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The biblical intertext in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (or, Saul and David in eighteenth-century Vienna).

Peter Shaffer's dramatic universe resounds with unmistakable echoes from the two master sources of Western literary tradition: the Bible, with its major theological concerns, and the mythological imagination, from Greek culture and beyond. In addition, Shaffer has also incorporated in his plays non-Western forms of magic, ritual, and pagan deifications of natural forces. The mythological flavor of Shaffer's plays has directed critics to uncover Promethean and Faustian elements in his dramatic characters, (1) as well as to dichotomize his major protagonists along the lines of the Apollonian-Dionysian duality. (2)

Shaffer's major plays, such as The Royal Hunt for the Sun, Equus, and Amadeus are marked by a biblical tenor. These dramas present protagonists (Pizarro, Dysart, and Salieri, respectively) who probe the puzzle of human existence and engage in metaphysical questions of biblical nature regarding divine justice and the relationship between the human and the divine. (3) Dennis A. Klein indicated the verses in Job and Revelations that are the sources of the horse figures in Equus, and also described Salieri, the central protagonist and main speaker in Amadeus, as "a literary echo of Satan in the biblical book of Isaiah 14:12-15." (4) Others have noted that Salieri's questioning of the nature of cosmic justice and his constant appeal to God place him in the Jobian tradition of man arguing with God and challenging him about his erratic ways of governing the world. (5) Salieri has also been viewed as a Cain-like figure, murderously resentful of Amadeus, whom he regards as undeservedly favored by God. (6) Indeed, the Genesis tale of deadly sibling rivalry reappears in several of Shaffer's less known plays, reinforced, as well, by the predominance of biblical/Hebrew or Jewish names and other biblical codes. (7)

Yet the extensive, pervasive biblical underpinnings of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (first performance date 1979), (8) which go beyond Salieri's Jobian arguments or his Cain-like jealousy to establish a dialogic encounter between the modern play and the biblical text, have gone unexamined by Shaffer's critics. Underlying the dramatic conflict between Salieri, the bitterly jealous, far lesser composer, and Amadeus, the brilliant musician of immortal fame, is the drama of Saul, the hapless first King of Israel, and David, his charismatic successor, as narrated in 1 Samuel. The biblical prototype planted in Shaffer's play pulls us back in time to a mythic past even as we sink into the depths of Salieri's subconscious, and the play as a whole into the zone of hallucinations and nightmares. Salieri, the powerful Kapellmeister who descends into madness and obsessively plans to destroy the more gifted newcomer, recalls Saul, the first King of Israel, tortured by the "evil spirit" and relentlessly pursuing young David. Just as King Saul became a mere footnote in Israelite chronicles, giving way to the eternally remembered David, so Antonio Salieri has been largely forgotten by history, while his younger contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, lives forever.

In embedding a biblical tale in his play, Shaffer belongs to a long Western literary tradition of rewriting scriptural narratives or using them as a foundation for modern stories. Shaffer's body of work exhibits both modalities. His play Yonadab (1985) is set in Davidic times and retells the chain of stories recounted in 2 Samuel about scandalous events in David's court. The play involves the rape of David's daughter, Tamar, by her half-brother, Amnon, and the vengeance inflicted on him by Absalom, Tamar's charismatic and ambitious brother. It follows Absalom to his death by David's soldiers. Told from the unlikely vantage point of a minor biblical character, Yonadab, David's nephew, the play is a particular example of the genre of historical drama. It is true that Yonadab is modeled after some of Shaffer's other dramatic seekers of metaphysical truth and that his words are reminiscent of the rhetoric in Shaffer's other plays. (9) But in reconstructing the biblical material in Yonadab, Shaffer follows Western writers who throughout history elaborated on and augmented the terse biblical prose, giving depths to its actors and adding contemporary themes to their respective dilemmas. By contrast, in Amadeus, the biblical precedent is embedded in a play that deals with two historical characters, the composers Salieri and Mozart, and is set in a specific historical period and place, eighteenth-century Vienna. In Amadeus Shaffer thus follows another modality of utilizing the biblical paradigm, that of scaffolding his modern story with another story from ancient times, involving the Saul and David rivalry, while not citing it or referring to it directly.

