Peter Shaffer

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Sir Peter Shaffer
Peter Levin Shaffer

(1926-05-15)15 May 1926
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Died6 June 2016(2016-06-06) (aged 90)
Nationality British
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Notable work
Black Comedy , Equus , Amadeus
Awards Academy Award for Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globe Award for best screenplay; multiple Tony Awards and New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards for best play
Peter Shaffer's signature.svg

Sir Peter Levin Shaffer, CBE ( /ˈʃæfər/ ; 15 May 1926 – 6 June 2016), was an English playwright and screenwriter. He wrote numerous award-winning plays, of which several were adapted into films.

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.


Early life

Shaffer was born to a Jewish family in Liverpool, the son of Reka (née Fredman) and Jack Shaffer, an estate agent. [1] [2] He was the identical twin brother of fellow playwright Anthony Shaffer.

Liverpool City and Metropolitan borough in England

Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough in North West England, with an estimated population of 491,500. Its metropolitan area is the fifth-largest in the UK, with a population of 2.24 million in 2011. The local authority is Liverpool City Council, the most populous local government district in the metropolitan county of Merseyside and the largest in the Liverpool City Region.

Anthony Joshua Shaffer was an English playwright, screenwriter, novelist, barrister and advertising executive.

He was educated at the Hall School, Hampstead, and St Paul's School, London, and subsequently he gained a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, to study history. Shaffer was a Bevin Boy coal miner during World War II, and took a number of jobs including bookstore clerk, and assistant at the New York Public Library, before discovering his dramatic talents. [3]

Hampstead area of north London, England

Hampstead, commonly known as Hampstead Village, is an area of London, England, 4 miles (6.4 km) northwest of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.

St Pauls School, London boys independent school in Richmond upon Thames, England

St Paul's School is a selective independent school for boys aged 13–18, founded in 1509 by John Colet and located on a 43-acre (180,000m2) site by the River Thames, in Barnes, London.

Trinity College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

Theatrical career

Shaffer's first play, The Salt Land (1955), was presented on ITV on 8 November 1955. Encouraged by this success, Shaffer continued to write and established his reputation as a playwright in 1958, with the production of Five Finger Exercise , [4] which opened in London under the direction of John Gielgud and won the Evening Standard Drama Award. When Five Finger Exercise moved to New York City in 1959, it was equally well received and landed Shaffer the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

ITV (TV channel) British free-to-air television channel

ITV is a British free-to-air television channel. Previously a network of separate regional television channels, ITV currently operates in England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

<i>Five Finger Exercise</i> 1962 film by Daniel Mann

Five Finger Exercise is a 1962 American drama film made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Daniel Mann and produced by Frederick Brisson from a screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the play by Peter Shaffer.

John Gielgud English actor and theatre director

Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, he was one of the trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. A member of the Terry family theatrical dynasty, he gained his first paid acting work as a junior member of his cousin Phyllis Neilson-Terry's company in 1922. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he worked in repertory theatre and in the West End before establishing himself at the Old Vic as an exponent of Shakespeare in 1929–31.

Shaffer's next piece was a double bill, The Private Ear/The Public Eye, two plays each containing three characters and concerning aspects of love. They were presented in May 1962 at the Globe Theatre, and both starred Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams. Smith won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Leading Actress at the age of 27.[ citation needed ]

Gielgud Theatre theatre in the West End of London

The Gielgud Theatre is a West End theatre, located on Shaftesbury Avenue in the City of Westminster, London, at the corner of Rupert Street. The house currently has 986 seats on three levels.

Maggie Smith English actress

Dame Margaret Natalie Smith is an English actress. She has had an extensive, varied career on stage, film, and television, spanning over 67 years. Smith has appeared in over 50 films, and is one of Britain's most recognizable actresses. A prominent figure in British culture for six decades, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 for services to the performing arts, and received the Companion of Honour from the Queen in 2014 for services to drama.

Kenneth Williams English actor and comedian

Kenneth Charles Williams was an English actor, best known for his comedy roles and in later life as a raconteur and diarist. He was one of the main ensemble in 26 of the 31 Carry On films, and appeared in many British television programmes and radio comedies, including series with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne.

The National Theatre was established in 1963, and virtually all of Shaffer's subsequent work was done in its service. His canon contains a unique mix of philosophical dramas and satirical comedies. The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964) presents the tragic conquest of Peru by the Spanish, while Black Comedy (1965) takes a humorous look at the antics of a group of characters feeling their way around a pitch black room — although the stage is actually flooded with light.[ citation needed ]

Royal National Theatre theatre in London, England

The Royal National Theatre in London, commonly known as the National Theatre (NT), is one of the United Kingdom's three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. Internationally, it is known as the National Theatre of Great Britain.

