Death Drive and its Impact on Human Actions in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus

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Title: The Death Drive and its Impact on Human Actions in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus


Key Words: Self-destruction, Deeds, Ethicalities, Human behaviors, Defying God,Death

Proposal for a Thesis in the Field of Literature in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirement        for the Degree of MA.

Thesis Statement

Actions and behaviors if not governed by morality leads to the destruction of one’s self: Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus depicts self-destruction through the inner conflict in Salieri. Salieris’ emotions reigned by envy and jealousy towards Mozart leads to death and defying God.

Research question

 Does surrendering to the emotions of envy and jealousy cause man to challenge God?

Does defying God a doomed challenge resulting in death? 

Does Salieri’s envy spring out of uncontrolled love for music?

Main Objective

The aim of this thesis is to illustrate how man’s actions and behaviors affect not only the individuals around him/her but also affect man’s own life. It also exemplifies how human emotions, if not guided by morality, leads to the loss of common judgment. Human actions are the reflection of the inner impulses of man, if these impulses are not governed by the reality principle and not controlled by the Ego, man is overtaken by the Id and the Superego, loses its moral function. Although what is moral and what is not may differ from one person to another, it is not the aim of this thesis to define moralities but rather to demonstrate the end result of some of human emotions and impulses.









Amadeus, is an adaptation of the very psyche of human behaviors, it’s a portrait of the feelings and actions human transmit throughout their lives. Each action one takes, is the reflection of his/her own inner feelings and thoughts, whether, these feelings are conscious or unconscious, we tend to act upon them, only in mind one last desire and wish, and as Sigmund Freud, argues, the ultimate desire of human is death, to go back to a peaceful state, where the Ego can’t be hurt again, where the Ego is not being pulled to satisfy either the Id or the Superego.  Humans are ruled by Thanatos, the death drive, hence, human feelings and actions are guided toward the ultimate goal, which is death and self-destruction. feelings are translated into actions, but need to undergo some repression by our reality principle, to aid us in becoming a functioning citizen of society, ruled by our moralistic goals rather than surrendering to our premature instincts. However, if humans are unable to govern their actions by morality and by the sense of what is right and what is wrong, their common judgement will stagger and will result in fulfilling the wish of the Thanatos. Terry, Eagleton. “literary theory”, pp.131-168.

Salieri, committed suicide but failed to fulfill his ultimate desire, death. overtaken by envy and jealousy, his common judgement wobbles, therefore, at the end of the play, he is seen as a deranged senile man, who is constantly calming to the killing of Mozart. “Let them forgot me then. For the rest of time whenever men say Mozart with love. They say Salieri with loathing! …I am going to be immortal after all! And he is powerless to prevent it! So, Signore-see now if Man is mocked!” (Amadeus, Act2), by committing suicide Salieri believes, that even his notorious deed, of poisoning Mozart, will make him immortal in the memory of people, if music is unable to make him famous and forever remembered, then he will always be remember as Mozart assassin. Salieri, controlled by his envy and jealousy to satisfy his Id, became inconsiderate to how his actions might affect his life or how his actions might affect Mozart’s life.



Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus premiered in 1979 in the national theater of Great Britain becoming one of the successful plays having an extended run of over one year. In November 1980, Amadeus received high praise when opened at the National Theater in Washington D.C., and later moved to New York Broadhurst theater to gain same success. also, the 1984 film version of Amadeus won eight Oscars out of eleven Oscars nominations. Shaffer’s Amadeus success surpassed his already highly successful plays The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964) and Equus (1973). Jones, Daniel R. “Peter Shaffer’s Continued Quest for God in ‘Amadeus.’” Comparative Drama, vol. 21, no. 2, 1987, pp. 145–155S.

Despite called Amadeus, it is the character of Salieri who was at the center of Shaffer’s play. Salieri held high posts in the Viennese imperial musical establishment from 1774 until 1824. Among one of the rumors circulated Vienna in 1824 was that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, later to be said that Mozart’s death was due to fever. From unproven foundation Shaffer established the character of Salieri as an obsessed man filled with jealousy set out to destroy Mozart. BROWN, A. PETER. “Amadeus and Mozart: Setting the Record Straight.” The American Scholar, vol. 61, no. 1, 1992, pp. 49–66.

