Compare the Treatment of the Theme of Passion in Peter Shaffer’s Play ‘Amadeus’ (1979) and Jeanette Winterson’s Novel ‘the Passion’ (1987)
English and Literature
Submitted By englishyay
Compare the treatment of the theme of passion in Peter Shaffer’s play ‘Amadeus’ (1979) and Jeanette Winterson’s novel ‘The Passion’ (1987)
‘This conflict of sobriety versus passion… lies at the core of Amadeus’ Heinz-Stroll
Passion is a fundamental theme of both Amadeus and The Passion, although each text treats it differently. Amadeus explores Salieri’s passionate love of music, and his obsession with Mozart, whereas The Passion investigates not only individual love and passion, but also the passion of all of France for the charismatic Napoleon.
Both texts, particularly Winterson’s novel The Passion, suggest the necessity of passion within humanity; it is something every one of us craves in some form, and Winterson even states that ‘man cannot exist without passion’. Henri falls in love too easily and Villanelle craves the danger of a risky passion:
‘Not much touches us, but still we long to be touched’
Any person with some knowledge of Jeanette Winterson’s personal life would expect the quite particular treatment of passion apparent within her novel - she is known to have said that ‘passion is a demon’, and her personal feelings toward love are thinly veiled by the story; it is actually inspired by her affair with Pat Kavanagh - in fact, many of her novels revolve around her own personal relationships. In the book, Jeanette Winterson explores the meaning of passion itself, granting it various intriguing definitions, and challenging our perception of it. Through her treatment of the theme, we are led - like Villanelle - to question whether passion is actually worth the apparent effort and heartache.
Peter Shaffer tackles the theme in a rather different way, focusing more on obsession as a form of passion; a subject matter recurrent within his work, notably in his plays ‘Equus’ and ‘Royal Hunt of the Sun’ which also focus on the idea of destroying the thing one loves and admires. Heinz-Stroll, from whom came the quotation beginning this essay, commented that the playwright’s ‘Apollonian characters destroy the Dionysian characters in order to distinguish the divine’. Salieri clearly adores Mozart’s talents - he is extremely jealous of him in fact, the intonation in ‘I heard his music’ suggesting some degree of bitterness about Mozart’s ability in comparison to his own. Peter Shaffer attempts to demonstrate the fine line between passion and obsession; there is clearly a difference between the two, but at times it is difficult to distinguish - although in neither the original written play or the 1984 film adaptation directed by Milos Forman are any sexual emotions demonstrated, it is plain to see that the two themes are very closely related.
Heinz-Stroll also points out that ‘through the act they always destroy a part of themselves’ and within both texts the characters at the centre of passions suffer; perhaps influencing the audience to regard passion as dangerous. In The Passion, Henri kills the cook - an action seemingly entirely out of character - due to his love for Vilanelle, echoing Jeanette Winterson’s thoughts that ‘love enslaves’; it literally takes control of Henri, and even though his ‘passions can be explained away’, ‘it makes no difference’ because even though it is illogical for him to be infatuated with Villanelle, he cannot stop, as ‘whoever it is you fall in love with for the first time...is the one you can’t be logical about’. Jeanette Winterson is portraying passion as something that wields complete power over us, removing our sense of reason:
‘there is no sense loving someone you can only wake up to by chance’.
In Amadeus, Salieri - who originally devoted his life to classical music and his religion - is consumed by his passion for Mozart in the form of obsession, to the point where he even admits to Mozart that
‘ten years of my hate have poisoned you to death’
Mozart is a personification of Salieri’s secret passions and desires and although he is a man of God, he is extremely susceptible to temptation, particularly when related to Mozart. A prime example is the fact he was ‘very much in love with Katerina- or at least in lust’, commenting on her ‘sweet, eatable mouth’. However, Salieri never gives in to the temptation of this prize pupil of his, until he is consumed with jealousy when he realises that ‘the creature [Mozart] had had [his] darling girl!’ This leads to him breaking his commitment vows to his wife Teresa, as Katerina ‘slipped easily into [his] bed’. Salieri also attempts to corrupt Constanze, as this is what would destroy Mozart, since he does truly love her. However, Salieri manages to stop himself as he realises his ‘quarrel wasn’t with Mozart - it was through him! Through him to God who loved him so.’
Alongside his passion for music, Salieri has a strong passion for God and his religion, and truly believes that God could choose to answer his prayers -
‘Signore, let me be a composer! And I will honour You with much music all the days of my life’
- so he is understandably angered that despite evoking this desire to create awe-inspiring music, his God refuses to fulfil this entirely - instead granting ‘spiteful, sniggering, conceited, infantine Mozart’ such talent. This is similar to the jealousy one would feel within a human relationship, for example, Salieri’s envy of Mozart’s affair with Katerina. In The Passion, God and religion play a central role; Henri has been brought up in a religious family, but requires God to prove himself -
‘Surely a god can meet passion with passion?’
