What use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?
Peter Shaffer's psychological drama Amadeus has aroused controversy ever since its first performance on 2 November 1979 at the National Theatre in London. It has met with enthusiastic reception worldwide and has been translated into twenty-two languages (Plunka, 173). The film version, released in September 1984, has made the drama accessible to a mass audience and thus revived the stormy debate regarding the accurate portrayal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the events that led to his death. Simultaneously, the film started a kind of "Mozart-mania".
Both the play and the film have enjoyed great popularity and were commercial successes. The critical response varied from enthusiastic acclaim to devastating criticism. Unaffected by this criticism, the film has received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director, as well as four Golden Globes. In fact, it was the result of co-operation between two strong artistic personalities, the playwright Peter Shaffer and the film director Milos Forman. The outcome of this co-operation was a new and remarkable work that bears distinctive marks of both artists. For that reason I will begin with a short portrait of both Shaffer and Forman and show the central themes of their work.
In the main part of my analysis, I will first give a brief survey of the relation of the drama to historical reality and the criticism that it has received. Furthermore, I will analyse some primary issues of the work, such as the psychological and psychoanalytic elements in Amadeus, the conflict between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, and the religious themes in the drama. This will establish a basis for the subsequent discussion of the adaptation technique, as well as the changes of emphasis resulting from the reworking of the dramatic substance for a new medium. Finally, after a short introduction concerning the problems of adaptation, I will analyse the selection, addition, and sequence of scenes, the development of the characters for the film version, as well as the use of visual and aural elements in the film.