The Crucible and Equus

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Compare and contrast the ways in which ‘The Crucible’ and Equus’ follow when religious faith turns into religious mania. How far does the two text attempt to present a more positive attitude to a life lived in faith? The plays ‘Equus’ and ‘The Crucible’ both explore the positive aspects of religion and its damaging qualities. The critic Mitchel Hay suggests that ‘The parental, adolescent and professional conflicts exhibited by Peter Shaffer’s Equus need not be disruptive. They can be fed into a crucible of growth.’ The plays reflect the situations in American and British society during the time in which they were written. ‘The Crucible’ investigates the effects of religion universally accepted and how the unknown leads to mass anxiety and distress; Arthur Miller states ‘I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history.’ By contrast Equus reveals how mental instability can lead to a different type of religious mania, which destroys both the individual and those around him. Peter Shaffer’s opinions are expressed though this quotation from ‘Amadeus’, “what use, after all, is man, if not to teach God His lessons?’ Both plays project intense religious faith and its fatal consequences however they also illustrate examples of positive worship, such as Rebecca Nurse, whose faith is genuine and never corrupted. Perhaps unexpectedly we are also able to sympathise with Dora’s Christianity, despite it being a pivotal contributor to Alan’s religious mania. Despite these small insights into religion’s positive impacts, there is still strong evidence in both plays to suggest that when religion collides with issues such as sexuality, tyranny, envy, deceit and conflict it results in mania. Abigail Williams is a vital character in ‘The Crucible’. Her insight into the lies and hypocrisy of the puritan church, leads directly to her exploitation of its power. Sarah Lasko, one actress playing the agitator, Abigail, describes her as "the alpha. . . . She's so devious and manipulative. . . . Abigail hides behind the innocence and ultimately is this evil person.’ She is a strong character with a natural ability to influence those around her, ‘And mark this. Let eiether of you breathe a word or the edge of a word, about the other things and I will come in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.’ This quotation is found very early on in the play and we are therefore able to see right from the beginning the hostile and ruthless traits that Abigail possesses. Abigail uses these threats in order to protect herself; she is aware of the strict conducts expected of the society in Salem and knows that she will be severely punished for playing with black magic. Abigail therefore takes advantage of the blindness of Salem’s religious faith in order to protect herself and Abigail is thus the catalyst for a society that was intent on destroying itself. She can therefore not, in my view, be fully blamed for the chaos. Abigail’s defensive instinct can also be seen in the character Alan Strang from ‘Equus’; Alan similarly protects himself from punishment by blinding the horses, ’Equus…Noble Equus…Faithful and True…God-slave…Thou – God – Seest- NOTHING!’ Alan is hysterical at this point in the play; quite blinded by the intensity of his faith. The critic, Mitchell Hay, claimed that ‘Equus is the image of the particular god whom everyone conceives in his or her own unconscious and unfulfilled fantasy.’ Alan lashes out in such a way so his god cannot see the sin he has committed. Though Abigail and Alan are strongly linked by the extremity of their actions, their motives are very different. Abigail’s ambitions are malicious and self-satisfying; she uses her fear of being punished and spreads it throughout the community. On the other hand Alan’s actions arise from the guilt and shame he feels as a result of his spiritual weakness and an...
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