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2.3 The conflict of personalities

In Peter Shaffer's plays, there is always a conflict between opposing elements: "[e]ast and west collide; faithfulness is played against faithlessness; passion and violence against impotence; passivity and Eastern love against skepticism and violence; and passionate creativity against classical balance and duty." (Stern, 641) These last two elements are the theme of Amadeus. Here, Shaffer "creates two distinct characters in the plot, to reflect what is for him the major schism in our natures" (Gianakaris 1992, 169), namely the archetypal antagonism between the Apollonian and the Dionysian forces of man's psyche.

The idea of Dionysian and Apollonian personalities originates from Friedrich Nietzsche's Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy). According to this theory,

The two elements of tragedy [...] are the Apollonian (related to the Greek god Apollo, here used as a symbol of measured restraint) and the Dionysian (from Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy). [...] The essence of this [...] tragic effect is that it both reveals and conceals, causing both pain and joy. (Conversi, 181)

Nietzsche regards the progress of art to be closely related with the dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian elements, just as the development of mankind depends on the duality of the sexes. Notably, he emphasises music as belonging to the Dionysian rather than to the Apollonian sphere. He describes two opposing kinds of music, which can be applied to Salieri and Mozart, as well as to the Classical and the Romantic musical spirit:

Die Musik des Apollo war dorische Architektonik in Tönen, aber nur in angedeuteten Tönen [...] Behutsam ist gerade das Element, als unapollinisch, ferngehalten, das den Charakter der dionysischen Musik und damit der Musik überhaupt ausmacht, die erschütternde Gewalt des Tones, der einheitliche Strom des Melos und die durchaus unvergleichliche Welt der Harmonie. (Nietzsche, 56)

This conflict of sobriety versus passion and mediocrity versus genius lies at the core of Amadeus. The childlike Mozart is the incarnation of everything that Salieri has relentlessly banished from his mind: instinct, chaos, freedom, humour, play. However, the struggle between the Dionysian and the Apollonian is carried out not only between Mozart and Salieri, or Mozart and the court, but also within both protagonists. In Salieri, the Apollonian forces dominate: his innate Dionysian urge to sing to God is suppressed by his Apollonian inability to break out of established musical patterns. In Mozart, the Dionysian element that allows him to compose original and divine music is so powerful that it stifles the Apollonian reason that would enable him to find social acceptance.

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