Mozart and Salieri
is certainly a "Little Tragedy" - a tiny tragedy, in fact! And it's ancient, so you can read it here.
The short etude of a play is a small illustration of genius and of envy. Salieri is a man completely devoted to music, hailed as a brilliant musician and composer, and he was very happy with his music, his life, free from envy and full of creative vigor, until Mozart his the scene. Mozart is a genius, so much so a genius with a capital gee that it casts Salieri's own ability into the shadows his own doubt. Enter Mozart, with a strange straggler in tow, a blind violinist. Mozart has been composing his famously unfinished "Requiem" - Salieri conspires to poison him to keep him from ruining the future of music with his inimitable genius.
The verse-play is very, very short, and only holds three characters (blind violinist, Salieri, Mozart). Each is representative of a different phylum of music-man: the undisputed, natural genius (Mozart), the dedicated and all-sacrificing achiever (Salieri), and the happy mummer (blind violinist). Salieri is the only envious man in the bunch. While Mozart has no man to envy, he has no reason or time to envy either - he has a childlike disposition, loves joking about with Salieri hiw friend, but his music is something which flows from him, and is not perceived as the product of intense labor (though of course it is, a private labor). The blind violinist is significantly without sight, he plays Mozart's "Don Giovanni" on cue, happy to play another man's composition for the love of sound. He is a sort of Shakespearean fool, though he has no speaking role and may well be a mute violinist as well. He serves to disrupt Salieri's composure, to draw an even greater contrast between the two masters: Salieri who is too grave for his own good, totally self-abnegating to his art, and Mozart, the family man and jolly prankster who is in love with life.
And Salieri justifies his crime with the self-styled choice of destiny:
No, I cannot withstand it any longer,
Resist my destiny: I have been chosen
To stop him -- otherwise, all of us die!
All of us priests and votaries of music,
Not I alone with my faint-sounding glory...
He extrapolates his jealousy to the musical community as a whole. He is saving the world from... from what? From a foregone future of Mozart's genius. He lacks the same creative genius that Mozart has an imagines that musical composition will end for everyone, there will be no peaks to reach, no music which can compare to Mozart's Everest "Requiem."
That Beaumarchais could really poison someone?
I doubt he did: too laughable a fellow
For such a serious craft.
He was a genius,
Like you and me. While genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles. Is that not right?
Beaumarchais, the author of the Le Figaro
plays, was accused of poisoning his wives for their inheritance money, and in many ways this hypothetical murder of Mozart is more an homage to love-murder than to Mozart. Salieri loves Mozart, Mozart the artist and maybe Mozart the man, but his passion is wounded, for he perceives that Mozart (man) does not live up the impossible grandeur of his expectations, Mozart-genius. His Machiavellian aims are obviously misguided and irrational. They follow only the twisted internal logic of a madman, though Salieri does not seem to be courting real madness in Mozart and Salieri
. And if he is, it is a solemn madness, a self-aware madness, his attempts to delude himself of his own viciousness. His vanity is wounded, his hard work feels for naught, though it is obvious that Mozart admires him, his work, his dedication. As Mozart cannot imagine a genius-wrongdoer, Salieri cannot conceive a serious-fool ("too laughable a fellow for such a serious craft" - murder-craft or music-craft, either).
The blind man does not envy Mozart, he can't - Mozart is far too remote from him - maybe he envies some other sidewalk songster, but could never envy Mozart nor even Salieri. But Salieri's envy is expanded by his own self-appraisal of his work. The greater the genius the greater the grudging of envy - for Salieri has given up everything, he has achieved so much, has been immortalized for his operas like Armida. But Mozart stands to surpass him. He envies Mozart but he admires him, his artist productions are celestial to Salieri, and it would seem that he is more fearful that Mozart-man will outlive Mozart-genius than he is about Mozart upstaging musical art. He sees Mozart-man, the fumbling fool bringing home sidewalk violinists, as a threat to the genius who composed Mozart's many great musical creations. And the death of Mozart, which he shudders to regret moments after the act is complete (like Edmund's relent in death for Cordelia's murder in King Lear
). But he returns to composure, the act done. And in his poison-murder, Salieri immortalizes the beauty of Mozart from the potential self-harm which her perceived. And we can imagine that the epitaph which adorns Salieri's grave would be an appropriate final parting from Salieri to Mozart:
Rest in peace! Uncovered by dust
Eternity shall bloom for you.
Rest in peace! In eternal harmonies
Your spirit now is dissolved.
It expressed itself in enchanting notes,
Now it is floating to everlasting beauty.