Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1332
Shaffer's Amadeus gained appreciative audiences due to its compelling depiction of the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporary, Antonio Salieri. In this fictionalized version of the two composers' relationship, Shaffer explores the mystery of creative inspiration, the search for spirituality, and the consequences of success and failure. Shaffer...
(The entire section contains 10434 words.)
See This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
Shaffer's Amadeus gained appreciative audiences due to its compelling depiction of the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporary, Antonio Salieri. In this fictionalized version of the two composers' relationship, Shaffer explores the mystery of creative inspiration, the search for spirituality, and the consequences of success and failure. Shaffer intertwines these themes in the play with its most absorbing one—an exploration of the problematic relations that can develop between fathers and sons.
The first father/son relationship Shaffer introduces to the audience is the one between Salieri and God. Finding his relationship with his biological father lacking, Salieri began a spiritual quest that would result in his determination to glorify God through music. He exhibits an obvious lack of respect for his father who did not share his passion for music or his quest for fame. Salieri admits that his parents' goals were to call on God for assurance of their economic security and to "keep them forever preserved in mediocrity." Their son's requirements, however, were very different. From an early age, he wanted to gain fame as a composer and so strikes a bargain with his spiritual father, whom he feels has the power to grant him his wish. Longing "to join all the composers who had celebrated His glory through the long Italian past," he begs God,
". . . let me be a composer . . . in return, I will live with virtue . . . and I will honor You with much music all the days of my life." When God responded to him. "Go forth, Antonio. Serve Me and mankind, and you will he blessed," Salieri thanked him and promised, "I am Your servant for life."
Salieri seems assured of the blessings and support of his spiritual father when at thirty-one, he becomes a prolific composer to the Hapsburg court of Emperor Joseph II. Soon, however, when he hears the "voice of God" in Mozart's exquisite and superior compositions, he feels betrayed and questions why God has rejected him and has chosen instead to glorify "an obscene child.'' The first time he hears Mozart. Salieri confesses, "tonight at an inn somewhere in this city stands a giggling child who can put on paper, without actually setting down his billiard cue, casual notes which turn my most considered ones into lifeless scratches." Noting his affinity with Adam, God's first child, Salieri expresses a sense of emptiness resulting from feelings of abandonment.
Engaging in a bout of intense sibling rivalry with God's new favorite composer, Salieri complains:
You have chosen [Mozart] to be Your sole conduct. And my only reward—my sublime privilege—is to be the sole man alive in this time who shall clearly recognize Your Incarnation. . . . Everyday I sat to work I prayed . . . make this one good in my ears. Just this one . . . but would He, ever? I heard my music calmed in convention, not one breath of spirit to lift it off the shallows. And I heard his—month after month . . . the spirit singing through it, unstoppable, to my ears alone.
Salieri vows to destroy God's creature in an effort to take revenge on his spiritual parent. In an ironic reversal, he rebels against his father figure and usurps his role. He threatens God, "you are the Enemy I name Thee now . . . and this I swear: to my last breath I shall block You on earth, as far as I am able. . . . What use, after all, is man, if not to teach God His lessons." He now declares his intention to destroy Mozart so he can block God "in one of His purest manifestations," which excites him. Salieri insists, "I had the power. God needed me to get him worldly advancement. So it would be a battle to the end—and Mozart was the battleground." He admits that his quarrel was not with Mozart: it was through him to God, "who loved him so."
Salieri, as the rebellious and rejected son, decides to renounce his devotion to duty and responsibility. When he has sexual relations with Katherina Cavalieri and subsequently lakes her as his mistress, he notes, "so much for my vow of sexual virtue." When he resigns from his committees that offer aid to impoverished musicians, he admits, "so much for my vow of social virtue."
Shaffer creates another compelling father/son relationship in the play in his depiction of the interaction between Mozart and his father, Leopold. Salieri describes Leopold as "a bad-tempered Salzburg musician who dragged the boy endlessly round Europe, making him play the keyboard blindfolded, with one finger." The audience never meets Leopold, but he makes his presence felt through his son, who is afraid of him. Mozart claims his father is a bitter man who is jealous of his success. Leopold continually tries to control Mozart's actions, but for the most part, fails. Mozart marries Stanzi against his father's wishes and stays in Vienna, living well above his means.
Psychologically, though, Leopold has a great influence over his son. Werner Huber and Hubert Zapf in their article "On the Structure of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus," in Modern Drama, conclude that in the play Mozart has the "capacity for the elemental, passionate, natural life which Salieri lacks." Yet, they continue, his personality is "in a constant struggle with an equally powerful superego, the figure of his authoritarian father. As soon as he is mentioned, the sense of fun deserts Mozart."
When Leopold dies, Mozart falls apart, exclaiming, "how will I go now? In the world. There's no one else. No one who understands the wickedness around. I can't see it. . . . He watched for me all my life—and I betrayed him." Leopold reappears as the solemn ghost in Don Giovanni, as a projection of Mozart's feelings of guilt. Later, in a reflection of his desire to regain his father's love and direction, Mozart reincarnates him in The Magic Flute, where he appears as a high priest, "his hand extended to the world in love."
Salieri plays on Mozart's desperate need for the approval of a father figure and so appears to adopt this role. Huber and Zapf conclude that
Salieri not only seems to see all, hear all, know all about Mozart's private life, and systematically [tries] to destroy his material existence, [he] actually reduces Mozart to the mental state of a child at the end, appearing in the mask of the nightmarish father-figure of Mozart's dreams, who takes his revenge on the rebellious son.
When Salieri reveals his true identity to Mozart at the end of the play, he reduces Mozart to a whimpering child. In response, Salieri characterizes their spiritual father as one who has abandoned both of them. He concludes, "We are both poisoned, Amadeus. I with you: you with me. . . . Ten years of my hate have poisoned you to death." When Mozart falls to his knees and cries out to God, Salieri responds,
God? . . . God does not help. . . . He can only use. . . . He cares nothing for whom He uses, nothing for whom He denies. . . . You are no use to Him anymore. You're too weak—too sick. He has finished with you. All you can do now is die. . . . Die, Amadeus." And so Amadeus dies, without a father's love and support.
At the end of Amadeus, a broken Salieri again assumes the role of his spiritual father, whom he feels has rejected him. He implores the audience to pray to him as the Patron Saint of Mediocrities for forgiveness when they feel "the dreadful bite" of their failures, "and hear the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God." As Salieri concludes his final gesture of benediction with the declaration, "mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all," he makes the final statement of Shaffer's absorbing view of the psychological intricacy of the father/son relationship.
Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on Amadeus, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2001. Perkins is an associate professor of English at Prince George's Community College in Maryland and has published several articles on British and American authors.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2075
Shaffer spent five years writing Amadeus, and of that, "a whole year attempting a different opening scene every week." As anyone knows who has written and rewritten a work, trying to get it right, the writer's internal "judge'' watching and criticizing, often prevents the natural flow of ideas. One imagines a future audience, at one moment approving, the next moment condemning. Anticipation of criticism can stifle the creative process or lead an author to try to perfect the work to ward off an unpleasant rejection. Shaffer's play puts this tension in the creative process at center stage. His rival characters, Salieri and Mozart, are rivals of talent—one a gemus and one a "mediocrity," whose products are judged by mediocre audiences. Shaffer foregrounds the role of the audience in this transaction by the opening scene (of the play version) and the closing lines to "mediocrities everywhere." This interaction with the audience, which Shaffer labored a full year to produce, suggests that the heart of Amadeus has to do with the observer's appraisal of genius.
In the beginning of Amadeus, just after the "prelude" of Venticelli ("Little Winds") spreading gossip, a dying Salieri startles the audience by shining the house lights on them as he calls them forth as ''Ghosts of the Future.'' He then invites the audience to sit back and observe his confession, framed as a detective mystery, "The Death of Mozart; or, Did I Do It?" As Salieri transforms into his youthful self, his older self also watches and guides the audience's interpretation through his comments upon his own history in the making. The older Salieri observes the younger, who, in his turn, obsessively observes his rival Mozart, while the audience looks on. Sometimes the theme of observing is especially in the foreground, as when Salieri sits unobserved in his armchair, eavesdropping on Mozart and Constanze as they play childish games in Baroness Waldstadten's library. Here, as elsewhere, Salieri judges Mozart as socially inferior and artistically brilliant, and it is through his consciousness that the audience sees and judges Mozart and Salieri as well.
Pairing Salieri with Mozart constitutes, by Shaffer's own admission, the classical Apollonian/Dionysian contest, a tension that has fascinated him for years. He said early in his career, "There is in me a continuous tension between what I suppose I could call the Apollonian and the Dionysiac sides of interpreting life." These contrasting sensibilities find expression in several Shaffer pairings—Dysart and Alan Strang; Atahuallpa and Pizzaro; Salieri and Mozart—who inevitably contend with each other. In this last pair, Salieri composes repetitive, safe, baroque music and envies Mozart for his ease in producing imaginative counterpoints and bold new harmonies. Salieri cannot leave Mozart alone because his very existence denies his own achievements and his theology. Shaffer has constructed the match with great care, setting them up as polar opposites in many respects. Salieri, upholding the edifice of the court composer, stands for artifice, Mozart for art. Salieri labors to produce banal stories set to mediocre scores; Mozart effortlessly transforms primitive emotion into absolute beauty. As Werner Huber and Hubert Zapf describe, "Salieri and Mozart come to personify two different modes . . . Italian versus German, the heroic (mythological matter) versus the everyday, tragedy versus comedy, grand opera versus Singspiel."
Even after the play's successful opening in London, Shaffer revised the script numerous times, trying to get it right. He says in the preface to the play script, "I have never before altered material in a play so extensively. I was led on to do this by what became a nearly obsessive pursuit of clarity, structural order, and drama." Shaffer sought to craft a classic "well-made play," one of logical construction, a tightly designed and balanced plot that leads inevitably to a pivotal disclosure scene. Of course, by the 1970s, the era of Hair, the well-made play was quite out of style. But Shaffer had never concerned himself with being stylish, having said in 1963, "As the man said, there are many tunes yet to be written in C major. And there are many plays yet to be written in a living room. Keeping up with fashion is a terrible race." Instead of the self-reflexive style of the new theater, Shaffer employs the conventional plot structure of the well-made play, taking pains to strike a neat balance between his protagonists and fashioning a significant angle from which to view their squaring-off, all to be played out in the most dramatic format possible. The angle he chooses in Amadeus is the view through the malice-filled eyes of Salieri.
Salieri narrates as an observing interpreter who judges Mozart and himself and blames God for the painful difference he sees. He presides over his own hearing, with himself and God on the stand. Salieri's garrulousness, or rambling talk, is striking. Only the emotional intensity of his monologues makes his many long harangues tolerable. He talks too much, from the standpoint of verbosity as well as that of revealing his own malicious nature. Salieri plays both patient and analyst, criminal and policeman, as he unfolds the mystery of whether he indeed murdered Mozart, which he claims to have done in revenge against God. But Madeleine MacMurraugh-Kavanagh points out that Salieri also hates Mozart for traits he has himself, "unconsciously [he] views Mozart as a projection of repressed impulses within himself, impulses he cannot and will not acknowledge." Mozart represents the artist's self-indulgence, the desire to lose oneself in art. Salieri fears letting his own passion gain control, so he placates it with an indulgence in sweets and then hates Mozart for succeeding where he fails. He fantasizes that Mozart wntes effortlessly, recording whole works straight from his head to the page, without correction. As he tells God, "somewhere in this city stands a giggling child who can put on paper, without actually setting down his billiard cue, casual notes which turn my most considered ones into lifeless scratches."
Suffering from feelings of his own inferiority, Salieri maliciously projects his self-hatred toward Mozart and takes advantage of the younger composer's faults to destroy him. For, in spite of his tremendous genius, Mozart—the "'Natural Man,' passionate and elemental," as Christopher Innes has described him—lacks the simplest skills of civilized life. Mozart, like other geniuses who focus on art rather than on getting through life, is burdened with impracticality, his childlike innocence leads to errors of judgment. The genius is all too vulnerable to hatred and intrigue, to the treacherous devices of the urbane Salieri. However, Salieri's hatred of Mozart is so extreme and his own culpability so obvious that the viewer does not join with him in resenting Mozart's insufficiencies, but instead condemns Salieri for capitalizing on those failings to destroy an innocent. The culpable narrator turns his victim into a Christ-like figure and himself into Judas. Nevertheless, Salieri seems to revel in the condemning judgment he has called up from the audience, which he displaces onto God and not himself.
