theater. Although critics differed about the effectiveness of Shaffer’s dialogue and his realization of character, no one questioned the high quality of the play as spectacular theater. With Equus in 1973 Shaffer proved his quality as a thinker, as well as his ability in theatrical invention. The play is the story of a psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who is attempting to treat a boy named Alan Strang by discovering why he blinded several horses in a north England stable. As the play proceeds, Dysart concludes that curing the boy means depriving him of his...

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Peter Shaffer Biography (Drama for Students)

Peter Shaffer and his twin brother, Anthony, were born in Liverpool, England, on May 15, 1926, to Jack (a real estate agent) and Reka...

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Peter Shaffer Biography (Drama for Students)

Peter Shaffer Published by Gale Cengage

Peter Shaffer and his twin brother Anthony (also a playwright and novelist) were born May 15, 1926, in Liverpool, England. Peter attended St. Paul’s School in London, graduating in 1944, near the end of World War II. For the remainder of the war, he was conscripted to work as a coal miner; because a large number of England’s adult male workforce were off fighting the war, many labor positions were filled by women, children, and young adults.

After the war Shaffer attended Trinity College, Cambridge, from which he received a degree in 1950. Following graduation he moved to New York City, where he worked in a book store and the New York Public Library. He returned to London in 1954, working for music publishers Bosey & Hawkes. He began writing scripts for radio and television during this period as well as serving as literary critic for the journal Truth from 1956-57.

Shaffer’s first stage play, Five Finger Exercise, was produced in 1958. He followed it with the paired one-acts The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1962. In 1963 Shaffer cowrote, with noted stage director Peter Brook (Marat/Sade), the screenplay for Brook’s film adaptation of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies.

Shaffer’s reputation as an accomplished dramatist was secured by the 1964 premiere of his fulllength work Royal Hunt of the Sun: A Play Concerning the Conquest of Peru. The play—which creatively blends ritual, dance, music, and drama—reenacts the sixteenth-century Spanish conquest, by Francisco Pizarro, of the Incan empire. The Incas dominated the culture of western South America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the center of their empire lay in what is now Peru, a country founded by Pizarro. Shaffer’s plays of subsequent years include the one-act Black Comedy (1965), a piece based on a device borrowed from Chinese theatre in which actors pretend to be in total darkness although the stage is lit.

Shaffer’s 1970 full-length The Battle of Shrivings was widely considered a disappointment, but the playwright followed it with Equus (1973), a play that is generally considered his greatest achievement to date. Equus received the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best play as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Shaffer also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Equus in 1977.

In 1979, Shaffer produced what is generally considered his best-known work, Amadeus, which he has described as ‘‘a fantasia on events in [18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus] Mozart’s life.’’ Like Equus, Amadeus is a probing exploration of the human psyche, centering on the royal court composer Antonio Salieri and his jealousy of Mozart’s seemingly effortless brillianc.Mozart is portrayed as a vulgar, self-centered genius, a sort of prototypical rock star. The play won the 1980 Tony award, and the 1984 film adaptation won Academy Awards for best picture and best screenplay adaptation (for Shaffer’s script). Shaffer’s plays since Amadeus include Yonadab: The Watcher (1985) and the popular comedy Lettice and Lovage (1987).

With a long-standing reputation for craftsmanship, Shaffer’s career is marked by theatrical success and prestigious honors. In addition to his man popular successes in drama, he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member of the Dramatists Guild, and was granted the title Commander of the British Empire in 1987.