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

As Clum notes, both Royal Hunt and Equus "ended with a vision of an older man standing or kneeling by the prone body of a young man, lamenting what he had lost."

Reviewing the original production of Royal Hunt, Robert Brustein--never a fan of gay elements in contemporary drama--observed even more tartly that "by the end of the play . . . , the whole brutal struggle [between the Spaniards and the Incas] has degenerated into a fraternal romance between a lissome young redskin and an aging lonely paleface--a relationship which is illuminated less by Artaud than by Leslie Fiedler in his essay 'Come Back to the Raft Again, Huck Honey.'"

Explicit homosexuality appears in the background in Shaffer's early plays. In Black Comedy, for example, protagonist Brindsley Miller's neighbor, Harold Gorringe, is a middle-aged homosexual dandy who has furnished his apartment with Regency chairs, a chaise longue, and a Wedgewood bowl sitting atop a Queen Anne table. Harold clearly has a yen for the dashing, heterosexual Brindsley, and seems to feel more betrayed by Brindsley's keeping news of his engagement to Carol private (and, thus, dashing Harold's hope of sexually enjoying the neighbor for whom he has been cooking and cleaning) than he is by Brindsley's surreptitiously furnishing his own apartment with Harold's prize collectibles in order to impress Carol's father.

But more often, homosexuality is the secret to be uncovered, the mystery at the heart of the play. In Five Finger Exercise, for example, Clive is devastated when he proposes traveling on holiday with Walter and is gently rebuffed. The nature of Clive's feelings for Walter is never articulated, but powerful sexual undercurrents inform Clive's exchange with the handsome German.

Likewise, in White Liars Frank and Tom each try to manipulate the other by paying separate visits to a fortune teller in the attempt to bribe her into later delivering a specific fortune to his band mate. The audience is led to believe that the two men are interested in the same girl, whom each hopes to gain for himself through a subterfuge. But at the play's climax, Tom chokes to admit, rather, that he hopes to drive the girl out of their lives and have Frank "stay with me. In--my--bed."

And at the close of Shrivings, Mark reveals that his saintly friend Gideon was able to renounce coitus with women because "the only sex Gideon ever really enjoyed was with boys . . . . Slim brown boys with sloping shoulders. He used to chase them all over Italy on our walking tours [as students]. And then, of course, the guilt would chase him."

Whom Do I Have the Honour of Addressing? climaxes with an unsuspecting middle-aged secretary's discovery of a sexually graphic video made of the sadomasochistic engagement of popular film actor Tom Prance--the angel-faced, twenty-four-year-old heart throb whom she idolizes--with his louche male body guard and manager. When Angela and Tom first met, she was taken with his correct use of the pronoun "whom," which she interpreted to be an indication of the natural gentility that lies behind the bad boy persona that he assumes in his movies. But the graphic nature of the videotape reveals to her the animalistic sexual rage that lies behind or beneath Tom's well-mannered observance of linguistic convention.

Like the exchange that opens Shakespeare's Hamlet ("Who's there?" "Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself"), the title of Shaffer's radio play succinctly focuses for an audience the impossibility of our ever fully knowing or understanding another person. Human identity remains a complex mystery, not the least because of the tension that exists between the facade that one presents to a judgmental society and the haunting reality of one's sexual need.

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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arts >> Overview:  British Television

Until recently, British television embraced lesbians and gays as Them rather than Us, but a more diversified and nuanced approach to all kinds of sexuality is likely to be the case in the future.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  Modern Drama

Before Stonewall, censorship of the theater caused authors to encode homosexual content in publicly-presented plays.

arts >> Overview:  Radio

A product of the gay liberation movement spawned by the Stonewall rebellion, queer radio programming remains a significant source of entertainment and information for glbtq communities.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

literature >> Albee, Edward

The American dramatist Edward Albee, whose career flourished in the 1960s and then waned as a result of homophobia, wrote plays with gay subtexts in which loving is the ultimate act of violence and violence is the most effective expression of love.

arts >> Callow, Simon

Versatile British actor Simon Callow has played a wide variety of roles on the stage, in films, and on television, but has remarked on his special affinity for gay roles.

arts >> Gielgud, Sir John

Sir John Gielgud has long been acknowledged as one of the greatest British actors of the twentieth century.

arts >> Kert, Larry

Gay actor and singer Larry Kert introduced some of the most memorable songs in American musical theater.

literature >> Maugham, William Somerset

Frightened by the Oscar Wilde trial, Somerset Maugham avoided treating homosexual themes and characters in his novels and plays.

arts >> McKellen, Sir Ian

Arguably the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation, Ian McKellen was the first British subject to be knighted after publicly revealing his homosexuality, an event that proved more controversial within the gay community than in the mainstream.

literature >> Savage, Dan

Best known for his syndicated sex-advice column, Dan Savage is also the author of books chronicling his and his partner's experiences in adopting a child and dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

arts >> Sondheim, Stephen

One of the most innovative talents of the musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sondheim has only indirectly reflected his homosexuality in his work.


Clum, John M. Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Gianakaris, C. J. Peter Shaffer. London: Macmillan, 1992.

_____, ed. Peter Shaffer: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1991.

Klein, Dennis A. Peter Shaffer. Revised ed. New York: Twayne, 1993.

MacMurraugh-Kavanagh, M. K. Peter Shaffer: Theatre and Drama. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Plunka, Gene A. Peter Shaffer: Roles, Rites, and Rituals in the Theater. Rutherford, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.

Shaffer, Peter. Complete Plays. New York: Harmony, 1988. [Contains the final revised version of every play up to and including Amadeus. In several instances, the texts published in this edition supercede the first printed versions.]

_____. Lettice and Lovage and Yonadab. London: Penguin, 1989.

_____. The Gift of the Gorgon. London: Viking, 1993.

Shellard, Dominic. British Theatre since the War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: Shaffer, Sir Peter  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2012  
    Date Last Updated February 29, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2012 glbtq, Inc.  


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