Salieri justifies blaming God because of a "bargain" he had struck as a youngster to lead a life of virtue in return for fame as a musician. By constantly alluding to this bargain, Salieri draws a measure of empathy when he rages like Lear against God. But even in these moments, his accusations sound trumped up, misguided. The dramatic irony of Salieri's position is that he vainly attempts to attack a God who never accepted Salieri's initial bargain in the first place. Salieri blames God unjustly. In the process of fighting back at God, Salieri causes irreparable damage to a defenseless innocent who has never questioned God's intention and who has assumed God's support of his genius all along. Mozart cannot believe he might die before finishing the Requiem, for, as he exclaims, "God can't want it unfinished." Mozart is sacrificed on the altar of Salieri's inferiority. Peter Hall, who directed the first staging of Amadeus, notes in his production diary that God "is shown as selfish and uncaring, following his own needs, indifferent to the suffering of man." God thus fails on the cosmic level, for not being there to observe, to judge, or to intervene. It is therefore left to the audience to judge Salieri. In this respect, Shaffer turns the audience into God.
Shaffer has Mozart expressly state that the audience should be God. "That's our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and her, and her and her—the thoughts of chambermaids and court composers—and turn the audience into God." In this guise, according to the analysis of Werner Huber and Hubert Zapf, the audience plays the part of a "chorus of humanity'' with Salieri as the central, guiding voice. The primary role of a Greek-like chorus is to observe and judge, and even though the narrative perspective of Salieri evokes some empathy, he evokes judgment as well. Thus Salieri summons the "Ghosts of the Future," who have "yet to hate'' and "yet to kill,'' to observe and judge him. He seems irrationally to hope, by referring to the audience as the "yet to hate" and the "yet to kill," that they will understand his plight and forgive him. He wants to make himself into a Christ of the mediocre people, who dies for the sins of the mediocre people to come. He wants them to join him in blaming God for condemning him to mediocrity and causing him to kill.
But, as many critics have noted, it is not Salieri's struggle with God that lies at the center of the play. More than one critic has noted, with Stanley Kauffmann, that this struggle is ''flimsy, fabricated, facetious." Can it be that a playwright who has labored for years to construct a tightly knit plot would produce one with such a soft central core? John Simon of the National Review mused that the theme lay instead in Shaffer's own psyche, as a "lamentation of his own mediocrity." Certainly, in verbosity, Salieri mirrors the authorial character that emerges from Shaffer's effusive prefaces and numerous self-reflective articles. But does he have Salieri-like fears? And does his fear find an empathetic response in the audience? As Stanley Kauffmann notes in his review for Saturday Review, when
Salieri totters forward to address us. 'Mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all! Amen!' [it] Sounds grand until one thinks about it. What power of absolution does he have, and what is he absolving them of? His legacy of jealousy, of a sense of God's injustice? Of a wish to be more than they are? The best guess may be that, at the last, Salieri is addressing his author.
This is decidedly not a play about the author's own feelings of inadequacy. The key lies in the nature of the audience that Salieri invoked at the beginning of the play. After the prelude of Venticelli, Salieri calls up the "Ghosts of the Future," who are identified by the house lights shining on them. They are the future, in relation to Salieri, who is being portrayed in the eighteenth century. The important issue here is that it is not the literal audience sitting in those seats, bathed in the house lights, to whom he refers, but a characterized narrative audience—the "audience" to whom Salieri speaks is just another role in the play. As such, his "naratee"—the characters Salieri addresses as the ''mediocrities everywhere" and the "yet to hate"—constitutes a fictional construction, not the actual audience. This distinction is important because it allows the audience to be "smarter" than the characterized narrative audience—smart enough to realize that Salieri's anger at God is misplaced and that his theme of observer and judge is an analogy. It is a metaphor for the way the judging and fearful inner observer inside the mind of everyman consistently destroys genius.
Shaffer loves his craft, and he is very good at it. Although it is not impossible that the themes of mediocrity versus genius and judgment by inferiors in Amadeus touch upon his own experience, this does not imply Shaffer's own mediocrity or his fear of it. On the contrary, his ability to evoke these ideas consummately attests to his ability to create the world he meant to create.
Source: Carole Hamilton, Critical Essay on Amadeus, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2001. Hamilton is an English teacher at Cary Academy, an innovative private school in Cary, North Carolina.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3576
Peter Shaffer's Amadeus premiered at the National Theatre of Great Britain in November of 1979 and quickly became the most successful play in that theatre's history, having an extended run of over a year. The play received the same enthusiastic reception when it opened in November of 1980 at the National Theatre in Washington D.C., and when it moved a month later to New York's Broadhurst Theatre.
In addition to being enormously popular, the play also received high critical acclaim, winning five Tonys in New York, including a Tony for best drama of the 1980 season The 1984 film version received nominations for eleven Oscars, winning eight including best picture, best director, and best actor. Amadeus is without question Shaffer's most popular work to date, surpassing his already highly successful full-length plays The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964) and Equus (1973).
Although some have called Amadeus a "dramatic masterpiece," the play has also created controversy, particularly regarding the character Salieri. Salieri appears to be so different from earlier Shaffer protagonists that several critics have argued Shaffer's central subject of "God-hunting"—attempting to define the idea of God—has shifted significantly. Michael Hinden, for instance, objects to Salieri's "static character," and suggests that the shift in Amadeus is chiefly thematic: "the protagonist now abandons his quest for union with divinity and becomes the antagonist of the God, setting himself against the Deity in personal confrontation and defiance." Hinden notes the uncompromising pessimism of Salieri, and suggests that just as "The Iceman Cometh marks a bitter conclusion to O'Neill's quest for union with divinity,'' Amadeus may represent the same end for Shaffer. In another critical article, Janet Larson insists that Shaffer has replaced his "God-hunting" with "contempt for his audience" and sympathy for the harsh cynicism of Salieri.
Contrary to what Hinden and Larson suggest, Shaffer does not abandon his "God-hunting"; instead, he continues to explore his major subject in ways that closely mirror the earlier plays. Four major parallels show that Shaffer continues his quest for God in new and increasingly sophisticated ways. Like the Spanish commander Pizarro in The Royal Hunt of the Sun and the child psychologist Dysart in Equus, Salieri is: 1) a hollow man; 2) confronted by someone who represents the idea of God; 3) deeply moved by visions of a greater spiritual awareness; and 4) trapped in a predicament at the end of the play.
Although Salieri seems to be deeply religious, he is as hollow as Pizarro and Dysart. Ironically, Salieri has the bitterness and spiritual aridity of Pizarro and Dysart, and the hypocrisy of some of the religious figures of the earlier plays.