The status of the Bible as a reservoir of basic human prototypes and cosmic myths has always made it more than a simple literary "source" or "influence" for writers. The Bible has been a primary mono-myth offering the modern writer a repository of universal situations and archetypal configurations deep seated in the collective Western mind or psyche. The powerful presence of the Bible in the history of European, English, and American writings is undeniable, manifest in the expansive rewritings of specific biblical narratives, in both poetry and prose, such as Milton's Paradise Lost or Thomas Mann's solemn re-creation of the saga of Joseph and his brother. Additionally, scriptural material has often been detected as a supporting structure or as echoes in poetry, fiction, and plays dealing with non-biblical protagonists and other periods. (10) Frequently, the biblical prototype behind a modern tale or protagonist is suggested by a phrase or striking image which evokes a biblical scene or verse. Often it is the predominance of fundamental ethical or spiritual concerns that summons up the scriptural universe of ideas and creates a discursive energy between the new and the old: thus Northrop Frye has defined Kafka's writings as a "series of commentaries on the Book of Job." (11)

Western writers' extensive practice of implanting biblical paradigms in their works has been traditionally seen as a deliberate artistic strategy on the part of the authors, intended for myriad purposes and goals. Burying a biblical prototype in a modern text may be a conscious act of imitation, of appropriation, or of influence on the part of the writer. The writer thus establishes a dialogue between the modern story and its ancient model, whether with the purpose of paying homage to the hallowed canon as a storehouse of myths and universal paradigms or of engaging in rebellion and iconoclastic deflation of the time-honored master narrative.

Within contemporary scholarly discourse, a biblical pattern embedded in a modern work, whether noted through an allusion, reference, or quotation, or in a less direct form through a semantic or semiotic sign reverberating back to the Bible, may be understood as a particular case of the intertextual activity. Current critical discussions of intertextuality have shifted attention from the writer's deliberate intention to the reader's response. Contemporary theoreticians of the intertextual phenomenon, such as Roland Barthes, Michael Riffaterre, Julia Kristeva, and others, see in any and every text a mosaic of texts, with the reader as the ultimate authority regarding the intertextual signification of the text. (12) From this perspective the intertextual is a psycho-cultural and unconscious phenomenon with infinite, unlimited possibilities within any given text. Julia Kristeva argued that every text contained in itself several other texts. (13) Barthes, who proclaimed the "death of the author," defined intertextuality as an activity conducted by the recipient of the text and intertextual reading as a subjective response, justified by the indeterminacy of texts. According to Barthes, "Every text is an intertext; other texts are present in it ... the texts of the previous culture and those of the surrounding culture.... A prerequisite for any text, intertextuality cannot be reduced to a problem of sources and influences; it is a general field of anonymous formulas whose origin is seldom identifiable, of unconscious or automatic quotations given without quotation marks." (14)

Riffaterre differs from Barthes by suggesting that a text does strive toward some kind of certainty and that intertextuality may often be an intentional sign within a text. For Riffaterre, the reader's awareness of the particular intertext is important, as is the reader's erudition, which is instrumental in uncovering the intertext. Yet he also suggests that the reader may come up with his own intertextual connections unknown to the author. (15)

Broadly speaking, we may recognize a wide spectrum of theories regarding the intertextual phenomenon. On one end is what we may call the hermeneutic approach that attributes to the author a conscious strategy of embedding a biblical, or for that matter any other past text(s), in his work, and trusts the knowledgeable reader to uncover the earlier texts. The author often helps the reader identify the intertext, even prods the reader to do so, by voluntarily peppering his texts with triggers such as quotes or fragments of phrases or images from other texts, or by directly recalling the biblical prototype. On the other end is the postmodern school that removes the author and his/her intent from the equation and suggests that in the process of production, as well as during the reading activity, the text becomes overwhelmed by other texts. These texts infiltrate the new text and create a plurality, an intertextual web that can never be fully untangled, but that some of its connections or threads may be uncovered by certain readers. Umberto Eco summarized the intertextual phenomenon from the author's point of view when he described how, in the process of writing his novel The Name of the Rose, he "discovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told." (16)

My approach to the issue of the biblical intertext in Shaffer's Amadeus is somewhere in the middle. I do not claim that Shaffer included the biblical precedent in the blueprint for his play or that his initial intention was to re-create the biblical story in a modern garb, with Salieri and Amadeus as Saul and David in disguise. Shaffer never alludes directly to the biblical stories narrated in 1 Samuel or to the biblical personalities themselves, but his play resonates with the Bible's main themes of divine justice and human imperfection. Salieri's rhetoric as he negotiates with God and, later, does battle with him is lofty and formal; at times his language resounds with biblical cadence: "And I will honor You / with much music / all the days of my life" (17). The analogy between the play's two major protagonists, Salieri and Amadeus, and their ancient prototypes, Saul and David, is also undeniable, as are the contours of the plotline and its many building blocks--the small details that move the play forward. The author's familiarity with the biblical saga of David and his court is also unquestionable. His play Yonadab, written shortly after Amadeus, displays the playwright's fascination with the biblical tales of the Davidic court. Shaffer acknowledged that he had been acquainted with the biblical story of the rape of Tamar, David's daughter, since childhood; there is no reason to believe that he was less familiar with other stories from 1 and 2 Samuel regarding the tumultuous saga of David's court. (17)

