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2.5 The theological interpretation

Shaffer often deals with theological problems in his plays. The fundamental question in Amadeus is that about the nature of God and the mystery of divine justice and injustice, as well as about man's eternal incomprehension of God's enigmatic ways. There is also the recurrent theme of the destruction of divinity that plays an important role in The Royal Hunt of the Sun and in Equus as well.

In Amadeus, there are two contrasting views of God. The first view is that of the Lombardy merchants: "[...] a superior Hapsburg emperor inhabiting a heaven only slightly further off than Vienna. All they required from him was to protect commerce and keep them forever unnoticed -- preserved in mediocrity." (Play, 15f.) Although Salieri states that "[his] own requirements were very different" (Play, 16), he sees God as the same primitive, anthropomorphic ruler, a "God of Bargains" (Play, 16):

Every Sunday I saw him in church [...] I don't mean Christ. [...] No: I mean an old candle-smoked God in a mulberry robe, staring at the world with dealer's eyes. Tradesmen had put him up there. Those eyes made bargains, real and irreversible. 'You give me so -- I'll give you so! No more. No less!' (Play, 16)

The other, contrasting view of God is not so explicitly stated, but it is implied through the failure of Salieri's bargain. The "God of Grace" ignores "the virtues of hard work, reverence, and self-denial" (Bidney, 184), ignores Salieri's vows and bestows his gifts upon an apparently unworthy individual. For Salieri, this view of God as a capricious player is unbearable and it leads to the decay of his moral basis. Salieri is not able to recognise and accept divine irony, and so he poses a challenge to the universal force that has disappointed his expectations.

[...] my life acquired a terrible and thrilling purpose. The blocking of God in one of his purest manifestations. I had the power. God needed Mozart to let himself into the world. And Mozart needed me to get him worldly advancement. So it would be a battle to the end -- and Mozart was the battleground. (Play, 58)

Because his pact with God turns out to be a mockery, he is determined to rebuke God's injustice and destroy his creation, the "Amadeus", the one loved by God. Salieri breaks down when he has to face the old theological problem of God's preference for the immoral and taboo-breaking, yet repentant sinner over the morally self-righteous pharisee. (cf. Huber and Zapf, 308)

Through Salieri's narration, which is built like a confession, the audience assumes a divine role, because it is asked to judge in God's place. Shaffer uses this as a means to "elevate the audience to a godlike role of omnipotence" (Plunka, 200). By feeling the responsibility being put upon them, the spectators can more directly experience the full extent of Salieri's tragedy. In the film, the dramatic question about the nature of God becomes "less abstract and more personal, Salieri's revenge on God by attacking his medium, Mozart, getting focus without the play's philosophical wrapping" (Deemer).

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