Shaffer, Sir Peter

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SHAFFER, SIR PETER (1926– ), English playwright. Born in Liverpool, Shaffer was educated at Cambridge, where he edited the university magazine Granta. He became a music and theater critic and wrote several plays for broadcasting but made his name with the stage play Five-Finger Exercise (1958). On the surface a conventional domestic comedy, this study of a middle-class English family vying for the affections of a young German tutor dealt with relationships which other playwrights of the time either ignored or evaded. In 1962 Shaffer scored another success with The Private Ear and the Public Eye, two one-act studies of the gap between reality and appearance, in which the apparently conventional situation was again treated in psychological depth. His later plays are more ambitious: The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), a spectacular chronicle play, depicts the incursion of Cortez into the Peru of the Incas; Black Comedy (1965) attempted to extend the currently fashionable "sick joke" into a full-length theatrical performance.

[Philip D. Hobsbaum]

Shaffer achieved an outstanding success with his Equus which was first performed on Broadway in 1974. A psychological thriller about a boy who blinded six horses, based upon an actual incident which occurred in England in 1972, Shaffer worked on it for over two years. In it, he delves into the sexual and other motivations for this outrage which are revealed in long dialogues between the boy and a psychiatrist. His play Amadeus (1979), about the alleged murder of Mozart by Antonio Salieri, was made into a famous film (1984) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. He was knighted in 2000. His twin brother, anthony shaffer (1926–2001), was educated at Cambridge and became a barrister. He was also a noted playwright, especially of mysteries. He was the author of the long-running Sleuth (1970), made into a film in 1977, Frenzy (1973), one of Alfred Hitchcock's last films, and dramatizations of several of Agatha Christie's works. The two brothers sometimes collaborated, using the pseudonym "Peter Anthony."

add. bibliography:

odnb online for Anthony Shaffer; G.A. Plunka, Peter Shaffer (1988); M.K. MacMurraugh-Kavanagh, Peter Shaffer: Theatre and Drama (1998).