2.1.2 Criticism

The controversial question of historical authenticity has given cause to many discussions in the press. Both the play and the film have been widely criticised for various reasons. I will give a short survey of the criticism and relate it to the various aspects of the drama.

It seems that Shaffer touched an irritable spot, and so "the very innovativeness [...] of the story became a major source of complaint." (Gianakaris 1992, 110) Innumerable Mozart lovers regarded Amadeus as a sacrilegious work that damaged the image of their idol. Their enragement was partly due to the contrast between the portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus and his image that arose in the Romantic age. The portrait of Mozart created by the Romantic tradition was that of a porcelain puppet with a red coat, a white periwig, and heaven-cast eyes, playing on a porcelain piano. For many fans the realisation that Mozart was not "the delicate, angelic figure the 19th century made him out to be" (Schonberg 1980, 1) was painful and disturbing. Michael Walsh, for instance, maintains that ever since Mozart's death, "pop culture has been trying to turn him into the first romantic martyr" (51), but nonetheless he accuses Shaffer and Forman of "continuing the honourable tradition of spreading mis- and disinformation about Mozart" (52). He closes his article stating that "it's too bad that Amadeus [...] misses the real Mozart almost completely." (52) Shaffer, however, realises that "[n]obody has suffered more than Mozart from sentimental misjudgment" (Shaffer 1984, 27) and that, consequently, no one can know for sure what "the real Mozart" was like.

Walsh's article is exemplary of the general criticism of Amadeus. The various authors point out that the Mozarts had two surviving children, that Salieri was not at all a mediocrity, that Mozart did not dictate his Requiem to Salieri, but to his assistant Süssmeyr, and so on. This criticism focuses on details and springs from a misinterpretation of the role and means of the drama. This point is summed up very accurately by Matthew Scott:

Those reviews of Amadeus which I have read seem to me to miss Shaffer's point behind this characterisation of Mozart. Surely the historical authenticity of the character is irrelevant. It is its use in the theatrical whole which is under consideration. [...] I would ask that Amadeus be considered as theatre, and that audiences accept those concepts of time, place and character peculiar to theatre, as opposed to longing for the more inflexible rules of history. (Scott, 41)

Warren Sylvester Smith also agrees that "it is not the business of a dramatist to be a historian in any literal sense" (344). "The theater's purpose," he proceeds to explain, "is not to present [...] eighteenth-century musicology with textbook accuracy, but to excite audiences with fresh views of human relationships." (350) Furthermore, the "honourable tradition of spreading mis- and disinformation" (Walsh, 52) was carried on not only with Mozart's successors -- for example Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, and Schumann -- but also with innumerable historical personalities, without ever really causing a great sensation.

It is therefore astonishing that Amadeus should arouse so much emotion, but due to the status of Mozart in the musical world, the play and the film were viewed as iconoclastic. However, it is important to see the irony in Amadeus, especially in the film version. Irony is an omnipresent element in Milos Forman's films, and Amadeus is no exception. The film is a colourful and florid Rococo spectacle that presents Mozart's age in exactly the way that a modern audience wants to imagine it. This is explored in detail by Gilbert Adair who sees Amadeus as "a cartoon of the eighteenth century" (143). Curiously enough, other critics neglect this aspect. Furthermore, Shaffer himself states that "[n]either play nor picture represents a documentary life of Mozart, but both borrow deliberately and delightedly from the conventions of his operas". (Shaffer 1984, 38)

One further point that must be remembered is that all perceptions of Mozart are channelled through the eyes of Salieri. In other words, the only liberty Shaffer took was to invent the inner life of his protagonist, of which nothing is known historically. All the remaining events take place in the memory of the old and deranged Salieri, where the distinction between fact and fiction is immaterial.

   2.2 Psychological and psychoanalytic elements