Fathers and Sons in Shaffer's Play

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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 intertwines these themes in the play with its most absorbing one—an exploration of the problematic relations that can develop between fathers and sons.

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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...

(The entire section contains 10434 words.)

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