Masaryk university of brno faculty of education

The meaning of irony in Amadeus

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The meaning of irony in Amadeus

The play is by all means full of irony. Antonio Salieri as the designer of Mozart’s gradual mental and professional decline becomes himself mentally broken and for thirty years, after Mozart’s death, has been facing a process of self-destruction. If he blames God for breaking the treaty at the beginning of the play, he blames himself for the tragedy he has caused at the end. The rumours of the assassination spread among the Viennese make Salieri tie to Mozart’s name closer than ever before. What’s more, they ensure him immortality as Salieri expresses in his desperate call:

After today, whenever men speak Mozart’s name with love, they will speak mine with loathing! As his name grows in the world so will mine – if not in fame, then in infamy. I’m going to be immortal after all! – And He is powerless to prevent it! . . . (He laughs harshly.) So, Signore – see now if Man is mocked! (Shaffer “Amadeus” 100)

The play is intertwined with several aspects symbolizing ‘the end of good times’ and the beginning of times of change and difficulties that shall intrude the life of Antonio Salieri before long.

Such a turning point in Salieri’s formation occurs, in particular, in the scene of the March of Welcome played by Salieri accompanying Mozart to the Imperial court of the Schonbrunn Palace. Mozart is personified to ‘upgrade’ Salieri’s March, shortly after his arrival in Vienna. By this clownish roguishness Mozart openly manifests that the composition and the whole Salieri’s music production alike are of average feats. Additionally, he escalates his public act by replaying the March over and over, finally stopping at the fourth beat claiming: “It does not really work that Fourth, does it? Let’s try the Third above” . . . (Amadeus 27). Mozart obviously does it with a joy, with attributes of a grotesque using his unique, disarming comments in order to insult the ‘old cattivo’.1

For Salieri this humiliation seems to be totally devastating, rude gesture, which has far-reaching consequences for further development of their relationship. Ashamed, Salieri realizes his loss. This passage is, ironically enough, used later in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro,2 specifically in the aria in which Figaro warns Cherub that “now is the time to forget the joys and benefits of the past and look forward to coming woes” (Shaffer “Longman” xix).

Shaffer in the play uses passages of music as a medium through which he decodes the figure of Antonio Salieri. More ironic elements in the characters of Mozart and Salieri occur in the processing of their way of communication. While Mozart, a composer of divine music, is conferred a language of a ‘teenage brat’, Salieri, a composer of average talent, is featured with long philosophical monologues nearly as if he was reciting poetry. The passage in which Salieri expresses his anger and betrayal that God perpetrated on him, is an explicit example.

Grazie tanti! You put into me perception of the Imcomparable – which men never know! – then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre. (His voice gains power.) Why? . . . What is my fault? . . . (Shaffer “Longman” xxiii)

As the play proceeds, Salieri takes Mozart under his wings and serves more or less as his surrogate father: he promises his intercession at the Imperial Court to help Mozart in his misery, offers support and friendship (yet bogus one) and performs as a companion whom Mozart may entrust at any time. It is the matter of unravelling whether desperate Mozart is able to recognize the meanness in Salieri’s treatment to him, or is already so hopelessly ill that he blindly receives any message of hope he is being delivered. My interpretation is that he is aware of the abuse, but is not left any other choice. Who else, after all, shall he appeal to in such a non-prospective state, after all his fellows have turned their backs to him and assumed a reserved stance?

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