I find Michael Riffaterre's theory of the intertextual phenomenon most helpful to my present analysis. For Riffaterre, intertextual reading is driven by the reader's desire for an outside text, yet at the same time the presence of the intertext is "inscribed" in the text itself. (18) Riffaterre compares the intertext to a repressed memory, in the psychoanalytic sense, and sees the relationship between the text and the intertext as that between the conscious and unconscious self. (19) He also defines the intertext as the "missing text." (20) Riffaterre's psychoanalytic perspective is particularly relevant to the present analysis, especially since most of Shaffer's play happens in Salieri's jumbled mind. The fogs of nightmares and madness that shroud Salieri's memories, true or false, constitute a large part of the play and facilitate the process whereby the unconscious "self" of the text, the biblical precedent, takes over the text itself. Thus the central protagonist, Salieri, is unwittingly repeating a biblical event and reacting both to his given individual situation and to a deep-seated, primal signal in his psyche. Therefore, the biblical intertext functions as the protagonist's unconscious that stores memories from a collective past, or from a familiar master text, woven into and interacting with Salieri's own private history.

The biblical intertext incorporated in Shaffer's play is "inscribed" in the text, to use Riffaterre's term, and is not only a matter of subjective reading. Naturally, this intertext works initially only for the reader who is familiar with the biblical story; but once the reader is made aware of the specific biblical model underlying the play, this intertextual presence is not dependent on a subjective response. Whether Shaffer meant for his play to hearken back to the monomyth of Western culture and, more specifically, to the scriptural tale of the rivalry between Saul and David, or whether reminiscences of an earlier prototype found their way from the writer's unconscious memory or his past readings to his play, is not a question we need to resolve. This thesis does not exclude the presence of many more, indeed infinite, intertextual connections and infiltrations in the play. Salieri's habit of constantly arguing with God is decidedly Jobian, and other forms of intertext, not necessarily of the biblical kind, may very well be present, indeed detected, in Shaffer's play. In fact, Amadeus incorporates multiple texts and voices from outside the biblical material which are all interwoven into the play's fabric and interact in a complex manner.

One type of text assimilated into the play is the historical facts. The intellectual historian Dominick LaCapra has argued that the past arrives in the form of texts and textualized remainders including memories, reports, published writings, archives, and monuments. (21) Thus when reconstructing the story of the two composers, Shaffer incorporated the historical information that came down to him in written texts (past documents and written reports about the two musicians, as well as personal letters crafted by them). In the particular case of a play centered on music and musicians, history also spoke to the dramatist through another inscription which represents a different medium: the printed notes of the two composers' music, which are utilized by the playwright as another way of demonstrating Mozart's genius and Salieri's mediocrity (in addition to Salieri's own declarations, and the testimony of time). Further, these composers' music, heard periodically throughout the play, is an intertext that energizes the dramatic plot; as when Amadeus repeats Salieri's pedestrian "March of Welcome" improvising and playing with it until it becomes the familiar march from "The Marriage of Figaro" (36). An additional intertext assimilated into the play is the rumor, augmented by Shaffer, of the enmity between these two contemporaries and, of course, the gossiped speculation that Mozart was poisoned by Salieri. (22)

Yet unlike Barthes who claimed that all intertexts coexist in a text without one dominating the others, this paper claims that the Saul-David saga is the main intertextual foundation of Amadeus. Further, this specific biblical chain of tales and the particular individuals it concerns create a consistent scaffold that runs unambiguously across the entire play, corresponding to the individuals' personalities and actions (whether directly or in a parodic manner). The play's center mirrors the crux of the biblical tale, which is the archetypal rivalry between the old authority figure, or the king, and the young contender, a version of the universal father-and-son rivalry, the flip side of the Freudian syndrome. The intertextual network running through the play may be infinite and limitless; some fragments may trigger a flash of recognition in some readers, while other codes or idioms may be identified by other readers as evoking past texts, but the 1 Samuel story is the single, central intertext present consistently in the play. Further, the intertextual network of the Saul and David saga not only comments on the modern play, Amadeus, and energizes its dramatic events, but, in turn, is illuminated by it, thus creating a dialogue and a discursive process that goes both ways, as the following analysis will show. As Linda Hutcheon has observed, "intertextuality criticism" is useful because it "demands of the reader not only the recognition of textualized traces of the literary and historical past but also the awareness of what has been done ... to those traces." (23)

The initial triggers for the recognition of the biblical intertext in the play are manifold: Salieri's biblically resonant semantics of sin and divine retribution, his tendency to view Amadeus's musical brilliance as a gift from God and his own mediocrity as a cruel joke by God, as well as his habit of arguing with God. Salieri sounds like the Hebrew Psalmist (in Psalms 33, 58, and many others), who views music as means of pronouncing God's splendor and worshipping him, when he describes how he was "humming" his "arias and anthems to the Lord" (16). Like the ancient psalmist or prophet asking for God's spirit to inhabit him, Salieri asks for God's voice to enter him (28). The opposition between the old, established man and his brilliant younger competitor has been pointed out by critics as a pattern recurring in many of Shaffer's plays, appearing as a duality of opposition between mediocrity and brilliance, or, evoking mythological archetypes, as an Apollonian-Dionysian polarity. But in Salieri's mind, this dichotomy between his own mediocrity and Amadeus's brilliance is a divinely mandated pattern. He sees Mozart as "God's flute" (16) and claims that "music is God's art" (16), thus giving the play on musicians and musical talent a decidedly religious and biblical aspect. In the Bible, David's talents are seen as a function of his being chosen by God; his talents are God-given: "God is with him" (1 Sam. 17:18). (24) David often addresses God directly and sings and dances before him (2 Sam. 6:14-16).