 In writing Amadeus, Peter Shaffer adapted a short play by the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri, which was published in 1830, which focused on the murder of Mozart rather than struggle within Salieri. Peter Shaffer’s main concern is to illustrate human actions and behaviors when overtaken by negative impulses, and to also, ask a greater question, whether God can be defied or not, or whether God is just or not, or even can God choose an unvirtuous man, like Mozart’s over a devoted catholic, like Salieri, Shaffer attempts to answer these questions in his play, Amadeus.   BURTON-HILL, CLEMENCY. “What Amadeus gets wrong.” BBC, Culture Story, 24 Feb,2015,

Amadeus, does not reflect any historical proven events neither about the life of Mozart or of Salieri, Shaffer was criticized by spreading misinformation about the court composer, Salieri and the prodigy, Mozart. “For all its protestation of “authenticity” (within the fundamentally inauthenticity context of Shaffer’s play), Amadeus is surprisingly misleading” (Walsh, Michael.  ‘Amadeus,’ Shamadeus. 1984, pp. 52). as a matter of fact, Salieri was a prevalent musician, who spoke three languages; German, French and Latin, and was appointed the court composer at the age of 24, and, later he became the imperial kapellmeister, in addition to, teaching music to some high esteemed pupils like, Beethoven, Shubert, Liszt and even Mozart’s own son, Franz Xaver. (Walsh, Michael,52). On the other hand, the characteristic of Wolfgang, Amadeus Mozart, were true to some extent, his impulsive movements, his foul language and hyper activity, were argued to be one of the characteristics of Tourette syndrome or some neurological disorder. Klopčič, Rok. “Psychoanalysing Mozart.” The Strad, 27 Jan. 2017. Nonetheless, the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, has been disputed by fact that both had cooperated together in composing a cantata called Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia, in the recovery of Nancy storace, hence, this collaboration shows a friendly relation between Salieri and Mozart rather than an envious relation. Moreover, to argue the fact that Salieri sabotaged Mozart chance in tutoring Princess Elizabeth, it is to say, that, the post indisputably went to Salieri because, he was the court composer with many esteemed students and who has already accomplished respected success, on the other hand, the new rising Mozart, who was new in Vienna and had counted undistinguished student, therefore, Mozart was not an equal rival for Salieri. DeWitt, Bill, and Grand Junction. “Biography of Antonio Salieri.” Antonio Salieri – Biography, 2009.Oobserving these facts, Peter, Shaffer didn’t intend for Amadeus to be a historical paly which reflects factual reality but rather, a play that, reflects human behaviors and their ability to act morally under the pressure of damaging impulses, and question God’s role in man’s life.

Whether the murder of Mozart was a rumor or an actual event, Shaffer main emphasis was on the relation between Salieri and God and gradually evolving throughout the play to the death of God, which leads to self-destruction. Shaffer, also raises the question, of a just God, in an article by Martin Bidney, (Thinking About God and Mozart: The Salieris of Puškin and Shaffer), the conflict is between justice and art, God’s grace is manifested through musical inspiration and the dedicated artist who does not receive it, Cries out to God in protest, Salieri find it outrageous that god ignores his devotion in parsing him through music and grant an amoral Mozart the divine talent. “…God, according to Salieri reasoning, seems to have defied both religion and morality by choosing to bestow his highest reward on a carless child…” (Bidney, pp.185). Salieri the devoted catholic accuses God of being unjust, Salieri worshiped God as in return of a favor, the least thing God can do is reward him, and for Salieri, this is incomprehensible, as Gods ways are mysterious.  Bidney, Martin. “Thinking about God and Mozart: The Salieris of Puškin and Peter Shaffer.” The Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 30, no. 2, 1986, pp. 183–195.  “Capisco! I know my fate. Now for the first time I feel my emptiness as Adam felt his nakedness…” (Amadeus, Act1), Salieri, associates himself to Adam, to place himself in a higher status, he believed himself to be the beloved of God, as Adam was, thus the rightful heir for the divine talent, but yet God casted Salieri out of his blessing by choosing Mozart to be his voice on earth. Salieri brought his own destruction upon himself by feeding his jealousy and envy with hatred towards Mozart because Salieri perceived Mozart as just an obscene child not worthy of the talent God bestowed upon him. In the first act Salieri acknowledges Mozart genuineness and right away raises his hands in God’s face and question him “what is this?!…What?” (Amadeus, Act1). Salieri felt betrayed by God because at a young age Salieri made a pact with God that he will be a good human by teaching music and being man of virtue in return God will give him talent instead, Salieri bargained with God, in return for being a good catholic, God will hold his own end of the deal and bless Salieri with musical talent, but once he heard Mozart’s music, “then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre” (Amadeus, Act1).  he felt God is mocking him for preferring Mozart who is portrayed as child indulged in earthly pleasures without any regards to ethicalities and virtues. Moreover, Salieri acknowledges his average talent, as well as recognizing God’s mockery, “…You are the enemy! I name Thee now – Nemico Eterno!…” (Amadeus, Act1). therefore, declares God as the enemy and seek to block him on earth.

