Peter Shaffer (Peter Levin Shaffer) Biography
(1926– ), (Peter Levin Shaffer), Five Finger Exercise, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Black Comedy
Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland
British playwright, born in Liverpool, educated at Cambridge University. He made his name with Five Finger Exercise (1958), a drama about growing up in oppressive family circumstances. His other plays include The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), an epic drama about the conquest of Peru and, more specifically, the curious meeting of minds between the rough yet inquisitive Pizarro and the Inca god-king Atahuallpa; the brilliant farce Black Comedy (1965); and The Battle of Shrivings (1970), a metaphysical debate between a rationalist philosopher and a poet who takes a more sceptical view of man's nature. Equus (1970), a drama clearly indebted to the theories of R. D. Laing, concerns a psychiatrist's relationship with a boy who has blinded the six horses he loved and identified with an all-powerful, all-watchful God; it would seem that the boy knew a kind of ecstasy with the horses and that they are frightening symbols of the repressed energies of a young man. Amadeus (1979), another psychological study, concerns the slow and sly destruction of Mozart by his envious fellow composer Salieri. Shaffer's later plays include the biblical epic Yonadab (1985), in which the title character, part-idealist and part-voyeur, encourages Amnon to rape his half-sister, Tamar; Lettice and Lovage (1987), a nostalgic comedy about two women with a shared hatred of the banality of contemporary urban life, especially its architecture; and The Gift of the Gorgon (1992), about a wild Russian-Welsh dramatist and his disastrous marriage. It has been said that Shaffer writes philosophical, humanist plays for middle-brow audiences, concentrating particularly on the significance of art, the nature of creativity, the importance of the imagination, and man's yearning, often self-destructive, for ecstasy and rapture.
His twin brother, Anthony Shaffer, is also a playwright, best known for a bravura thriller, Sleuth (1970), but also the author of Murderer (1975).