It is significant that of all of Mozart's names, Shaffer chose the one that means "beloved by God" or "lover of God" for the title of his play. David, the name of Amadeus's biblical counterpart, means "beloved" or "lover." David has always been associated with music; according to tradition, David composed the Psalms, which in their original life were devotional poems set to music, mostly to be sung and played by the Levites in the Temple. David is first introduced to us as the young musician from Beth Lehem who plays the lyre and is summoned to perform before the depressed Saul, soon earning the love of the ailing king (1 Sam. 16:21). As the drama of David's rise unfolds in 1 Samuel, David becomes universally adored and beloved by all: God, the people of Israel, and even his archenemy's own children, Michal and Jonathan. Amadeus is a renowned young star even before Salieri's meets him, causing the envy of the older composer: "He [Amadeus] was praised too much!" (23). Similarly, the newcomer David is universally lauded, incurring Saul's jealousy, especially when the women compare the latter unfavorably with the popular young man: "Saul has slain his thousands / David, his tens of thousands" (1 Sam.18:7). In this case, it is the women of Israel who make Saul realize his own mediocrity in comparison with David.

Salieri's manic-depressive moods recall King Saul, afflicted with this disease which is termed by the Bible "an evil spirit": "Now the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord began to terrify him" (1 Sam. 17:14). Both in the case of Saul and of Salieri, the protagonist's depressed mood is attributed to God's action; in the case of Saul, the depression is related to God removing his spirit from him, while in the case of Salieri, it is related to God's denying him brilliant musical talent. Salieri becomes increasingly crazy and his jealousy of Amadeus intensifies when he is continuously exposed to Amadeus's extraordinary talent; his insanity takes the form of battling with God: "I fought with God" (60). Later he tells Amadeus: "Don't you know at all what I have endured from you? ... From the day you appeared I have lived in Hell" (108). Likewise, Saul's envy of David deepens his bad moods and he progressively acts in an erratic fashion, alienating God and his prophet Samuel. Both Saul and Salieri feel ignored by God and complain that God has been incommunicative, not responding to their addresses. Saul says bitterly to the ghost of the prophet Samuel: "God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me" (1 Sam. 28:15), and Salieri complains: "And God's response to my challenge remained inscrutable as ever.... Was He taking notice of me at all?" (80).

Other plotline details in Amadeus also evoke the biblical narrative. Saul's court seems to be filled with rumors and gossip mongers; the latter tell Saul about David's movements and inform him that Michal, his daughter, fell in love with David. Saul decides to take advantage of his daughter's feelings and use her as a spy in David's house. Likewise, Salieri avails himself of the "venticelli," the "little winds" who are purveyors of rumor and other information, and of other characters whom he uses as spies informing him of Amadeus's movements. Both Saul and Salieri shuttle between murderous rage toward their younger opponents and feeling paternal toward them. After attempting to murder David several times, Saul apologizes to David; on one occasion he calls him "my son David" expressing deep regret over his treatment of his perceived enemy (1 Sam. 24:17). On another occasions Saul confesses: "I am in the wrong ... my son David" (1 Sam. 26:21). Salieri sabotages Amadeus in all sorts of ways, finally leading to Amadeus's untimely demise by tormenting him while he is gravely ill and working on the Requiem Mass and also by denying him the help he needs. Yet, like Saul, Salieri experiences moments of deep regret and he apologizes to Amadeus: "Grant me forgiveness, Wolfgang, for pity's sake.... You have to! You must! You must!" (109)

When we first meet Salieri (9), he is at death's door, attempting to conjure up the "ghosts of the future," just as the biblical Saul, on the night before his death, calls up the dead prophet Samuel to predict the outcome of the battle the following day. Salieri complains that "invocation is an exhausting business" (15) and he therefore needs refreshment, just as the fatigued Saul takes nourishment from the witch of Ein Dor at the end of the forbidden seance (1 Sam. 29:25). Salieri then recalls his rise from humble beginnings in a provincial town when, following a "bargain" he makes with God, asking him for musical talent in return for a life of religious devotion, "a family friend suddenly appeared--out of the blue--took me off to Vienna and paid for me to study music" (17). Saul, too, comes from humble stock; when the prophet first honors him over everyone else, he says, in surprise: "But I am only a Benjaminite, from the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my clan is the least of all the clans of the tribe" (1 Sam. 9:21). Unlike Salieri, Saul does not initiate a contract with God; yet after he is unexpectedly anointed by Samuel as King of Israel (1 Sam:9), he is filled with the fierce ambition to be a successful monarch and create a dynasty.