Filled with anger and envy Salieri challenges and declares war against God “from this time we are enemies You and I! I’ll not accept it from you…what use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?” (Amadeus, Act1).Salieri is filled with jealousy toward Mozart and envy toward God, according to Melanie, Klein an Austrian-British author and psychoanalyst, love and hate, and the capacity of destructive impulses are constitutional, thus we see, Salieri’s love and devotion for God, is now turned into hate which, blinds him from rational thinking therefore, directing his anger toward God. Klein, Melanie. Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963. Vol. 3, Free Pr., 1984, pp.176-180.

 With the progression to the Second Act, Salieri’s behaviors are being vocalized into actions toward destroying the God in Mozart “My quarrel wasn’t with Mozart- it was through him! Through him to God who loved him so. Amadeus!… Amadeus” (Amadeus, Act2). In the second Act Salieri abandons his sexual virtue by committing adultery with Katherina and also abandons his social virtue by resigning from the committees to help poor musician, therefore stripping him away from morality and ethical norms. Moreover, Salieri plotting the destruction of Mozart by trying to sabotage his opera The Marriage of Figaro, reduces the payment on the Chamber Composer and finally peruses Mozart to incorporate the Mason ritual in his last Vaudeville.

Shaffer uses Salieri to highlight the battle between God and Man, presenting the consequences of such battle on man’s life. Salieri is seen fighting and in agony of envy and jealousy and being tormented by Mozart’s talent, on the other hand, Mozart is indifferent toward Salieri and pays little or no attention to him at all. In the same way, God is indifferent to the battle against him declared by Salieri and punishes him not “If I had expected anger from God none came. None!” (Amadeus, Act2). Salieri being Catholic was full of dread to defy God and frightened of God’s punishment “I felt the danger at once, as soon as I’d uttered my challenge. How would he answer me? Would he strike me dead for my impiety? Don’t laugh. I was not a sophisticated of the saloon. I was a small-town Catholic, full of dread” (Amadeus, Act2).  Throughout the play, Salieri was waiting for God’s punishment and wondering why God has not punished him yet, and as no punishment fell upon him, Salieri grow more powerful, which gave him strength and determination to destroy Mozart. “And God’s response to my challenge remained as inscrutable as ever… was He taking any notice of me at all” (Amadeus, Act2). Salieri feels that God has abandon him even in his punishment, he felt unworthy even of God’s rage, he tried to provoke God in many ways but God is apathetic toward him. The final confrontation between Salieri and Mozart is indeed the confrontation between Salieri and God, Salieri being angry at God, screams at Mozart “God does not love you, Amadeus! He can only use! …he is finished with you! All you can do now is die!” (Amadeus, Act2). As if God only created Mozart to torment Salieri and now that Salieri destroyed Mozart and won the battle there is no need for him. The ways of God are incomprehensible to humans, one is never to understand when and what is the reward or the punishment, neither did Salieri understand at first why he went unpunished, but later came to know that his punishment was to see Mozart music lived after his death while his music died while he was still alive.

        Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus portrays the inner conflict between morality and religion, Salieri, in the play is unable to accept Mozart talent, since Mozart is a born prodigy. Salieri believes that his talent was a gift from God and he cannot understand why God bestowed a divinyl talent on someone like Mozart, who is childish and not ruled by sexual and social virtue thus making Salieri occupied with envy and jealousy blinded to carry out his Catholic virtue of being a good human, drives him to raise his fists and defy God. His own actions and behaviors were the reason of his own death and destruction.

           Salieri’s envoy and jealousy are stemmed from his uncontrolled love for music, “I was born a pair of ears and nothing else. Its only through hearing music that I know God exists. Only through music that I could worship” (Amadeus, Act 2), music for Salieri is a way to see god, he can identify with God only through music, and composing music, is his way of worshiping God.