Pizarro is, according to Shaffer, a man "without joy. In his negation he is as anti-life as the bitter Church or the rigid Sun are in their affirmations. For him, the savor of the salt has been lost—lost through a lifetime of . . . rejections: flag, sword, Cross." Pizzaro tells his second-in-command, De Soto, that his soul is "frostbitten." Yet Pizarro is not completely alienated. He is fascinated by the Incan chieftain, Atahuallpa, who believes himself to be a god. He envies the chieftain for the intensity of feeling he experiences, an intensity which contrasts strongly with the lack of feeling in Pizarro's own life.
Dysart is both physically and spiritually sterile. He tells Hesther that Alan "has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life." He admits that his fondness for browsing through art books on mythical Greece is a poor substitute for real worship. "Without worship you shrink, it's as brutal as that. . . . I shrank my own life." As Michael Gillespie argues, in Equus Shaffer gives a
revealing picture of a "typical" representative of our advanced technological age, of a twentieth-century citizen whose highly developed rational faculties have caused him to lose touch with his more "primitive" emotional nature, and for whom an inherited faith in the . . . progression of scientific inquiry has removed all possibility of worship.
As a citizen of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Vienna, Salieri appears radically different from Pizarro and Dysart. At the beginning of the play, Salieri tells us how in his youth he bargained with God, offering to live a life of virtue, a life honoring God through music, in exchange for fame as a composer. Yet Salieri is much like the Catholic priests Valverde and De Nizza in The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Dora in Equus. Like the religion of the priests and the religion of Dora, Salieri's religion is stifled by orthodoxy and practiced through manipulation, a fact which is first apparent in Scene 2 of Act One. Saiieri tells us that his God is "an old candle-smoked God in a mulberry robe, staring at the world with dealer's eyes. Tradesmen had put him up there. Those eyes made bargains, real and irreversible." To Salieri, his God is a "God of Bargains", a God capable of entering into a Faustian pact.
That Salieri's view of God is limited becomes more apparent as the play develops. In a long monologue at the end of Act One Salieri addresses "his God", declaring war and revealing his own bitterness and pride: "From this time we are enemies, You and I! I'll not accept it from You, Man is not mocked! . . . I am not mocked!" Saiieri swears to block God on earth and exclaims defiantly: "What use, after all, is man, if not to teach God His Lessons."
In Act Two Salieri's bitterness toward God increases. Salieri reminds us that on the "night of the manuscripts"—the night he learns that Mozart writes down his music with no revisions—he acquired "a terrible and thrilling purpose." From now on Salieri's purpose is "The blocking of God in one of His purest manifestations." In this scene we realize that Salieri's "quarrel now wasn't with Mozart—it was through him! Through him to God. who loved him so."
Salieri implements his plans for destroying Mozart in Act Two in a number of ingenious ways. First, he persuades Emperor Joseph not to appoint Mozart as tutor for Princess Elizabeth. Second, he persuades Rosenberg, the Director of the Imperial Opera, to eliminate the ballet from Mozart's new opera Figaro (the only plan which fails because of the unexpected appearance of Emperor Joseph at rehearsal). Third, Salieri ensures that Mozart receives only a minimal salary in his new position as Chamber Composer. Fourth, Salieri encourages Mozart to include some of the Free Masons' sacred rites in The Magic Flute, thereby ensuring Mozart's loss of his last benefactor for betraying secrets of the brotherhood. Fifth, Salieri disguises himself in a cloak and mask and appears nightly beneath Mozart's window, terrifying him into believing that he is being haunted by the ghost of his father as he struggles to complete a requiem mass. The nightly "apparitions" exhaust Mozart physically and mentally.
As Salieri's plans succeed, however, we increasingly recognize how hollow he is. Salieri's faith is spiritless like his music: "I heard my music calmed in convention—not one breath of spirit to lift it off the shallows. And I heard his— . . . The spirit singing through it, unstoppable, to my ears alone!"
Salieri's idea of God becomes more bizarre as Act Two progresses. Salieri assumes he has vanquished his enemy when Mozart is transformed into "a very young boy," crawls out from under a table, and calls Salieri "In a childish voice"—"Papa!" After Mozart's display, Salieri boasts quietly: "Reduce the man: reduce the God, Behold my vow fulfilled. The profoundest voice in the world reduced to a nursery tune." After Mozart's death near the end of the play, Salieri says that he feels both relief and pity: "I felt the pity God can never feel."
In the next scene Salieri has an important realization. He says, "And slowly I understood the nature of God's punishment!" Salieri realizes that he has been given the fame he begged for as a boy: "I was to become—quite simply—the most famous musician in Europe!" Yet he also realizes that he would be "bricked up in Fame! Embalmed in Fame! Buried in Fame!" for work he knew to be "absolutely worthless!" God's punishment would be that he must "survive to see [himself] become extinct!" In the Signet edition of the play, Salieri tells us that he survived to hear "Mozart's music sounded louder and louder through the world!" while his "faded completely, till no one played it at all!"
Convinced that he can still win his battle against an unjust deity, Salieri devises a final strategy to defeat God. He plans to convince everyone that he murdered Mozart so "After today, whenever men speak Mozart's name with love, they will speak mine with loathing!" At this point Salieri is convinced that God "is powerless to prevent'' his final plan. Yet in the final scene of the play Salieri has failed completely. He fails in his suicide attempt, and he fails to convince anyone that he poisoned Mozart. Why is Salieri so determined to destroy Mozart, and why does he fail so miserably? The answer lies in the paradoxical nature of Mozart.
The symbolic role of Mozart is not immediately evident. Martin Esslin's comment that Shaffer's Mozart is "a figure of grotesque inappropriateness, a veritable monstrosity" is typical of the criticism Shaffer has received in his portrayal of the musical genius. Yet this view has been refuted by C. J. Gianakaris, Roland Gelatt, and others who show that "Shaffer takes almost no liberties with historical fact about Mozart and his times, except where Salieri the man is concerned." Mozart's animal play-acting, his word-play, his financial difficulties, his marriage to a child-like wife, and his domineering father are well documented in the biographies, Mozart's three volumes of correspondence, and in the correspondence of relatives.
Gianakaris notes, "Shaffer has explained that his intent in no way was to demean Mozart''; rather, he "wanted audiences to know Mozart better and more totally—to know a genius of far greater complexity than granted by standard portraits." This genius of greater complexity provides a clue to the symbolic role of Mozart in the play. Regardless of all the criticism Shaffer has received for his portrayal of Mozart, no one objects to the reverence Salieri shows for Mozart's music.
