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Shaffer, Sir Peter (b. 1926)  
 
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Shaffer's examination of the creative individual's need to transcend what Lettice disdainfully terms "the Mere" makes his later plays statements about the nature of theater. Lettice's determination to transcend the "mere" is dramatized in the gloriously farcical opening scene of Lettice and Lovage in which she leads three successive groups of visitors through a National Trust home. On each tour she further exaggerates the history of the house until, finally, she has discarded the entire of her factually accurate and officially sanctioned presentation, and delights her tour group with a fantastic narrative entirely of her own making.

Lettice's imagination was first stimulated by her mother, who acted the male leads in the Shakespeare plays that her troupe performed in France, and whose best role was Falstaff. In a post-war world that "gets uglier by the minute," Lettice's mother's productions were "dedicated to lighting up the world, not dousing it in dust." Lettice is eventually challenged by her friend-antagonist Lotte to use her dramatic skills to "light up in the Present! Reveal the ugliness for what it is!" by leading guided tours of the modern architectural abominations that destroy the nobility and charm of historic London.

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More disturbingly, in Gift of the Gorgon playwright Edward Damson believes that in a world where "people prefer the shrivelled stuff--reflections of their own shrivelled lives," it is the duty of the playwright "to be extreme. To astound his audience--and, if necessary, appall it." Scenes from Damson's plays are enacted in the course of Shaffer's drama, Damson's theatrical work offering a terrifying commentary on his private life.

Like Royal Hunt, Equus, and Amadeus, Gorgon dramatizes a character's drive to loose the bonds of pedestrian modern life and live mythically. The demands that Shaffer's dramaturgy makes upon his audience are, finally, his attempt to stimulate their otherwise passive imaginations through the operations of "total theater."

By rejecting their contemporaries' preference for box-like buildings, pedestrian music, and commercial success, Shaffer's protagonists take part in a process that Lettice celebrates in the toast that she offers Lotte: "Enlargement for shrunken souls--Enlivenment for dying spirits--Enlightenment for dim, prosaic eyes."

Shaffer's Male Couples

The rejection of the "mere" is most often figured in Shaffer's plays as the rejection of a socially acceptable yet, ultimately, deeply unsatisfying sexuality. Although he has never made homosexual experience the immediate subject of one of his plays, Shaffer--like his contemporaries Edward Albee and Stephen Sondheim--possesses a genius for exposing the lies upon which the illusion of normalcy is founded.

Shaffer sex even under circumstances, as when Alan stands in the dark embracing the horse "like a necking couple" in Equus; when the idealistic and socially hapless protagonist hopes for something other than a "mod" relationship with Doreen in Private Ear; or when in Public Ear the private detective is able to establish a more intimate relationship with his client's wife than the husband himself enjoys, even though the private detective and the wife never touch or speak.

In Amadeus Salieri is shocked by the uninhibitedly erotic and gleefully scatological nature of Mozart's relationship with his wife, Constanze. And the eponymous protagonist of Yonadab seeks to challenge the existence of God by facilitating Amnon's rape of his half-sister. Salieri and Yonadab are but two of the numerous voyeurs who appear in Shaffer's plays, and who are disturbed by the sexual behaviors that they witness yet from which they are unable to look away.

In The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus, Amadeus, and Yonadab--plays in which the protagonist bonds with a same-sex antagonist who holds a radically different view of the world or represents an alternate way of life--Shaffer creates a homosocial world that borders on the homoerotic.

Pizarro and Atahuallpa, Dysart and Alan, Salieri and Mozart, and Yonadab and Amnon complement and complete each other in intriguing ways. What is more, apart from Clea and Brindsley in Black Comedy, and Helen and Edward in Gift of the Gorgon, Shaffer does not seem interested in representing successful heterosexual relationships. Protagonists like Gideon, Dysart, Salieri, and Yonadab evidence little or no sexual drive towards women, and the women in these plays (Lois, Jill, Constanze, Tamar) function largely as pawns in power games between men.

John Clum has gone so far as to call Pizarro and Dysart "closet pederasts." "Reflecting on my early experience as a rapt audience member at John Dexter's productions of The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Equus helped me understand the homoerotics of theater," Clum writes. "Dexter's highly theatrical productions foregrounded the homoerotic dimension that was repressed in the script itself. The productions kept one's visual focus on the lithe, often partially clad youth, in Royal Hunt on Atahuallpa and even more in Equus on the boy, who was clearly presented as the object of the psychiatrist's--and the audience's gaze."

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