By Mozart being the musical genius, he is, Salieri felt, that God, is abandoning him and rejecting his love, in her book Envy and Gratitude And other works 1946-1963, Melanie, Klein, defines envy is the feeling of anger at the possessions of someone else, which is also desirable for the same person and sometimes accompanied by impulses to spoil or take it away, Salieri is envious of god, but jealous of Mozart, as he sees music as god and see god in Mozart, Salieri fueled with envy tries to destroy god. Klein, also argues, that envy is manifested in destruction and worsen, when a person encounters an ordeal, Salieri’s ordeal was Mozart’s talent and instead of having gratitude for his own talent, which suppresses the envious impulses, Salieri confused between good and bad, started attacking Mozart and resulted in his destruction, as for Klein, she sees that gratitude is the antipode of envy, hence having gratitude for one’s possessions, stifles the impulses of envy. Whereby, jealousy, is founded on envy, and usually a three-sided relation which includes a loved object, Salieri’s, loved object is music and by the introduction of Mozart, Salieri felt that his music is under the danger of being taken away from him, jealousy, according to Klein, aims at the possessions of the loved object and the elimination of the rival, therefore, Salieri acting consciously upon his urges to destroy the rival, “Die, Amadeus! Die, I beg you die!…Leave me alone, ti imploro! Leave me alone at last! Leave me alone!” (Amadeus, Act2), this the ultimate goal, Mozart’s death, unsettled jealousy can result in an undeveloped Ego and psyche, which can cause inner conflict, thus, Salieri, is struggling within himself and reflecting his urges on to God and Mozart, due to this unresolved conflict, Salieri, self-destruction attitude caused him to commit suicide “Now I go to become a ghost myself” (Amadeus, Act 2), by death, Salieri, now can go back to a peaceful state where his Ego cannot be hurt again. In her book, Klein, describes envy as the wroth feeling at someone, who possess the same desirable object one desires, and withholding it for themselves, commonly this person, who possess the object, is seen as the source of the desirable object. In the same way, Salieri, looks at God, he sees God, as the source of music, but God is holding this talent and it is not attainable for Salieri, so in the first act of the paly, when Salieri hears Mozart’s music, he realizes that God had chosen someone else to give, the most desirable object he wanted, that is the reason, Salieri is envious of God but jealous of Mozart. Klein, argues that, if a loved object is disturbed or threatened to be removed, these disturbances evokes the envy and causes a character deterioration, which reinforces the destructive impulses. By the presence of Mozart, Salieri felt his music being threatened, which evoked his envy and aroused his destructive impulses, also Salieri’s excessive ambition to become the voice of God on earth, stirred his envy and his rivalry with Mozart, hence he sought out to destroy God and Mozart, Klein, suggests to overcome such impulses, of excessive envy and jealousy, one must possess the feeling of gratitude for creativeness, as gratitude reduces the feelings of envy, if Salieri, were able to accept Mozart’s talent and God’s choice, his destructive impulses will subdue, his gratitude will surge causing love to overcome envy and jealousy.

 (Klein, vol 3) 


Amadeus depictsthe human nature of what is morally unrighteous, and how if governed by it one’s actions and deeds eventually will lead to death. Also, Shaffer’s assert the idea of self-destruction when questioning God. It is seen through out the play how Salieri’s envy transformed him from the virtual Catholic man, who vowed to sexual and social virtue to the vile man, who vowed to destroy the God through Mozart, guided by anger and hate toward God, Mozart was nothing but a colterol damage in the battle between Salieri and God.

      Yielding to one’s emotions and allowing them to surpass one’s common judgment and moral value strip us from virtue, which effects the actions and behaviors towards one’s self and towards people around. Peter Shaffer displays the journey of envy and jealousy, Salieri’s envy is stemmed out of uncontrolled love for music, and once he felt his love was taken away from him by Mozart, he shed his virtues and sought to destroy God, the source of music, but little did Salieri know, that by destroying God and Mozart, he is destroying himself as well, because he is consistent of both music and God. Shaffer, also  demonstrates the effect of uncontrolled impulses on human actions and behaviors and the consequences of these action, which at the end of the play resulted in self-destruction and death.


  • Amadeus Script PDF,1980,
  • Bidney, Martin. “Thinking about God and Mozart: The Salieris of Puškin and Peter Shaffer.” The Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 30, no. 2, 1986, pp. 183–195. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Brown, A. Peter. “Amadeus and Mozart: Setting the Record Straight.” The American Scholar, vol. 61, no. 1, 1992, pp. 49–66. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Burton-hill, Clemency. “What Amadeus gets wrong.” BBC, Culture Story, 24 Feb,2015,
  • DeWitt, Bill, and Grand Junction. “Biography of Antonio Salieri.” Antonio Salieri – Biography, 2009,
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. second ed., Blackwell Publishing, 2015.
  • Jones, Daniel R. “Peter Shaffer’s Continued Quest for God in ‘Amadeus.’” Comparative Drama, vol. 21, no. 2, 1987, pp. 145–155. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Klein, Melanie. Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963. Vol. 3, Free Pr., 1984.
  • Klopčič, Rok. “Psychoanalysing Mozart.” The Strad, 27 Jan. 2017,
  • Walsh, Michael. “’Amadeus,’ Shamadeus.” Film Comment, vol. 20, no. 5, 1984, pp.52. JSTOR, JSTOR,



 Jones, Daniel R. “Peter Shaffer’s Continued Quest for God in ‘Amadeus.’” Comparative Drama, vol. 21, no. 2, 1987, pp. 145–155. JSTOR, JSTOR,

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