The paradox which is at the root of this play is, according to Gelatt,
the seemingly inexplicable contrast between Mozart's divine inspiration and the common clay from which it issued. For the Mozart in Amadeus is not only consistently and impolitically foul-mouthed, but also vain, arrogant, totally wrapped up in himself, and childishly insensitive to the feelings of others. He is, in addition, the most perfectly formed, the most astonishingly fertile, the most celestial musical genius who ever lived.
When Salieri meets Mozart for the first time, we are as shocked by Mozart as Salieri is. Salieri says, "It seemed to me that I had heard a voice of God—and that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard—and it was the voice of an obscene child!" Like Salieri, we witness the mystery of Mozart and his genius.
Paradoxes have been central in suggesting the idea of God in Shaffer's earlier plays. In The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Pizarro cannot understand how the Incan chieftain Atahuallpa can consider himself a God. Pizarro tells De Soto:
To a savage mind it [the sun] must make a fine God. I myself can't fix anything nearer to a thought of worship than standing at dawn and watching it fill the world. Like the coming of something eternal, against going flesh! What a fantastic wonder that anyone on earth should dare to say "That's my father. My father the sun!" It's silly—but tremendous . . . You know—strange nonsense since first I heard of him, I've dreamed of him every night. A black king with glowing eyes, sporting the sun for a crown. What does it mean?
In Equus, the psychologist Dysart imagines the horse mocking him and asking, "'Why? . . . Why Me? . . . Why—ultimately—Me? . . . Do you really imagine you can account for me? Totally, infallibly, inevitably account for Me? . . . Poor Doctor Dysart!' . . . This is the feeling more and more with me—No place Displacement . . . 'Account for me,' says staring Equus, 'First account for Me!'''
Pizarro, Dysart, and Salieri are rationalists who confront someone who presents a fundamental challenge to reason. In this sense, Shaffer certainly has not abandoned his quest for spiritual meaning. Concerning The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Shaffer says: "the theme . . . is the search for God—that is why it is called 'the Royal Hunt of the Sun'—the search for a definition of the idea of God. In fact the play is an attempt to define the concept of God . . ." The remark applies equally to Equus and Amadeus, not only because of the paradoxes dramatized, but also because of the visions and final predicaments of Dysart and Salieri.
Salieri has glimpses of God during "the night of the manuscripts'' and when listening to Act 4 of The Marriage of Figaro. These glimpses show a God far different from a "God of Bargains." The most important scene occurs when Salieri hears The Magic Flute for the first time in Scene 14 of Act Two, Shaffer's new scene for the American production and a scene which strongly ties Amadeus with the "God-hunting" of the earlier plays. Salieri comments on how Mozart has managed to put the Masons into the opera:
He had turned them into an Order of Eternal Priests. I heard voices calling out of ancient temples. I saw a vast sun rise on a timeless land, where animals danced and children floated, and by its rays all the poisons we feed each other drawn up and burnt away! . . . And in this sun—behold—I saw his father! No more an accusing figure but forgiving!—The Highest Priest of the Order—his hand extended to the world in love! Wolfgang feared Leopold no longer: a final legend had been made! . . . Oh, the sound—the sound of that newfound peace in him—mocking my undiminishing pain! There was the Magic Flute—there beside me! . . . Mozart the flute and God the relentless player! How long could the Creature stand it—so frail, so palpably mortal?
Shaffer says that the scene "dramatizes the moment—previously only hinted at—when Salieri perceives Mozart to be himself the flute of God . . ." The Order of Eternal Priests and the ancient temples are in stark contrast to Salieri's own "old candle-smoked God in a mulberry robe, staring at the world with dealer's eyes."
The priests Salieri sees in his vision recall the Incan priests of The Royal Hunt of the Sun and the Homeric priests of Equus. Yet, more importantly, Salieri's vision also parallels visions of Pizarro and Dysart. Pizarro tells De Soto,
When I was young, I used to sit on the slope outside the village and watch the sun go down, and I used to think if only I could find the place where it sinks to rest for the night, I'd find the source of life, like the beginning of a river. I used to wonder what it could be like. Perhaps an island, a strange spit of white sand, where the people never died. Never grew old, or felt pain, and never died.
Dysart recalls a similar peaceful vision:
I wish there was one person in my life I could show. One instinctive, absolutely unbrisk person I could take to Greece, and stand in front of certain shrines and sacred streams and say "Look! Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods. And not just the old dead ones with names like Zeus—no, but living Geniuses of Place and Person! And not just Greece but modern England!"
All three protagonists symbolize what Shaffer believes is man's primordial need for worship, that purity of faith which is not tainted like the faith of the Catholic pnests Valverde and De Nizza in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, the faith of Alan's mother, Dora, in Equus, and the faith of Salieri in Amadeus. In their "God-hunting," Pizarro, Dysart, and Salieri are drawn to these more fundamental expressions of worship as demonstrated in Atahuallpa, Alan, and Mozart, respectively. Shaffer captures the greatness of man's spiritual awareness through the youthfulness of these three characters and through the ancient religious symbols of the sun in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, the horse in Equus, and music in Amadeus.
Shaffer's insistence on the greatness of man's spiritual awareness and his belief that a sense of the divine is essential are Jungian themes. Indeed, Jung appears to be a major influence. In an interview Shaffer indicates perhaps the strongest Jungian tension in his work:
There is in me a continuous tension between what I suppose I could loosely call the Apollonian and the Dionysiac sides of interpreting life. . . . I don't really see it in those dry intellectual terms. I just feel in myself that there is a constant debate going on between the violence of instinct on the one hand and the desire in my mind for order and restraint. Between the secular side of me the fact that I have never actually been able to buy anything of official religion—and the inescapable fact that to me a life without a sense of the divine is perfectly meaningless.
The final predicament of Shaffer's protagonists is that they are trapped between reason and faith. They are like that large group of modern men and women Jung discusses in his essay "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" who "cannot believe . . . cannot compel themselves to believe, however happy they deem the man who has a belief." Their chief problem remains "finding a religious outlook on life."
Salieri's predicament at the end of Amadeus parallels Pizarro's and Dysart's. Salieri, in his determined pursuit of immortality as a composer (Shaffer describes the determination as "our protagonist's relentless lust to snatch a piece of divinity for himself"), remains bitter and cynical. Just before his suicide attempt, Salieri says,
I was born a pair of ears and nothing else It is only through hearing music that I know God exists. Only through writing music that I could worship. . . . All around me men hunger for general rights. I hungered only for particular notes. They seek liberty for mankind. I sought only slavery for myself. To be owned—ordered—exhausted by an absolute. Music. This was denied me, and with it all meaning. Now I go to become a Ghost myself.
