Analysis of the Play Equus

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  • Topic: Peter Shaffer, Equus, Horse
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  • Published : October 9, 2012
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Equus by Peter Shaffer
1973
Royal National Theatre

Is Passion a Worthwhile Price to Pay?

With its minimalistic set design, small cast, and a stage with nearly no lighting, Peter Shaffer’s play Equus relies heavily on a masterfully written script to spread its message with the audience. The play is “neither great theatre nor bad psychology, but it has elements of both” (Witham). With the assistance of the character Martin Dysart, a child psychologist, the play analyzes the parental, religious, and sexual reasoning behind the heinous act of a sick boy (Alan Strang) and calls for Dysart (along with the audience) to question and reevaluate their ideas of passion and freedom. While the discoveries occur slowly throughout the entirety of the play the largest impact comes from interaction with Alan’s parents, Dysart’s monologues, and the climactic scene of Act II.

There is no denying that the interactions with and between a child’s parents have a large impact on shaping the child’s mind and morals and who that child will ultimately become (Shumaker & Heckel, 39). Sex and religion were crucial factors in Alan’s childhood development due in no small part to the incompatibility between his parents. His mother, a Christian from an upper class “horsey” family who married beneath her, shared religion and fanciful horse stories with her son. His openly atheistic father refuses to allow his son’s religious worship explaining his own views of Christianity as “just bad sex (Equus, Location 530)”. He further implies connections between religion and sexual desire when he reports to Dysart his observations of Alan: “A boy spends night after night having this stuff read into him: an innocent man tortured to death- thorns driven into his head-nails into his hands-a spear jammed through his ribs. It can mark anyone for life, that kind of thing. I’m not joking. The boy was absolutely fascinated by all that. He was always mooning over religious pictures. I mean real kinky...
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