Amadeus / Peter Shaffer

(London: Penguin, reprinted 2007, revised edition originally published 1985)

Peter Shaffer’s well-known dramatization of jealousy and how it utterly consumes the sufferer. I usually prefer reading plays to watching them, but for this play I think being able to watch it on the stage with the actors in costume and in motion, and to hear the dialog and music that is so necessary to the story, would have been more satisfying. Perhaps I should try to find the movie on DVD, even though it’s substantially revised from the stage version.

General thought: With corrupted protagonists we are usually invited to empathize with them at the beginning. At some point we are supposed to be jarred from empathy by the shock of realization: how could he do that?! What is scary about Shaffer’s Salieri is that he keeps pulling you back into his own shock, when his intuitive appreciation of Mozart’s musical genius is followed quickly by the bitterly cold recalling that he could never have such gifts for himself. This happens the first time he hears Mozart’s music, and is still painfully jarring to him each subsequent time, even when Mozart is close to death after his long, grim plotting. And each of these shocks is an invitation for us to empathize even as he alienates us and his own conscience with his actions. Jealousy is like that, isn’t it? It itself always remains raw, even as it numbs one’s good sense and goodwill.

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