This is particularly interesting since Jeanette Winterson herself originally intended to be a Pentecostal Christian missionary, and, like Henri, was brought up within a very religious family. She left home however after identifying as a lesbian at the age of 16.
Much of The Passion is set in the beautiful and mysterious city of Venice, and we are led to understand the city as an embodiment of passion - descriptions of the city are, in effect, simply portrayals of passion. These varying representations of passion further challenge our perception of it; Jeanette Winterson deals with the theme in such a way that her readers must think carefully about their own personal thoughts on love, and therefore are able to create more of a connection to the novel. As we journey through the story and so through the city, our understandings of the characters and their actions are moulded by this ‘city of mazes’ - creating the image of passion as something that is ever-changing and cannot quite be defined. Shaffer’s choice of setting the play Amadeus in Vienna, a city of whose main legacy was music, is simply appropriate and historically accurate.
Strangely though, despite mostly concentrating on its importance, both novelist and playwright on occasion trivialise the theme of passion; whether this is to create contrast to true passion is unsure, although it certainly adds various layers to the stories and characters. In Amadeus, Salieri’s voracious love for music is juxtaposed with his seemingly childish desire for sweet desserts, which he describes as ‘totally irresistible’ - the audience are surprised by this desire, since Salieri is seemingly such an esteemed, ‘no-nonsense’ character. Furthermore, Mozart’s fantastic talent is shadowed by his seemingly immature ‘passion’ with Constanze. The vulgar language: ‘I think you’re going to shit yourself!’, childish games of ‘pounce-bounce’ and ‘crunch-munch’, and the general dynamics of their relationship and demeanour of Mozart in particular, rather trivialise passion as a whole within the play; the audience is once again shocked and forced to consider passion as perhaps something meaningless.
Jenaette creates a contrasting image of passion through Napoleon; similarly to Salieri’s desire for sweet foods, ‘it was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock’. For a man apparently so great and powerful that all of France were ‘in a romance’ with him, it is interesting for the novelist to envisage Napoleon as some ogre from a fairy tale, who ‘uses Winter like a larder’ and ‘wishes his whole face were mouth to cram a whole bird’. Even Napoleon’s passion for his wife is trivialised by this - ‘he liked her the way he liked chicken’, and we have an understanding that he uses his passion for War and desire for victory as a replacement for sex, shown by the fact that when he makes love to Josephine he ‘did not bother to take off his sword’; the War is his addiction, just as Henri is ‘in love with him’, he lusts for the thrill of the War. Villanelle of course has her own addiction of gambling, and she constantly speaks of passion as a game:
‘You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play.’
However, this particular addiction does not undermine passion as a whole, it instead brings to light how much each character’s passion means to them, since ‘what you risk reveals what you value’. Perhaps the fact that Villanelle will risk everything to save Henri from the madhouse suggests that he is what she truly values and loves, although Villanelle has consistently gambled her heart away: ‘it was a game of chance and my heart was the wager’ and it was almost eternally lost - ‘if the woman had woven in her heart, she would have been a prisoner forever’.
Corresponding to the way in which Napoleon replaces sex and relationships with bloodlust and desire for victory, the play Amadeus implies that Salieri’s passion for music may be a replacement for sex. His experiences of music, Mozart’s in particular, are described by Shaffer in rather orgasmic terms - as ‘forever unfulfillable yet fulfilling him who hears it, utterly’ and ‘agonizing delights’. This further cements our understanding of what passion truly is, even if it is for an object or idea.
Jeanette Winterson manages very effectively to distinguish among sex, passion and love in her novel. Although Villanelle marries the chef, she does not experience a passion for him; it is simply sex, and this is shown by Winterson’s use of language to describe their affairs - she was ‘reminded vividly of a squid’ and ‘he left a stain on her shirt’. Villanelle’s passionate relationship with ‘The Queen of Spades’ was certainly very different however, a ‘sweet and precise torture’, Villanelle’s passion for this woman stems from her extreme passion for risk-taking, and the fear of discovery. Finally, Villanelle’s relationship with Henri is Winterson’s expression of love. He ‘touches [her] heart but does not send it shattering through [her] body’, and unfortunately this is not the overwhelming passion that she craves; their relationship is more of a love between siblings, despite the fact that they do make love to one another. Henri is the character who falls in love too easily. He is inspired by Napoleon, and like ‘all of France’, was in love with him. However, this passion is renounced when Henri is no longer blinded by adoration. After witnessing the effects of the war first-hand, watching Patrick die, Napoleon’s ‘smile’ was now not enough to ‘push away the madness of arms and legs’ and he falls in love with Villanelle, who has been forced to moonlight as a vivandière for the army. There was a time when Henri ‘was horrified’ at even the thought of serving another - ‘had I come all this way to lose him?’ It is Napoleon’s harshest loss that begins to shift Henri’s passion, and he begins to feel the ‘hate that comes after love’, as ‘what is more humiliating than finding the object of your love unworthy?’ This is in some ways similar to Salieri’s change in emotion toward God, when he feels that God is no longer all-loving as he once believed.