Failing to achieve lasting fame as a musician, Salieri mentions "the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God" and declares himself '"Antonio Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!"' Then he cuts his throat.
In the final scene of the play, "The light narrows into a bright cone, beating on SALIERI." Through the conversation of the two Venticelli, we learn that "Salieri is quite deranged. He keeps claiming that he is guilty of Mozart's death, and made away with him by poison." Salieri's final defeat is that "No one believes it in the world!" Salieri's last words are, "Mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all. Amen!" We last see him "finally folding his arms high across his own breast in a gesture of self-sanctification." The predicament of this final scene is better understood when compared with the endings of Shaffer's earlier plays.
At the end of The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Pizarro feels cheated when Atahuallpa is not resurrected, yet there is a note of optimism. Pizarro is surprised at the tears on his cheeks. He has never cried before and now this man with a "frostbitten" soul is able to feel again. Significantly, the stage directions tell us that "The SUNLIGHT brightens on his head." He envies the faith of Atahuallpa, and admits sadly that "I die between two darks: blind eyes and a blind sky." Yet clearly Athahuallpa has changed him deeply by giving him a glimpse of a greater reality. Pizarro's final vision is peaceful:
To make water in a sand world; surely, surely . . . God's just a name on your nail, and naming begins cries and cruelties. But to live without hope of after, and make whatever God there is, oh, that's some immortal business surely.
At the end of Equus, Dysart also comments on his predicament:
I need—more desperately than my children need me—a way of seeing in the dark. What way is this? What dark is this?" . . . I cannot call it ordained of God: I can't get that far. I will however pay it so much homage. There is now, m my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out.
Like Pizano and Dysart, Salieri has experienced God, but he cannot affirm Him. Salieri cannot understand why he was not chosen by God and why Mozart was. The paradox of Mozart remains incomprehensible to him. Just as Pizarro feels cheated when Atahuallpa is not resurrected, Salieri feels cheated at the end of the play. Like Dysart who has a "sharp chain" in his mouth, Salieri "stares ahead in pain." Salieri's pain underscores his predicament. His final "gesture of self-sanctification" is not mockery but homage, an act of humility. Salieri who desired only to be "owned—ordered—exhausted by an Absolute'' affirms what he can.
Source: Daniel R. Jones, "Peter Shaffer's Continued Quest for God in Amadeus," in Comparative Drama, Vol 21, No 3, Fall 1987, pp 145-153.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3451
When Milos Forman's lavish $18 million film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus was released in the fall of 1984, it quickly garnered the praise of both the press and American moviegoers. In just the first month of its release while playing in only one hundred theaters, Amadeus grossed over $5 million. The following March, the Directors Guild of America named the Czechoslovakian-born Forman best director of 1984 for his colorful retelling of the supposed rivalry between the obsessed, jealous court composer Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, egocentric, impudent genius. A few weeks later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the film eight Oscars including best director for Forman, best actor for F. Murray Abraham who portrayed Salieri, and best picture for 1984. Time magazine's Richard Corliss called the film "a grand, sprawling entertainment that incites enthrallment''; Newsweek's David Ansen labeled it "a feast for the eyes and ears"; Playboy's Bruce Williamson praised the production for being "triumphant and courageous . . . unequivocally the grandest epic ever made about the life of a great composer."
In spite of the film's popular box office success, some reviewers were less enthusiastic. Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker, asserted that although the film has a very complicated surface structure, "after a while the rhetoric cancels itself out . . ." and what's left is ". . . nothing but confusion at the heart of the movie." She chided Forman's crudeness in portraying Mozart as a bumpkin with a hideous, high-pitched whinny-giggle and implied that the showmanship in promoting the movie as a ''major contribution to art'' accounted for its popular acclaim. David Thompson, writing in Film Comment, complaining that "Something in the initial appetizing rush of Amadeus nagged at me . . . there's something wrong, and it's not disguised by polish and reticence." He decried the film's failure to depict a more fully developed, sensitively aware Mozart and a Salieri less villainous and mired in delusions of undeserved mediocrity. However, neither side of the Amadeus dialectic has articulated the striking similarity that Amadeus shares with the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning, both in form and content, a similarity that negates much of the disparaging criticism. Poems such as Fra Lippo Lippi, Andrea del Sarto, and My Last Duchess, for example, contain elements which make them akin to Amadeus in ways which critics, both pro and con, have failed to notice and which when taken into consideration add another compelling dimension to the film.
Robert Langbaum, who has written the best modern study of the dramatic monologue, cites three characteristics usually present in the form for which Browning and Tennyson are held to be the nineteenth-century exemplars: a speaker, whose voice is generally not the poet's; a listener; and an occasion. The poem's drama results from the interplay between these three. In My Last Duchess the speaker is the Duke, a despicable villain who has had his vivacious wife murdered, the listener is an envoy from his prospective wife's family; and the occasion is a meeting in the Duke's palace to arrange the terms for the dowry that will accompany her. Andrea del Sarto's speaker is Andrea himself, an artist whose accomplishments have not lived up to his own expectations; the listener is his wife, Lucrezia, who only marginally tolerates Andrea's affection in return for economic support; and the occasion is an early evening meeting in their home during which he desires her company for only half an hour in order to replenish his depleted artistic inspiration. Fra Lippo Lippi's speaker is Fra Lippo, a Florentine artist of some renown; the listener is a policeman; and the occasion is an encounter between the two resulting from Fra Lippo's suspicious prowling about the streets in the middle of the night. This is, of course, the form Shaffer and Forman have used in Amadeus. The speaker is Antonio Salieri, artisitic rival and self-proclaimed murderer of Mozart; the listener is a priest who has come to minister to him, and the occasion is Salieri's confinement in an insane asylum for attempted suicide.
In Browning's poems, the function of the envoy, the wife, and the policeman is merely to provide an audience in the poem to whom each of the speakers can direct his thoughts. The listeners do not respond; no conversation occurs even though two people are present and complex, significant utterances come forth. One feature of the dramatic monologue, as Patrick Murray points out in his book on literary criticism, is that the motives which cause the characters to speak cannot be accounted for in the dramatic context of the poem alone. The utterances arise only partly as a response to the situation; the rest can be seen as an explanation for the character's philosophy, his ambition, or his failure, or perhaps as an expression of his obsessions, desires, or fears. In any case, the speaker does not expect a reply, nor does he hope to accomplish anything or alter events in any way through his speaking.
