Between the Lines: Depths of frailty: Richard McCabe on 'Amadeus'

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The Independent Culture
'To be owned - ordered - exhausted by an Absolute. This was denied me - and with it all meaning'

Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus

Salieri's perception of his worth as a creative artist is seriously diminished by the arrival of Mozart at the Viennese court. Working his 'God-given' talent while paradoxically being unsatisfied with the results, Salieri's envy of Mozart turns to despair.

So much energy is geared toward shaking off the spectre of mediocrity, looking to others, hoping something of their absolute might rub off and inspire us also.

As if it really mattered. Salieri becomes Everyman and voices our distraction, a tortured mediocrity - every bit as intense as a tortured genius. Angered by the divine arbitrariness that favoured Mozart, Salieri set about destroying him and ended up destroying only himself.

Shaffer, with great perspicacity, shows the depths to which our frailty can lead us. It is a pleasing irony that the great soaring arias of speeches are given, not as one would expect to the sublime Mozart, but rather to the prosaical Salieri.

Richard McCabe is in 'The Winter's Tale' at the Barbican Theatre from 23 June (Photograph omitted)