It is the nature of Salieri's quarrel with God that brings out more fully the intertextual presence of the networks of tales from 1 Samuel. It also exemplifies the cross-fertilization of text and intertext, that is, of the intertext illuminating the text, but also of the text bringing out something missing in the text from the past. Upon close analysis of Salieri's complaints to God, we find that they may reverberate with Jobian echoes in a general way, but that Salieri's specific grievance is far apart from Job's. The latter's main argument with God had to do with the injustice he himself suffered as a God-fearing, righteous man who was suddenly struck by a series of calamities--the loss of his property, his children and his health. Unwilling to accept his friends' dogmatic stand that God is always just, Job opens his eyes and sees that the same kind of injustice that has happened to him is the prevailing universal rule, not the exception, and that human life is full of trouble. Job then questions God's ways of ruling his world and concludes that the human experience shows no evidence of a governing moral order or divine benevolence. Salieri, too, protests that God's ways are unfathomably erratic and unjust, yet his complaint is different. Salieri has not suffered any calamity of great magnitude, the way Job has, nor is he interested in probing the suffering of others. His protest is much more personal and self-centered, related to his fierce desire to be an exceptional musician. Salieri complains to God:
   You gave me the desire to serve You--which most men do not
   have--then saw to it that the service was shameful in the ears of
   the server. Grazie! You gave me the desire to praise You--which
   most men do not feel--then made me mute. Grazie Tante! You put into
   me the perception of the Incomparable--which most men never
   know!--then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre.

In other words, God both instilled in Salieri the burning desire to create sublime music and endowed him with the ability to discriminate between the sublime and the mediocre; but God did not match this ambition with a phenomenal talent. Salieri's pain is thus twofold; he not only recognizes that his own musical ambitions will never be fulfilled but he is also acutely aware of, and is fully equipped to appreciate, Amadeus's brilliance.

Salieri's well-articulated, rather specific predicament, the colossal irony that he experiences in being divinely endowed with the desire to be a great composer and at the same time deprived of the necessary talent, is not Jobian; but it perfectly summarizes King Saul's situation. God, through the prophet Samuel, infused in Saul the ambition to be a successful king, but he deprived him of both the mental and political faculties needed in order to succeed. According to the biblical story, Saul did not seek the throne, but once anointed by Samuel, he was inspired to become an able military leader as well as to establish a royal dynasty. Later in his life, when he realizes that even his own son and heir, Jonathan, admires David, Saul furiously scolds his son for ceding the throne to David (1 Sam. 20:30-32).

Curiously, the Bible does not give expression to Saul's frustration about the discrepancy between his God-given ambition to be king, on the one hand, and his lack of the necessary gift to become a successful king, on the other. Saul's only complaint is that God refuses to communicate with him. This puzzling discrepancy is at the heart of the biblical Saul's tragic saga; and though it is never expressed in words, it clearly underlies the mystery of Saul's dismal failure after having been elected by God and anointed by God's prophet. This gap in the biblical narrative was filled by a Modern Hebrew poet, Saul Tchernichovsky, in his 1893 poem "In Ein Dor" in which Saul voices his puzzlement at God's erratic treatment of him: "Why have you anointed me over your people as king? / Why from the sheep pens did you me bring?" (25)

The biblical example of King Saul as the first political leader of the ancient Hebrews who was sabotaged by the prophet, the religious leader, understandably appealed to the secular Hebrew poets of the early Zionist period. Saul's conflict with the prophet presented a clear clash between secular-political ambitions and the religious authority, especially to those who believed in a secular-political redemption for the Jewish people. Tchernichovsky's clear allegiance was with the failed king, not the raging prophet. He wrote several poems about King Saul, endowing him with tragic dignity and nobility of spirit that the biblical narrator deprived him of. (26) In the above quoted lines, Tchernichovsky puts in Saul's mouth the complaint which was suppressed in the biblical text: why did God pull him out of the life of a shepherd and make him king, while at the same time denying him the ability to succeed as king.

Shaffer's Salieri not only evokes the ancient Saul, but in his rhetoric he also gives verbal articulation to Saul's dilemma, which the ancient king is denied in the biblical story. We may say that the figure of the mad Saul that hovers over Salieri is the tortured composer's anamnesis, his past existence or alter ego, while the biblical story as a whole functions as the anamnesis, the past text, of Shaffer's text. Bakhtin's concept of the "dialogical angle" of utterance, whereby the speaker both responds to previous utterances and anticipates future replies, also applies here (even though Bakhtin's focus was fiction, not drama). (27) Thus the interaction between text and intertext works both ways, so that we are led to recognize what the intertext does to the text, but also what the text, in this case Salieri's vocabulary of grievances, does to the intertext, that is, to Salieri's biblical model. Thus the past text, infiltrating the modern text, is also altered, or magnified, or made more complete, in a sense, by the modern text.

