Masaryk university of brno faculty of education

The social issue and religion

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The social issue and religion

Shaffer’s work involves a scheme of an individual who should submit to opinions and sentiments of the majority. This aspect of forcible adaptability can be also seen in other Shaffer´s plays like Five Finger Exercise represented by the character of Walter Langer, a young German tutor to the Harringtons´ daughter Pamela, or in Shriving, in which the bohemian spirit of Mark Askelton soon breaks into a savage confrontation with the other members of the Cotswold home of Sir Gideon, especially with his own son. The common desire of Mozart, followed by Salieri as well as Pizarro is to make every effort to attain ‘higher values’ through rivalry. Therefore they are doomed to failure, misunderstood or unwilling to understand. Progressively, they deal with the destiny of becoming solitary outsiders and loners.

Initially, Shaffer introduces Mozart as a confident young man, an adolescent who dares to conquer the Imperial Court of Vienna (the same way that Pizarro is trying to reach for the Sun) in order to gain recognition. Mozart possesses a role of an eccentric stirring public´s attention by every single word he says and deed he does. He presents a youth who revolts against the rigidness of the society and its musical taste, represented by Antonio Salieri. Aware of his musical gifts and Salieri’s limitedness, he craves for new aesthetic and musical forms which would appeal to the Viennese aristocracy for its established conservatism. Shaffer progressively uncovers Mozart’s mental degradation by setting him in a contrast with his own self: To the end of the play Mozart is a man defeated, deceived, misunderstood and expelled. A poor boy who pleads the Viennese elite for living, gradually dependent on Salieri´s 'benefits’ in the form of interceding with His Majesty Josef II for Mozart´s economic survival. Fully ‘tamed’ and rejected, Mozart is deprived of the rival’s competitiveness yet until the last moment of his life determined to get recognized. Salieri is sponging on Mozart´s collapse, like any society feeds on somebody else´s failure. Peter Shaffer in Amadeus sets the handle of a scale, a life balance based on the theory that making one successful means that somebody else must go bankrupt.

The play Amadeus is certainly not built on the single idea of a well-spirited evil genius of Mozart versus average-gifted Salieri. In no respect are Peter Shaffer´s characters so superficially appealing. Salieri, for instance, deserves to be accompanied with a certain feeling of a pity and forgiveness. As the play progresses, a tendency to accept his retaliation for his rival’s impudence emerges and his sufferings are justified. Salieri’s responses are on the whole natural as they would be to any ambitious human being, and his behaviour is one of the aspects that make the play timeless. For this reason Salieri’s character is dramatically more interesting than Mozart’s.

In the scene in which he confides his motives and feelings of betrayal over the past years, he appeals to be shown a piece of respect. After all, why should he, a respected, sophisticated and distinguished composer in the imperial court, suffer from feelings of imperfection and humiliation? For the sake of one ‘childish brat’ from Salzburg? Peter Shaffer further explains:

Of course Salieri commits a stupid sin – and I do not mean his persecution of Mozart. He demands a God he can understand. What artist would do that? He says, in effect, ‘Let me dip my net into the unfathomable well, and bring up shining creatures hitherto unseen!’ But he also says, ‘Let me see the bottom of this well: it is my right as a man! I object to the darkness wherein the connections of beauty are formed.’ As well object to the dark of the womb! Confronted by divine mystery, he says merely, ‘How dare you?’ A fool, you say. And yet he also has his right. All he wanted was to serve. To be owned by the Absolute. We need an answer for his torment. True he is condemned to chew forever the cud of his own poisonous sense of fairness – but yet who would dare say a sense of fairness is dispensable? (Longman ix)

Poor social or emotional background (Pizarro had been a pig herdsman for twenty-four years) or weak relationships with their closest family relatives (Mozart and the conflict with his father on the issue of his marriage with Constanze Weber and consequent refusal of Leopold Mozart to bless such a non-perspective relationship) are reflected in the way of dealing with the subsequent challenge. Peter Shaffer introduces a psychological analysis of his characters, their uncertainty and postponement in making decisions. Pizarro, for instance, faces a dilemma when he must choose between Atahuallpa’s sacrifice and his promise to make the Inca chief a free man. ATAHUALLPA: (Violently.) You gave a word! PIZARRO: And I will keep it. Only not now. Not today. ATAHUALLPA: When? PIZARRO: Soon (Shaffer “The Royal Hunt” 62).

The hero is, afterwards, forced to take full responsibility for the situation, but due to the heavy pressure of the circumstance he must face, he turns to be indecisive and false. Mozart gives an impression of a failure that at a crucial moment of making a life decision sides with the party that serves little benefits: his marriage to Constanze Weber opposes his father’s ideas, he loses his prime supporter Baron von Swietten. His mincing behaviour makes things worse and Mozart tardily approaches the misery that eventually afflicts him at the end of his young life. The very presentation of himself to the Court of Emperor Joseph II is filled with a sense of otherness, unconventionality and violation of the rules that results in his condemnation by the majority and hostility leading to his total loneliness. Similarly, Pizarro finds himself indecisive whether to link his fate with the chief of Incas and that way to face the phenomena of converting to a new God, or remain loyal to his party, meaning to voluntarily and forever deprive himself of the opportunity to experience the new challenge.

ATAHUALLPA. First you must take my priest power

PIZARRO. (Quietly.) Oh, no! you go or not as you choose, but I take nothing more in this world. . .

. . . A long silence. The lights are now fading round them.

PIZARRO. What must I do? (Shaffer “The Royal Hunt” 77)

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