Peter Shaffer’s later life and career

Stage successes

Following the success of Five Finger Exercise, further plays met with acclaim. In 1962, a double drama, The Private Ear / The Public Eye focused on love and relationships. The tragedy, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, examined the processes of colonialisation by focusing on the conquest of Peru by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. It premiered in 1964 at the new Festival Theatre in Chichester. Shaffer subsequently tried his hand at comedy with the popular Black Comedy (1967).

Equus

The Old Vic Theatre, LondonEquus premiered at the Old Vic theatre in London in July 1973, where it had a long run, and then moved to Broadway in October 1974, where it ran for over 1000 performances and then toured the US. Public reactions to its content were mixed. Some people were shocked by the play’s inclusion of stage nudity, cruelty to animals and its perceived belittling of the psychiatric profession. However, it was generally popular, particularly in the UK, and received many awards. For further information, see Equus > Critical approaches.

Shaffer’s subsequent output

Since Equus in 1973, Shaffer is best remembered for the play (1981) and subsequent screenplay (1984) of Amadeus, about the rivalry between an elderly composer, Salieri, and the young Mozart. In 1987 his play for well-known actress Maggie Smith, entitled Lettice and Lovage, had successful runs in both the West End and on Broadway.

Peter Shaffer has written both plays and novels, although the former are better known. His works include:

  • Five Finger Exercise (1958)
  • The Private Ear (1962)
  • The Public Eye (1962)
  • The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964)
  • Black Comedy (1967)
  • White Lies (1967)
  • Equus (1973)
  • Shrivings (1974)
  • Amadeus (1980)
  • Lettice & Lovage (1988)
  • Yonadab (1989)

His three novels (two of which are co-authored with his twin brother) are:

  • The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951), under the pseudonym ‘Peter Antony’
  • How Doth the Little Crocodile (1954), co-authored with Anthony Shaffer
  • Withered Murder (1955), co-authored with Anthony Shaffer.

Shaffer also wrote film scripts for The Lord of the Flies in 1963, which was not filmed, and for three of his own plays, The Public Eye in 1972, Equus in 1977 (which was nominated for an Academy Award), and Amadeus in 1984 (which won an Academy Award). In total, six of his plays were turned into films: Five Finger Exercise, The Private Ear, The Public Eye, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus and Amadeus.

Later Life

In 1992, Shaffer was given the William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater. Two years later, in 1994, he was appointed Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University. In 2001, he became a Knight Bachelor in the New Year’s Honours List and is now known as Sir Peter Shaffer.

Further Reading

It can be helpful to learn more about an author’s life, and although there is not a substantial biography of Peter Shaffer’s life, there are some critical works which discuss his life and work and examine themes which appear throughout his plays. These include:

  • Peter Shaffer by C. J. Gianakaris (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992)
  • Peter Shaffer by John Russell Taylor, Writers and their Work (London: Longman, 1974).
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