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How does Amadeus present a Postmodernist examination of the Age of Reason?

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It can be argued that Shaffer's drama Amadeus is, essentially, a modern or postmodern examination of the Age of Reason, as both the thematic representations and the characters arguably reflect Enlightenment thought.

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Amadeus is a fictional drama written by English playwright and screenwriter Peter Shaffer, originally published in 1979. Set in Vienna, Austria, it tells the story of the interesting relationship between two of the greatest composers in the world—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Due to its content, the play is also considered a tragedy, and it was actually based on the short 1830 play Mozart and Salieri, written by famed Russian poet, novelist and playwright Alexander Pushkin.

Before the Age of Reason, Europe was mostly under the control of the Church; the people accepted the religious dogmas as irrevocable truths and lived their lives according to the Church's rules and regulations. It wasn't until the seventeenth century that great minds like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and many others began to publicly question tradition and religious authority and started to ponder about the human existence, the meaning of life, the power of individuality, the purpose of humanity, and the laws of nature and the universe; inspired by the fascinating theories of Sir Isac Newton and other notable scientists of the past, these people focused on reason, logic, and knowledge, and tried to explain both the world and themselves by challenging what's already known and incorporating new and exciting ideas and theories about everything.

So, one might ask the following question: how does Shaffer's Amadeus relate to the Age of Enlightenment, and why it might be considered an examination of the ideas and ideals born and crafted during the Age of Reason?

The answer can be found both in the themes and and the characterization in the play. Amadeus is actually set during and post the Age of Reason; thus, it explains the grand impact of the Enlightenment on all spheres, including music. It had undeniable effects and influence on the socio-political and cultural structure and climate of Europe and the world in general.

It can be argued that the character of Salieri is actually the personification of Enlightenment philosophy, as he sees music from a more technical perspective—like a simple combination of sounds; he composes and creates in order to please the audience and honor his beliefs. Salieri is presented as a man with a plan; he appreciates organization, technicality, logic, propriety, responsibility, and moderation. Interestingly enough, despite his logically inclined mind, he is also very pious and very strict when it comes to faith and religion.

Mozart, on the other hand, is the complete opposite; he sees music as a way to express yourself and to unleash your potential. He is lead by emotion and isn't afraid to take risks and explore the unknown; he welcomes change and aims to create harmony and melodiousness. Salieri respects his creations and even deems them ingenious; however, he believes that Mozart's lifestyle does not reflect the incredible beauty and grandiosity of his compositions.

As fate would have it, however, it is Mozart who ends up being the most celebrated and most prominent figure in music—and the one whose legacy is both unparalleled and unmatched to this very day. In this context, it is noteworthy to mention that the philosophers of the Age of Reason did question the existence of fate and free will, and so does Shaffer. He incorporates fate as a minor theme in order to showcase Salieri's jealousy and obsession with success and order and his insistence that God has a plan for everyone.

Shaffer also explores the themes of creation and innovation, as well as the power of the mind and the complexity of greatness and the simplicity of genius. He also incorporates some socio-political themes, as he mentions the weakening of the power of the Church and the monarchy, which is one of the main consequences of the Age of Reason.

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