Interestingly, Shaffer's Salieri and Tchernichovsky's Saul react alike, each in a critical moment in his life, when the realization of failure is especially acute. Tchernichovsky's Saul, after years of being tortured by the evil spirit, and now ominously facing a crucial battle, recalls his youthful innocence in the bucolic setting of his earlier life:
   And the King remembers the days of his youth
   Before his vision darkened into a bitter truth.
   His eyes behold sights splendid and amazing
   A wide meadow, a herd of cattle grazing.
   A high blue heaven, the wind fresh aromas awoke
   In the shade of a tebernith, sturdy as an oak
   Contentedly, all alone, rests a shepherd boy
   While in the grass beyond the sheep skip in sheer joy. (28)

Likewise, Salieri feels in Mozart's Requiem Mass an expression of grief for the innocent, untroubled youth he, Salieri, once was: "I stood there--his despairing Mass sounding over and over in my head its gigantic lamentation--and I knew absolutely who it was for! ... The boy ... that eager boy who once stumbled around the field of Lombardy, singing up his anthems to his Lord. [Pause] In ten years of unrelenting spite--I destroyed myself!"(107). Thus both the Hebrew poet, Tchernichovsky, writing directly about the biblical Saul, and Peter Shaffer, burying the Saul prototype under his modern character, fill a certain lacuna that exists in the biblical narrative regarding King Saul. (29) They give him a voice where the Bible denies him a voice, articulating his frustration and puzzlement regarding God's treatment of him. Both find in Saul's inner being a yearning for his youthful innocence, destroyed by the divinely ordained fierce ambition that enveloped him after his unexpected rise in the world.

The modern text is not supposed to be a perfectly symmetrical replica of its intertext, and thus Shaffer's play does not run parallel to the biblical tale in a neatly geometric fashion. In the Bible, it is Saul who dies before his time on the battlefield, while David reaches old age; but in the play, following history, Mozart dies young, while Salieri lives to old age. Yet in terms of history, David and Mozart alike achieved immortality in their own respective circles of significance, each establishing for himself a name that will live forever. Salieri recognizes that the young Amadeus's death is not the end of his glory: "What need to mourn a man who will live forever?" (106).

Another discrepancy between text and intertext concerns the figure of Amadeus as described by Shaffer and that of David, as narrated in the Bible and indented in our memory. Amadeus's personality as depicted in Shaffer's play, whether true to history or a brutally parodic distortion, certainly does not recall the biblical David. In Shaffer's play Amadeus is childish, boorish, and vulgar, expressing himself mostly in scatological and crude language. Amadeus evokes David mainly in Salieri's view of his talent as gifted by God and in the theological question it raises for Salieri as to why God had chosen Amadeus rather than him as a vehicle to praise his name. Salieri sees himself as a righteous, staid, and upstanding man and Mozart as a worthless, immoral, and frivolous human being. Thus the existential irony which Salieri experiences and gives expression to is doubly piercing. God not only chose to deprive the pious, God-loving Salieri of talent, but he also endowed the ungodly, foul-mouthed Amadeus with exceptional musical gifts. Instead of making Salieri the vehicle to worship him, God elected the undeserving Amadeus:
   "Why? ... What is my fault ... Until this day I pursued virtue with
   rigor. You know how hard I worked and worked the talent You allowed
   me! Solely that in the end, in the practice of the art, which alone
   makes the world comprehensible to me, I might hear Your Voice! And
   now I do hear it--and it says only one name: MOZART! Spiteful,
   sniggering, conceited, infantine Mozart ... Shit-talking Mozart,
   with his botty-smacking wife! Him You have chosen to be your sole
   conduit! (59)

Here, again, Salieri's likeness to Saul is clear, yet Amadeus as depicted by his enemy is very far from David as presented by the biblical narrator. Saul, too, might have claimed that all he did since he had become King of Israel was to serve God; in Saul's case that meant spending time on the battlefield, fighting "the wars of the Lord" as the Bible terms it. But David is never seen as impious, irreverent, or uncouth, as Amadeus is portrayed for much of the play. Nevertheless, we may say that young David is often regarded as a worthless and arrogant upstart, not only by Saul, but also by other contemporaries. Nabal, Abigail's rich husband, responds to David as follows: "Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many slaves today who rise up against their masters" (1 Sam. 25:10).

