Is Salieri the Protagonist or Villain of the Play?

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Salieri’s role in the play “Amadeus” has many functions. Not only does he, in a sense, narrate the play, but his persona and identity could also claim him title of tragic hero, or even that of the protagonist. How his character is perceived by individuals in the audience, or even through different parts of the play, could suggest that his role doesn’t actually have a permanent fixture. Is it possible that he manipulates the change of his own character, as he manipulates the life of Mozart? And is Salieri, himself, even aware of this change that invokes his actions?

Salieri and the Venticelli are the only characters in the play who seem to ever communicate, directly, with the audience, which sways us towards the idea of Salieri being considered as a narrator of the play, yet, the fixation on Salieri and his life in this play (even if his life is fixated on Mozart), suggests otherwise. Salieri is clearly more fitted to the definition of “protagonist”, than Mozart’s character; the play focuses on how Salieri feels about the negative effects Mozart has had on his life, and secondly, we hear private thoughts on the occurrences, through Salieri, and rarely Mozart.

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Furthermore, as Salieri helps to narrate the play, the thought of him being the protagonist becomes more convincing. Like many novels and plays that are written in first person, that character is often then perceived as the protagonist. As readers or viewers, we are able to have a closer connection with that character, thus, are more inclined to feel empathy for them when in dispute, whether or not they’re wrong or right. Although Salieri’s character is seemingly cunning and evil, he doesn’t lack empathy from the audience.

As well as being the character we make the first and strongest connection with, the way he feels about Mozart could represent how many people feel and may think about acting when they find themselves in a similar situation. Knowing about someone who is naturally more talented at something you find is a passion of yours, can be frustrating. But knowing someone personally who is able to overshadow your own attempts, as you can imagine, must be unbearable.

However, as Salieri has this connection with the audience, and too, has the fatal flaw of mediocrity, he could also be seen as a tragic hero; but is this a title that could be better fitted to Mozart such was the “God’s instrument”? Who the protagonist is, in this case, of a play, is usually dependant on how well the audience is able to relate to the character. People often relate to the under-dog, that are able to prove themselves as worthy, despite obstacles or other aspects that get in their way of what they wish to achieve.

But, an important quality protagonists must have, and one that Salieri undoubtedly possesses is an “understandable” flaw, like that of a tragic hero. Although in quite a high position, in the music business, Salieri seems to be more than aware that his ability is not something that can even be compared to Mozart’s talent, something that Salieri describes as “hearing [the] voice of God”. Regardless of his lack of ability to make “miraculous” music, as Mozart did without correction, Salieri does not necessarily not achieve anything worthy of a title.

Mediocrity is often seen quite negatively, despite it being in the definition of the word itself, mediocre. This is not particularly bad, nor particularly good. Salieri appoints himself the position of “the patron saint of mediocrity”. Although not fulfilling the desire of the position he believed God bestowed upon him, it is a title that allows the audience to more simply connect with him, and possibly see him as a figure of fictional-authority. In the case of Mozart however, we can clearly see he is not a character that fits the position of the protagonist.

In fact, when speaking in terms of the protagonist, he seems to be almost the opposite of Salieri. We never really have much of an opportunity to form a bond with Mozart, like we do Salieri, so the extent to which our feelings for him are able to travel, could be considered a limp throw in comparison to the life-long journey we take with Salieri. We can feel sympathy for what happens to Mozart, and the unfortunate events that he encounters, however, because of his immaturity and lack of understanding, we’re not able to feel empathy for him.

Indubitably, Mozart has flaws, yet are less understandable and more fatal; his immaturity and ignorance of other’s feelings, are something that could be easily be changed, or worked on, in comparison to Salieri’s innate faults. For example, the originally praised march that Salieri composes for the arrival of Mozart, is ironically, destroyed by Mozart not soon after his arrival. Mozart refers to Salieri’s composition as “a jolly little thing”, without the means of insulting him. Yet, because of the lack of Mozart’s social skills, he does so unknowingly, which also denies Salieri the right to respond with an equally insulting comeback.

Howbeit, the talent for music that Mozart possesses, almost dehumanises him, so the importance of social interaction doesn’t necessarily apply to Mozart. Whether or not he would have had less of a tragic ending if he was able to have a more mature and sympathetic relationship with other characters, is a question that remains unanswered. Would Salieri still be able to manipulate Mozart to the point of death, if Mozart wasn’t so naive? Or would Mozart be mature enough to take himself to an ending that wasn’t such a fatal outcome?

Despite these questions, Mozart was a character who had an obvious fatal flaw, but also was endowed with the ability to make God-like music, which allows him to be the tragic hero of the play. Salieri, on the other hand, was an average man that composed equally average music, but seemed to be the only one who really understood the great quality of Mozart’s work, “thus the one most savagely wounded by it. ”. Although who the protagonist appears to be, is quite clear, whether or not Salieri can also be considered the villain of the play isn’t so obvious.

Despite greatly affecting the speed at which Mozart’s downfall occurs, it’s not to say, that Mozart wouldn’t have eventually came to such an end, by himself. In “The Marriage of Figaro”, Mozart writes in a dance, during the opera, despite “His Majesty [had] expressly forbidden ballet in his operas”. Salieri had been, yet another time, the works behind this event by informing Rosenberg, who physically removes the dance from the manuscript. Despite having the encounter with Rosenberg, Mozart still insists that “this is Salieri’s idea! , and indeed it was. Yet, the reasoning behind Salieri’s want to destroy Mozart can be justified, which makes him seem less villainous despite still being the main cause of Mozart’s downfall. What Salieri primarily desires, isn’t something at all evil; he wished to be “God’s gift”. Yet, due to a turn of events, this initially religious and holy desire, becomes something very evil and twisted. As a result of this, Salieri’s character is seemingly evil, yet only through a positive characteristic; determination.

If we, as an audience, didn’t find it so easy to relate to Salieri, the thought of him being a villain, would be quite accurate. However, as we can connect to Salieri so well, and see similar characteristics between ourselves and him, it’s hard to give him such a definite title, if it means, that we too, are partially that. Salieri is no doubt the protagonist of this play; we best connect with his character as we can relate to his way of acting and understand why he takes the actions that he does.

Despite some of the less pleasant of his doings, he never acts without reason, so we find it hard to form a disliking for him, from this reason alone. Furthermore, as he speaks directly to the audience, we feel that he interacts with us as well as the characters in the play. Yet, he is unable to be defined as villain or a tragic hero, purely because the way he acts isn’t intentionally or completely evil, yet neither does he have omnipotent traits or boundless abilities, like that of Mozart. His downfall, however, could be considered equally as tragic.

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Is Salieri the Protagonist or Villain of the Play?. (2017, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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