Peter Shaffer won Tonys for Equus and Amadeus

British playwright Peter Shaffer was knighted in 2001.
British playwright Peter Shaffer was knighted in 2001.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Peter Shaffer, a leading British playwright whose Tony-winning dramas Equus and Amadeus explored the male psyche through the entwined anguish of dual protagonists, died on Monday in County Cork, Ireland. He was 90.

His agent Rupert Lord confirmed the death.

"Sir Peter had travelled to Ireland to celebrate his 90th birthday with close friends and relations," he said in an e-mail. The playwright turned 90 on May 15.

He lived in Manhattan for more than 40 years and died in a hospice in Curraheen, a district outside Cork City.

Valued by critics and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, Shaffer saw his reputation amplified by well-received movie renderings of his plays.

He won an Oscar for his film adaptation of Amadeus, about the rivalry between Antonio Salieri, the court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the precocious composer whose magnificent gifts thrilled the older man and filled him with malicious jealousy as he realises his consignment to mediocrity.

Shaffer drew his inspiration for Equus from a story told to him by a friend about a British stable boy - the teenage son of forbidding, religion-oriented parents - who had compulsively blinded a number of horses in his care after being seduced by a young woman on the floor of the stable.

The horses were around them ostensibly, at least in the mind of the boy, watching them.

From that episode, the play evolved into an intimate, tense wrangle between the boy, Alan Strang, and his psychiatrist, Dr Martin Dysart.

The psychiatrist's own marriage, doubts about the efficacy of his profession and interest in ancient Greek history add depth to the relationship and the resonance of myth to the story of the boy's gruesome and mysterious act.

Peter Levin Shaffer was born on May 15, 1926, in Liverpool, along with his fraternal twin Anthony, and grew up in London, where his father worked in real estate.

The twins attended St Paul's School in London until 1944, when they went to work in the coal mines of Yorkshire and Kent for three years as an alternative to military service. In 1947, Peter Shaffer won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history.

After his graduation in 1950, the brothers published How Doth The Little Crocodile?, the first of several mystery novels they wrote under the joint pseudonym, Peter Anthony. Anthony Shaffer, who studied law, became a noted playwright, winning a best-play Tony before his brother did, for the 1971 murder mystery Sleuth, which ran for 1,222 performances, eclipsing the runs of Equus and Amadeus.

Shaffer was knighted in 2001. His brother Anthony died in 2001. He is survived by another brother, Brian.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Peter Shaffer won Tonys for Equus and Amadeus'. Subscribe