Moreover, at one point Shaffer puts in Amadeus's mouth a reflective monologue in which he summarizes his view of the opera. Amadeus sees the opera as the subtotal of human voices, as the expression of every human being, low and high: "I bet you that's how God hears the world! Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us!" (70). In this monologue young Amadeus reveals a spiritual side, coming from the depth of his soul, that contradicts his social behavior, but that certainly matches the transcendent quality of his music. It is reminiscent of the Psalmist's ideas that all creation and all creatures manifest and proclaim the splendor of God. Moreover, this democratic idea that sees all human utterances, from the lowest to the highest class, those of "chambermaids and Court Composers" (70), as worthy of God's ears and deserving to be expressed musically is very much in line with David's populist conduct in the biblical stories about him. It is reminiscent of David's words when he brought the ark of God into the City of David. The Bible tells us that David "whirled with all his might" and that his wife, Michal, scorned him for singing and dancing with the simple people and acting like one of them: "Didn't the king of Israel do himself honor today--exposing himself today in the sight of the slavegirls of his subjects, as one of the riffraff might expose himself," to which David responded with: "I will dance before the Lord, and dishonor myself even more, and be low in my own esteem; but among the slavegirls that you speak of, I'll be honored" (2 Sam. 6:20-22).

Further, by having Amadeus both evoke the glorious David and serve as a parodic reflection of him, Shaffer exemplifies another mode of incorporating the intertextual fragment; this phenomenon has been termed the "negative intertextual relation" or "parodic intertextuality." (30) The Modern Hebrew fiction writer, Amos Oz, has also re-created King David in a parodic manner, instilling remnants of the glorious warrior of the past in a comically anxious contemporary figure who in many ways is decidedly the opposite of the charismatic David, yet reminiscent of him all the same. (31) We may add the example of Leopold Bloom, James Joyce's awkward protagonist of Ulysses, the ludicrous replica of the mythic hero whose name is used for the novel's title. The intertextual presence of the spiritual, God-loving David brings out in Shaffer's Amadeus the divine essence that this free-spirited, young genius hides under the facade of a clown. At the same time, it casts a light on the biblical David as a young man, whom we can also see as sometimes acting churlishly or even conceitedly. Shaffer's Amadeus clearly evokes David in his high-spirited youthfulness, in the threat that he poses to the older, more established man and the latter's attempts to kill him, in his exceptional, divinely bestowed gifts, and in his eternal life. As a dramatic figure Amadeus is invigorated and deepened when this intertextual biblical trace is recognized in him.

The Apollonian-Dionysian opposition undoubtedly illuminates the antagonism between Salieri and Mozart, which is at the heart of Shaffer's Amadeus. But the interplay between Shaffer's drama and the biblical story of 1 Samuel offers another paradigm to the story of the two historical composers, while also opening the play to a dialogic encounter with its biblical intertext. The diachronic line, leading from the biblical personalities and their tales to the eighteenth-century composers and their stories, is spatialized into a synchronic relationship. The biblical story and its actors, incorporated in Shaffer's play, are transformed from ancient history to deep-seated traces in the psyche of the protagonists and the unconscious of the text, as well as in the memories of the play's readers. As such, the biblical intertext adds a note of inevitability, a sense of doom, and an inward trajectory to the specific tale that Shaffer has chosen to tell. But the presence of the intertext also directs us to the endless vistas of the myriad possibilities and the multiple voices and psycho-cultural codes existing within a literary text. Salieri as Saul is thus a villain and a tragic figure, and Amadeus as David is both boorish and spiritual. Their motivations are manifold and complex, as they act out their own histories, the roles that Shaffer has given them, the fates of their biblical precursors, and the fragments of memories of an ancient tale embedded in their psyches and in the text that gives them life. On the other end of the intertextual discourse, the modern play fills lacunas in the terse biblical prose (acting as a modern midrash), giving a voice to the biblical Saul's theological dilemma, and opening the possibility of a carnivalesque view of the figure of King David. (32)

University of Connecticut


(1) See C. J. Gianakaris, "The Artistic Trajectory of Peter Shaffer," in Peter Shaffer: A Casebook, ed. C. J. Gianakaris (New York: Garland, 1991), 3-23 (4).

(2) Among them: C. J. Gianakaris, Peter Shaffer (New York: St. Martin's, 1992), 119-20, 164-65, 168-71; Madeleine Macmurragh-Kavanagh, Peter Shaffer: Theatre and Drama (New York: St Martin's, 1998); Gene A. Plunka, Peter Shaffer: Roles, Rites, and Rituals in the Theatre (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1949).

(3) Gianakaris, Peter Shaffer: A Casebook (1991), 4.

(4) Dennis A. Klein, Peter Shaffer (New York: Twayne, 1993), 112, 165.

(5) Martin Bidney, "Thinking about God and Mozart: The Salieris of Puskin and Peter Shaffer" Slavic and East European Journal 30, no. 2 (1986): 183-95 (184).

(6) Kerry Sabbag, "Cain and Herostratus: Pushkin and Shaffer's Reappropriations of the Mozart Myth," Pushkin Review 6-7 (2004): 25-37.