The Royal Hunt of the Sun is a 1964 play by Peter Shaffer that dramatizes the relation of two worlds entering in a conflict by portraying two characters: Atahuallpa Inca and Francisco Pizarro.

Peru republic in South America

Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, is a country in western South America. It is bordered in the north by Ecuador and Colombia, in the east by Brazil, in the southeast by Bolivia, in the south by Chile, and in the west by the Pacific Ocean. Peru is a megadiverse country with habitats ranging from the arid plains of the Pacific coastal region in the west to the peaks of the Andes mountains vertically extending from the north to the southeast of the country to the tropical Amazon Basin rainforest in the east with the Amazon river.

Equus (1973) won Shaffer the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. A journey into the mind of a seventeen-year-old stable-boy who had plunged a spike into the eyes of six horses, Equus ran for over 1,000 performances on Broadway. It was revived by Massachusetts' Berkshire Theatre Festival in the summers of 2005 and 2007, by director Thea Sharrock at London's Gielgud Theatre in February 2007, and on Broadway (in the Sharrock staging) in September 2008. The latter production, which ran in New York until February 2009, required the stableboy to appear naked; its star, Daniel Radcliffe, was still associated with the Harry Potter films intended for general audiences, and this led to mild controversy. [5]

Shaffer followed this success with Amadeus (1979) which won the Evening Standard Drama Award and the Theatre Critics' Award for the London production. This tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and court composer Antonio Salieri who, overcome with jealousy at hearing the "voice of God" coming from an "obscene child", sets out to destroy his rival. When the show moved to Broadway it won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play and, like Equus, ran for more than a thousand performances.[ citation needed ]

After the success of Amadeus, Shaffer wrote the play Lettice and Lovage specifically for Dame Maggie Smith in 1986, for which he was nominated for another Tony Award and Dame Maggie Smith eventually won the Tony Award for best actress after three nominations in 1990. Lettice and Lovage also enabled Margaret Tyzack to win the award for best featured actress, and the production was nominated for best direction of a play, at the 1990 Tony Awards.[ citation needed ]

Screen adaptations

Several of Shaffer's plays have been adapted to film, including Five Finger Exercise (1962), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), The Public Eye (1962), from which he adapted the 1972 film Follow Me! (1972), Equus (1977), and Amadeus (1984), which won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Shaffer received two Academy Award nominations for adapting his plays Equus and Amadeus for the big screen. For writing the screenplay for Equus, he was nominated for the 1977 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar but the award went to Alvin Sargent, who wrote the screenplay for Julia . For writing the screenplay for Amadeus, Shaffer received both the 1984 Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the 1984 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

Personal life

Shaffer was gay but did not write explicitly about it. His boyfriend Robert Leonard died in 1990. [6] Shaffer died on June 6, 2016, at the age of ninety while on a trip to the south-west of Ireland. [7] [8] [9]

Peter Antony

He co-wrote three detective novels with his brother Anthony Shaffer under the pseudonym Peter Antony.


Shaffer received the William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre in 1992. Two years later he was appointed Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University.[ citation needed ]

In 1993 he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) by the University of Bath. [10]

Shaffer's play, Five Finger Exercise won the Evening Standard Drama Award when it premiered in London and then won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play when it moved to New York City. [11]

Shaffer's play, Equus won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics' Circle that year as well. [12] [13] His screenplay adaptation of the play was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1978. [14]

Shaffer's play Amadeus won the Evening Standard Drama Award and the Theatre Critics' Award for its initial London production. Upon moving to Broadway, Amadeus won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play. [15] His screenplay adaptation of the play won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar as well as the Golden Globe Best Screenplay in 1984.

Shaffer's play Lettice and Lovage was nominated for another Tony Award, and for her performance in it, Dame Maggie Smith won the Tony Award for best actress after three nominations in 1990. Lettice and Lovage also won best supporting actress for Margaret Tyzack and was nominated for best direction of a play in 1990 Tony Awards. [16]


Shaffer was appointed a CBE in 1987 and named Knight Bachelor in the 2001 New Year's Honours. In 2007 he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. [17]

Selected works

Related Research Articles

<i>Amadeus</i> theatre Play

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Tom Hulce American actor, singer and theatre producer

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<i>Black Comedy</i> (play) play by Peter Shafer

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  17. "Hall of Fame: theater veterans get a night in limelight". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.