Why, then, does he speak at all? According to Langbaum, the speaker speaks to understand something about himself and this ultimate purpose is responsible for the curious style of address in the dramatic monologue:
Not only does the speaker direct his address outward as in a dialogue but the style of address gives the effect of a closed circuit, with the speaker directing his address outward in order that it may return with a meaning he was not aware of when sending it forth. I say a closed circuit because the utterance seems to be directed only obliquely at the ostensible auditor, and seems never to reach its ultimate goal with him. Nor does the essential interchange take place with the auditor, for even where the auditor's remarks are implied, the speaker never learns anything from them and they do not change the meaning of the utterance. If the speaker represents one voice of a dialogue, then his other self is the essential second voice in that it sends back his own voice with a difference.
This, too, is very similar to what occurs in Amadeus and is, in part, what accounts for the "curious style of address" of F. Murray Abraham's performance. The priest is summoned to the insane asylum to elicit a confession from Salieri, who claims to have murdered Mozart. What transpires, though, is not at all a simple interchange between clergyman and sinner during which the expected confession occurs, but a grueling, twenty-four hour monologue in which the embittered, jealous composer who has outlived Mozart by thirty-one years now finally explains his own life. There is, really, no conversation between the priest and Salieri; the priest's brief replies cannot be taken as any more than token responses dictated by the exigencies of the screen medium. Like the implied responses from the envoy, Andrea's wife, and Fra Lippo's arresting officer, the priest's remarks do not constitute any meaningful interchange with Salieri, nor does Salieri learn anything from them. As speaker, Salieri represents the primary voice of the dialogue and his "other self," in Langbaum's words, is the essential second voice as he looks back examining, explaining, reflecting.
Langbaum points out that one major distinguishing feature of the dramatic monologue is the reader's sympathetic relation to the poem. Because we are forced to experience the dramatic event through the speaker's viewpoint, we necessarily see the event in such a way as to form some sort of sympathetic understanding with him. In My Last Duchess, for example, even as outrageous and cruel as the Duke's behavior has been, condemnation is not our primary reaction to him; we are intrigued by his intelligence, his high-handed aristocratic manners, his poise, and his superior appreciation for beauty. Langbaum's point is that by our viewing the events as the speaker perceives them, a tension is created between our sympathy with him and our moral judgment of him. And although few monologues depict speakers as villainous as the Duke, the most successful ones, according to Langbaum, deal with speakers who are in some way reprehensible. Further, says Langbaum, the combination of villain and aesthete creates an especially strong tension.
Again, these ideas are exactly what Shaffer and Forman have capitalized on in Amadeus. We are forced to experience the drama through Salieri's eyes as he tells his story in flashback—not actually to the priest but to himself in an attempt to analyze and discover the meaning of his life. And as we become intrigued by his intelligence, aristocratic manners, poise, and appreciation for beauty, a tension develops as a certain sympathy is felt for his anguish. At the same time, moral judgment regarding his reprehensible treatment of Mozart comes into play. This tension is strenghtened by the combination of Salieri's villainry and aesthetic sensibilities. Like Browning's Duke, Salieri is capable of utterly reproachable behavior—interfering with Mozart's court appointments, spitefully influencing the Emperor against him, and finally apparently causing the young composer's death by overwork. Also like the Duke, Salieri is a connoisseur of beauty, of the finer things life has to offer—attractive women, elegant clothing, social status, rich food exquisitely prepared, and, of course, music—the opera, especially, and the chamber performances. This blending of loathsome, evil attributes with the cultured, refined tastes of a discriminating man reveal a character who can be simultaneously admired and hated. Thus Browning's technique of creating dramatic tension by combining these qualities is duplicated in Amadeus. The audience experiences palpable tension as a result of sympathizing with Salieri's esthetic sensibilities while simultaneously judging his reprehensible behavior.
In addition to these similarities in form which coexist in Amadeus and Browning's monologues, the film shares another significant correspondence with the poems in that neither was ever intended to be an historically accurate, factual accounting of its characters. Yet the liberties that both Shaffer and Forman took in creating their work troubled some critics Thompson refers to the way "the historical Mozart'' may have affected his contemporaries and later comments, "The worst crime against history in the play and the film is not in painting Mozart as a brat or Salieri as the lizard of murderous envy; it is in presenting Mozart as unaware of what is going on, while Salieri is a sleek Iago. And it is sheer hypocrisy to try to pretend that this wizard Salieri is a mediocrity."
Pauline Kael also found the lack of allegience to truth a disturbing detraction. She found "Forman's insensitivity to what Mozart might have been like . . . if you've read Mozart's letters you know this twerp couldn't have written them."
A precedent for this kind of historical manipulation exists, however, in the three dramatic monologues already mentioned. My Last Duchess, Andrea del Sarto, and Fra Lippo Lippi are all based on identifiable historical figures who possessed many of the traits, characteristics, circumstances, and professions attributed to them in the poems. Yet Browning was less interested in specific identification and historical accuracy than he was in evoking a spirit of the Italian Renaissance. By grounding the monologues in real people, Browning creates a tone of authenticity and realism perhaps not attainable with completely fictional characters. Once this tone is established, though, the poet is free to create, embellish, and restructure whatever he wishes in order to meet his own ends, as Browning does in each poem.
Again, this is exactly the idea Shaffer and Forman have capitalized on in making Amadeus. In a lengthy article describing how Amadeus the stage play was transformed into Amadeus the film, New York Times reporter Michiko Kakutani illustrates the successive changes which occurred in plot and characterization. Describing how the role of Salieri was enlarged to heighten the confrontation between the protagonists and to make Salieri a more active cause of Mozart's downfall, Kakutani writes this of the revising process: "Shaffer has moved further and further away from the verifiable facts, and created what is more of an imagined interpretation of history." An imagined interpretation of history—Browning's tactics recapitulated.
Shaffer himself was quite forthright about the lack of historical truthfulness; of his collaboration with director Forman he has written that "from the start we agreed upon one thing: we were not making an objective life of Wolfgang Mozart. This cannot be stressed too strongly. Obviously Amadeus on stage was never intended to be a documentary biography of the composer, and the film is even less of one." Commenting specifically on the film's deathbed sequence which portrays Salieri plotting to steal the ''Requiem'' after Mozart finishes dictating it and dies (a scene Kael calls "the muzziest part of the movie . . . definitely one plot too many"), Shaffer boldly explains, "Quite obviously such a scene never took place in fact. However, our concern at this point was not with fact, but with the undeniable laws of drama. It is where holding fast to the thread of our protagonist's mania—we were finally led."