(7) For instance, in The Salt Lake, which was telecast over ITV in London in 1955, the two brothers, Jo Mayer and Arieh, compete over a share of the Promised Land, just as Cain and Abel compete over God's recognition, with Arieh eventually committing fratricide. In Shrivings, a play replete with biblical names of characters and places, as well as with allusions to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the battling men are not two brothers, but two strong individuals, Mark Askelon and Gideon Petri, fighting for the hearts and minds of two young people. For more on this play and its myriad biblical references see Plunka, 131-46.

(8) Peter Shaffer, Amadeus (New York: Perennial, 2001). All page references are to this edition, which is a reprint of the first US edition of the play, published in 1981 by Harper and Row.

(9) For more on this play see Gianakaris, Peter Shaffer (1992), 128-48, and Klein, 166-98.

(10) Among the many recent studies of this phenomenon are Harold Fisch, New Stories for Old: Biblical Patterns in the Novel (London: Macmillan, 1998) and Robert Alter, Canon and Creativity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). For a collection of studies of the biblical intertext in Modern Hebrew literature see Recreating the Canon: The Biblical Presence in Modern Hebrew Literature and Culture, ed. Nehama Aschkenasy, special issue, AJS Review 28 (April 2004).

(11) Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), 40.

(12) For more on these writers' theories of intertext, see Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000) and Mary Orr, Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).

(13) Julia Kristeva, "'Nous Deux' or a (Hi)story of Intertextuality," Romanic Review 93 (Jan.-March 2002): 7-13 (8). For Kristeva, the intertextual presence has to do with the dialogic or polyphonic quality of verbal communications, as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin. She replaced Bakhtin's idea of several voices inside an utterance with the notion of several texts within a text. On Bakhtin's concepts of dialogism and the polyphonic novel, see Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and trans. Carl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), and The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981). For illuminating analyses of Bakhtin see Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990) and Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World (London: Routledge, 1990).

(14) Quoted by Michael Gresset in "Introduction: Faulkner between the Texts," from Roland Barthes, "Texte [Theorie du]" in Encyclopaedia Universalis (Paris, 1973), vol. 15, in Intertextuality in Faulkner, ed. Michael Gresset and Noel Polk (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press), 3-15 (4).

(15) For more on Riffaterre, see Orr, 37-40.

(16) Postscript to The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1983), 20.

(17) Gianakaris, Peter Shaffer (1992), 130.

(18) Kristeva, 11.

(19) Michael Riffaterre, "The Intertextual Unconscious," Critical Inquiry 13 (1987): 371-85.

(20) Kristeva, 12

(21) See Dominick LaCapra, "Rethinking Intellectual History and Reading Texts," History and Theory 19 (1980): 245-76.

(22) Though Shaffer claimed that at the time he wrote Amadeus he was unaware of Alexander Pushkin's play, Mozart and Salieri, in which Salieri poisons Mozart, the rumor was well known. It was also incorporated in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera based on Pushkin's play. See Klein, 148 and Plunka, 180-81.

(23) Linda Hutcheon, "Historiographic Metafiction: Parody and Intertextuality of History," in Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction, ed. Patrick O'Donnell and Robert Con David (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 3-32 (8). Hutcheon focuses mainly on ironic intertexts, while I clearly see many other modifications of the earlier text, not necessarily of the ironic kind.

(24) The author has used her own translations of the Hebrew Bible and also consulted The Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003).

(25) Saul Tchernichovsky, "In Ein Dor," in Poems, trans. David Kuselevitz (Tel Aviv: Eked, 1978), 27-29 (29).

(26) For more on the treatment of King Saul in Modern Hebrew Poetry, see Gershon Shaked, "Modern Midrash: The Biblical Canon and Modern Literature," in Recreating the Canon, 55-60. King Saul was re-created in numerous modern works, among them, Robert Browning's 1855 poem "Saul," and Andre Gide's play Saul, written in 1898 and premiered onstage in 1922.

(27) On the "dialogical angle," see Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, 150.

(28) Tchernichovsky, "In Ein Dor" 28.

(29) On lacunas as a mark of biblical narrative, see Erich Auerbach, "Odysseus' Scar," in Mimesis, trans. Willard Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 3-23.

(30) On the "negative intertextual relation," see Thais Morgan, "The Space of Intertextuality," in Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction, 239-79 (241). On "parodic intertextuality" see Linda Hutcheon, "Historiographic Metafiction," in Intertextuality and contemporary American fiction, 3-32 (11).

(31) See Nehama Aschkenasy, "Deconstructing the Metanarrative: Amos Oz's Evolving Discourse with the Bible," SYMPOSIUM 55, no. 3 (2001): 123-39.

(32) I use "carnivalesque" in the Bakhtinian sense; see Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Rabelais and His World, and The Dialogic Imagination.
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Author:Aschkenasy, Nehama
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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