Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The origins of Amadeus may be traced back to Alexander Pushkin’s short play Motsart i Salyeri (pr., pb. 1832; Mozart and Salieri, 1920), in which Salieri poisons Mozart not merely because Salieri envies his younger rival but also because he is appalled by the ease with which Mozart can be distracted from his art and squander his genius. Such legends characterize not only Pushkin’s play but many biographical studies as well, including Mozart (1975), by the German novelist Wolfgang Hildesheimer, which includes many of the same apocryphal stories found in Shaffer’s play.

Shaffer’s approach to his materials, sources, and subjects has often been controversial: the use of historical material in The Royal Hunt of the Sun (pr. 1964), his treatment of psychoanalysis in Equus (pr., pb. 1973), and his (or rather Salieri’s) characterization of Mozart in Amadeus. The very title of this play hints that its treatment of the composer will be less definitive than alternative, partial rather than complete. More important, Shaffer’s interest in his materials is never as great as his interest in their larger psychological and philosophical implications. Since The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Shaffer has presented his characters in the context of myth and archetype rather than history and realism. He desires not so much to verify what is factually true as to suggest and provoke by moving beyond fact...

(The entire section is 401 words.)