One could make the point, of course, that art patron Vespasiano Gonzaga, Duke of Sabbioneta (1531-91), Italian painter Andrea del Sarto (1487-1531), and the monk/painter Fillippo Lippi (1412-69) are considerably less well-known than Mozart and that fictionalizing their lives for artistic purposes in poetry has fewer consequences than fictionalizing the life of a far better known composer in a big budget movie intended for wide distribution.
That a work of art based on the lives of famous men need not be grounded on fact did not seem to disturb Charles Morey, however, who directed a production of Amadeus at the University of Utah's Pioneer Memorial Theater in Salt Lake City in 1984. With regard to the importance of historical accuracy, Morey said:
That is really irrelevant in doing the play. This is, as Shaffer has said, a fantasia on the lives of two men. Shaffer began with some facts and some myths and then took the story into his own speculation concerning the nature of man's relationship with God. In that sense, this play parallels a lot of classical plays. Shakespeare's "Richard II" immediately comes to mind. There are those who believe Shakespeare captured Richard's true character, while others feel Richard spins in his grave every time the play is presented. Perhaps Mozart does the same with Amadeus.
This play is not a literal document. It is an example of an artist who has taken some facts, put them through a blender and then said something he wanted to say. That's the joy of art. We are able to see a different vision than what facts create. Real life rarely creates statements for us, but artists take real life and create artistic statements. That is what Shaffer has done and regardless of one's opinion about his observations, Mozart lives on in his music. That is his glory and you can forgive almost anything because of that.
Had Shaffer and Forman intended Amadeus to be a documentary biography of Mozart's life, depicting him as unaware and presenting Salieri as villainous and mediocre might well be justifiably criticized. Had they intended Amadeus an objective portrayal of Mozart's life, perhaps Shaffer and Forman could be accused of insensitivity and crudeness. But, clearly, they were attempting something far different from a "literal document" in their blending of fact with myth, something which they knew transcended those statements created for us by real life. What, then, was their purpose in straying so far from historical accuracy? What was it that these artists wanted to say when their "facts" came out of the blender?
The answer to these questions leads, I think, to yet another correspondence with Browning's monologues which may be more striking than the already mentioned similarities in form. And that is the content of the film, for many of the issues that Browning raises in My Last Duchess, Fra Lippo Lippi, and Andrea del Sarto are examined in Amadeus as well.
In My Last Duchess Browning explores the problem of jealousy and envy as motives for murder. The Duke was apparently so jealous of the Duchess's beauty that he would permit only a monk to paint her portrait and allowed even him only one day with her to complete the work. And after her death, the Duke's jealousy continues, for he keeps the portrait veiled and controls who may view it. His overwhelming envy of her zest for life and joyful nature led him to "give commands so her smiles would stop."
In Fra Lippo Lippi Browning explores the relationship between religion and art. In answering his own question "Come, what am I a beast for?" Fra Lippo concludes that his purpose in life is to praise God through his painting. Art is a gift from God, he says, and he can best repay the gift with his ability to interpret God to his fellow man. His painting will serve its purpose if religion grows in those who view it.
In Andrea del Sarto Browning's theme is mediocrity in the face of genius as well as the jealousy and despair that one suffers as a result of the comparison. Andrea recognizes that although his paintings are technically faultless, they fail to achieve the masterful distinction of his contemporaries Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. He questions where the responsibility for his mediocrity lies, first blaming Lucrezia but ultimately holding God accountable.
Threads of all these concerns dominate Amadeus. The issue of who holds responsibility for mediocrity begins to be probed just minutes into the film as the priest assures Salieri that "All men are equal in God's eyes." Salieri's sarcastic rejoinder is icy, bitter, introspective. "Are they?" As Salieri's monologue unfolds through the series of flashbacks, these thematic correspondences become clear. First, the concept of celebrating God's glory through one's artistic talent is shown as Salieri recalls the presence of his desire from his early childhood. Next, he thanks God for the gift of his artistic ability as he composes a piece of music. Finally, Salieri recognizes the voice of God speaking through another man and questions God's justice in bestowing this gift of genius on a profane, giggly creature like Mozart while denying the full gift to a devout man like himself.
Although Shaffer's initial interest in the story centered on the conflicting reports about Mozart's death, it soon evolved into a larger form. "'I had a bigger and grander story,' he told the New York Times. 'It was the enormous theme of the envy of genius by mediocrity. It is also about the relevance of human goodness to art.'" The relevance of goodness to art is one of those issues or "statements rarely created for us by real life" that Shaffer wanted to illustrate and surely accounts for some of the liberties taken with Mozart's characterization. Yet it makes for provocative thinking. Again, Charles Morey's comments illustrate the heart of Shaffer's idea:
. . . grace is a free gift of God. You can't bargain or beg for it. God gives it to whom He will. Salieri, who is a good and virtuous man, thinks otherwise and that's the nature of his dilemma. God won't grant him his sole ambition in life which is the opportunity to create music that reaches beyond him. Instead He gives it to Mozart who is a foul, offensive, scatological little pig.
Too often we assume, Shaffer implies, that God automatically rewards virtue; we need an occasional reminder that this is untrue. God cannot be bargained with as Salieri attempted to do in offering to live a life of chastity in return for God's bestowing upon him a gift of artistic talent. Echoes of Andrea's complaint sound in Salieri's words, "All I ever wanted was to sing to God. Why did he give me that longing then make me mute?"
A major portion of the film demonstrates, then, that because Salieri was unable to reconcile "what God was up to" he "began to know violent thoughts." Here, more echoes of Andrea reverberate in Salieri's recognition of his own mediocrity and as his envy of true genius overwhelms him. It is in this looking back, reexamining, as he tells his story throughout the night ostensibly to the priest, but really to himself, that Salieri's "essential second voice" comes back to him. He sees the degree in which his obsessive envy of genius has affected his life, bringing him to an asylum for madness and attempted suicide. Langbaum describes the climax of Browning's monologues as the point where ''the speaker reaches his apotheosis of perception." This describes exactly the conclusion of Amadeus, as well: having achieved his moment of godlike insight, Salieri is now capable of forgiving others of his sin and is wheeled through the corridors of the asylum, a patron saint proclaiming, ''Mediocrities, I absolve you."
Source: Martha A Townsend, ''Amadeus as Dramatic Monologue," in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol 14, No. 4,1986, pp. 214-219.