This prominent British writer's best known film work includes the chilling psychodrama "Equus" (1977) and "Amadeus" (1984), the Oscar-winning account of the relationship between Mozart and his scheming rival, Salieri.
Shaffer was a writer, critic, and novelist (with his brother Anthony Shaffer under the pseudonym Peter Anthony) before turning to the theatre with "Five Finger Exercise" in 1958. Among the works that followed where "The Royal Hunt of the Sun: A Play Concerning the Conquest of Peru" (1964), as well as "Equus" (1975) and "Amadeus" (1980) both of which won the Tony Award as Best Play for their New York productions. Shaffer's comedy "Lettice and Lovage" (1987) featured a tour-de-force performance by Maggie Smith in London and on Broadway (and by Julie Harris in the US touring company).
In addition to adapting his best-known plays for the screen, Shaffer wrote the stunning 1963 adaptation of William Golding's novel "Lord of the Flies" His work has generally been marked by an underlining humanism, in which the so-called villains often drive the action by forcing the audience to see the more sympathetic characters through their eyes. Shaffer's villains sympathize with and understand the more likable foe, yet do what they need to do for their own ends, but not without shame or worse. For example, in "Amadeus", Salieri is angry with God for giving the undisciplined Mozart the musical power he so craves. Yet, Salieri destroys Mozart both out of envy and to protect his position. Similarly, the psychiatrist in "Equus" knows that he will destroy the lad who loves horses, but he reasons that society requires it. Motivations are neither evil nor good, but they serve the dramatic obstacle in a Shaffer play; they are intricate and offer psychological depth. The audience is often left wondering if their impulses make them closer to the villain or the tormented, and who, in fact, is the more tormented character.