Masaryk university of brno faculty of education

Introduction to Peter Shaffer

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1.1. Introduction to Peter Shaffer

Peter Shaffer is still an active English playwright and screenwriter of numerous award-winning plays, several of which have been filmed. He is an internationally recognized and highly acclaimed writer of contemporary British theatre. His work has been consistently performed over fifty years on commercial, metropolitan, professional and amateur stages worldwide.

Shaffer was born to a Jewish family in 1926 in Liverpool as a twin to his brother, playwright Anthony Shaffer. Educated in Liverpool and later in London he subsequently gained a scholarship to Trinity College in Cambridge, where he studied history. During the Second World War he spent three years working at a coal mine and this experience gave him “enormous sympathy and feeling of outrage in contemplating how a lot of people had to spend their lives” (Kavanagh 5). Simultaneously he embarked on a commencing career as a writer of detective stories together with his brother, the first of the three novels The Woman in the Wardrobe, published in 1951 under a pseudonym ‘Peter Anthony’. Asked later why he was reluctant to publish the story under his real name Peter Shaffer responded: “I had a sense that I wasn't going to continue as a detective writer [...] I just felt that I would rather reserve whatever writing I did of a more serious nature for my own name” (Kavanagh 5).

The following year Shaffer left England to live and work in New York where he seemed to be drifting from one job to another including a salesman in a department store, a bookseller and a librarian in the New York Public Library. Feeling a little hopelessly, Shaffer was gaining courage to start a career as a full-time writer. He had to, however, overcome his father’s conviction that proper work involved a serious profession and writing was considered something like an interest. As a result Shaffer commented: “I denied myself the pleasure of writing plays for a very long time” (Kavanagh 5). Although in no interview has Shaffer admitted the resentment about his father’s attitude, it might be assumed that the motif of dominant fathers that impose their visions on their adolescent sons that appears in his plays (in the characters including Stanley Harrington, Frank Strang and Leopold Mozart) has its origins here.

When he returned back to England in 1954 he began to work for the music publishers Boosey and Hawkes. By then he, however had realized that if did not commence a career as a writer immediately he would never do. He resigned his job and decided to “live now on my literary wits” (Kavanagh 6). Living on small money as a literary critic and allowance from his father, he began to write in earnest and soon was rewarded for his efforts by the sale of his television play The Salty Land to ITV. Within following two years he got his another detective novel published and sold his plays to BBC television and radio. This period in Shaffer’s life can be regarded as time when his career as a playwright was in progress.

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