glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Shaffer, Sir Peter (b. 1926)  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

And in Amadeus (1979), Antonio Salieri--who had achieved fame and fortune in his day as the imperial court's official composer while his genius rival, Mozart, languished in poverty and died in madness--conducts a one-sided debate with God about the nature of spiritual effort and grace.

In these three productions, Shaffer was particularly fortunate in his directors, John Dexter and Peter Hall, and in the designers who created such mesmerizing theatrical effects as the illusion of the Spanish army climbing the Andes in Royal Hunt, or the wire-framed heads and hooves worn by actors in velour costumes that offered the hypnotic impression of a stable of horses in Equus.

Dominic Shellard reports that the extraordinary success of Shaffer's three plays saved the struggling National Theatre, putting the newly opened and woefully underfunded institution on a firm financial footing, as well as identifying it as a source of breathtakingly original theater.

The plays won professional acclaim and personal fortune for Shaffer as well. All three triumphed in New York following their London success, and were made with varying degrees of success into films, with Amadeus (1984) winning Academy Awards as Best Picture, for F. Murray Abraham as Best Actor, and for Shaffer himself for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Shaffer closed this stage of his development with Yonadab (1985), a play that used the biblical narrative of Amnon's rape of his half-sister Tamar to explore the psyche of "a cynic lured for a moment into the possibility of Belief: an anguished figure caught between the impossibility of religious credo and the equal impossibility of perpetual incredulity," as Shaffer wrote in his preface to the published text of the play.

He returned to the farcical mode of the 1960s with the highly successful Lettice and Lovage (London, 1987; New York, 1990), in which Maggie Smith played a tour guide exasperated "to live in a country that wants only the Mere," and who seduces her fact-obsessed supervisor into reenacting with her the most dramatic moments in English history.

Shaffer returned to the tortured epic mode of Royal Hunt--and to his own roots as an undergraduate history major--with The Gift of the Gorgon (1992), in which the illegitimate son of a famous playwright who hopes to write his late father's biography must learn about the "Sacred Gift of Vengeance" that is at the heart of both ancient social custom and his father's Artaudesque plays. Unfortunately, like Yonadab, Gift of the Gorgon proved a commercial failure, after which Shaffer seems to have retired from the stage.

Shaffer's dividing his time each year between New York and London is responsible for a professional pattern that began in the 1970s in which his plays premiered in London, but oftentimes were significantly revised before they reached New York, making the latter productions the definitive texts even though the London scripts had often already appeared in print.

Most famously, The Battle of Shrivings (London, 1970), which had not fared well in its initial form, was heavily rewritten with a reduced number of characters and a sharper conflict as Shrivings (New York, 1974). Likewise, Shaffer improved the thematic focus of Yonadab when it moved from London to New York. And, perhaps of greatest consequence, when Lettice and Lovage opened in New York it had a radically different ending that was more in keeping with the festive nature of the comedy.

Shaffer's willingness to continue revising his plays--and the generosity with which he credits his directors, set and costume designers, and actors--suggests the extent to which he considers theater to be a vital, organic process that relies upon collaboration at every level.

Shaffer has always retained a low profile personally. A heart attack suffered shortly before The Gift of the Gorgon premiered in 1992 seems to have contributed to his subsequent reduction in productivity. Although New York magazine announced in June 2006 that Shaffer "is completing a play on [gay composer Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky," no such production has since emerged.

Instead, Shaffer has been represented on the professional stage by revivals of Amadeus (London, 1999; New York, 2000) and Equus (London, 2007; New York, 2009), the latter starring "Harry Potter" film actor Daniel Radcliffe, whose nudity in the final scene filled the theater every night with audiences eager to see what pundits referred to as the actor's "magic wand."

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3  4  5  6   next page>  
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation




This Entry Copyright © 2012 glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.