What argument does Equus make about the value of normality?
As a psychiatrist, Dysart has dedicated his career to making children normal, finding the root cause of whatever has troubled them mentally in order to eliminate it and allow them to lead normal, pain-free lives. But as Alan's treatment goes on, Dysart finds it harder and harder to define exactly what normal is and why it is better that Alan be normal. Equus argues first that there is no one way to be normal, and second, that normal is not always desirable, since a normal life can be dull and passionless.
In what ways are Dysart and Alan similar? In what ways are they different?
In many ways, Dysart and Alan are two sides of the same coin. Dysart is an adult who is dissatisfied with his dull, monotonous life. Alan is a child living a life full of passion, but also full of pain. Both are dissatisfied with their familial situations, since the people closest to them—Dysart's wife and Alan's parents—do not truly understand them. Both feel confined by the circumstances of their lives. At many points in the play the two switch roles, and Alan unwittingly becomes the therapist for the therapist.
How does the narrative style of the play influence the audience's perception of the story?
Shaffer chooses to tell the story from the perspective of a narrator looking back on the situation as it unfolded. From the very beginning, the audience knew how Dysart would eventually feel about treating Alan, which creates a sense of dramatic irony. They do not know, however, the reasons why Alan committed his crime, or the details surrounding it. As the story unfolds, audiences are kept interested as clues are slowly revealed, with the anticipation heightened by narrator-Dysart's occasional soliloquies lamenting what has happened.
In what ways is Equus a religious figure?
The photograph of the horse that Alan received from his father took the place of a religious painting in Alan's bedroom, which was the first sign that horses held some kind of religious significance in his mind. The story Frank told about the religious chanting in his bedroom at age eleven confirmed this, and it was in this moment that Equus was officially "born" as a Christlike figure. Finally, Equus is in chains, bound as Jesus was on the cross, suffering as a result of humanity's sins.
Why is Dysart so fascinated with Ancient Greece?
Dysart makes multiple allusions to his love for Greece in the beginning of the play, but the audience does not find out why he is so enthralled by it until his conversation with Hesther, in which he wishes he had someone to take there with him to truly understand. Dysart loves Ancient Greece because of its abundance of worship. Gods lived in everything there, he says, in buildings, nature, and even people themselves. Gods were widespread and accepted in their different forms the way they are not in present-day society, and he envies the excitement and passion surrounding them.
Discuss Hesther Salomon's role in the play.
Though her character is not as prominent as the others, Hesther still serves an important role in furthering the story. Hesther was the one who originally argued to have Alan sent to Dysart, so naturally she is Dysart's voice of reason as he begins to doubt the morality of his career, ensuring him that taking Alan's pain away is truly the right thing to do. Hesther is also subtly contrasted with Dysart's wife, though we never encounter her in person; she listens and responds to Dysart in a way that Margaret never did.
How does Jill's presence influence Alan?
Jill, a young, compassionate, pretty girl, enters this play as a test to see whether Alan's desires can truly be normal. At first he does not show the expected interest in her, and it appears that he only agrees to go on a date with her because he knows that is what would be expected of him. Later on, though, it seems that he actually wants to sleep with her. But he fails his test of normalcy when he cannot remove the image of Equus from his mind when he touches Jill, since the idea of intimacy with someone other than his god is so blasphemous.
What roles do dreams play in this story?
For both Alan and Dysart, dreams serve as a visual representation of their latent doubts and fears that they do not confront during the day. This fits with the psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious, or the mind beneath the surface: dreams like Dysart's sacrifice dream and Alan's nightmares bring up elements of discomfort from deep in their minds so that they will at last face them.
How does the nature vs. nurture debate fit into Alan as a case study?
In uncovering the root causes behind Alan's crime, Dysart must determine whether his deviance stemmed from something innate in who he is, or from the circumstances of his upbringing. In reality, it is a little of both; yes, Alan's unconventional worship comes from inside of him, but his parents are not completely innocent as Dora insists they are; their controlling and confining methods of parenting made Alan feel a lack of freedom, and he looked to his newfound religion as a means of achieving this fulfillment.
How does the ending resolve the play, or otherwise leave it unresolved?
At the end of the play, Alan's fate is left ambiguous. It does seem that Dysart has decided to alleviate Alan's pain and work to help him banish Equus forever, but a final statement is never made. Instead, Dysart uses his last soliloquy to focus on himself. He talks about his own pain and his own freedom, restricted by metaphorical chains similar to the ones Equus wears. The play starts and ends with Dysart, because Dysart has undergone the largest transformation out of all of the characters, coming to doubt and question his career and his life's purpose more so than he ever had before.
In many ways, Equus exhibits strong connections to classical drama, particularly Greek drama. Its solemn, stately, and ceremonial manner duplicates classical ceremonies. The strongest connection, however, is the presence of the chorus, which in Greek drama is meant to comment upon and explain the meaning of what is happening on the stage. Here, the chorus is played by a group of six actors who play the horses. The presence of the god is suggested by the Equus noise that they make in chorus, and it seems that they watch the action throughout; they see everything.
This “seeing” is an important part of Alan Strang’s perception of his god. In one way, Equus is a god-slave, in that Alan can lead Equus out and control him, making him gallop in the field. In this sense, Equus recalls Christ in his chains being led to Calvary. In fact, Alan keeps a gruesome picture of Christ in chains until his father tears it down; he replaces it with a picture of a horse with enormous eyes.
However, in another way, Equus is a beloved. After the gallop, Alan and the horse stand neck to neck, and there is a wonderful intimacy that fills Alan with life and passion. In yet another way, Equus is completely demanding and compelling, taking on the role of the avenging God that Mrs. Strang can envision so vividly. “God sees you, Alan, he sees you,” she insists, presenting God as always hovering, waiting to avenge. Thus, in the stable scene, Alan, though he has come to recognize that he is not the only one with a secret inner life, also senses that the god will always demand him completely, that he will never find passion elsewhere, that he is always within in the sight of Equus. It is this consuming sight against which he strikes.
Perhaps the central crisis of the play, though, is within Martin Dysart. In a dream, he imagines himself wearing a classical mask and being the chief priest at a sacrifice of five hundred children. He must go on with his task, but he cannot continue. This becomes for him a symbol of what he does to children through his psychiatry. He sacrifices essential parts of them that make them uniquely themselves. In fact, he sacrifices them to the god of the normal. When Hesther Salomon suggests that at the least he is able to take their pain away, Dysart realizes that even in doing this he has taken away something that is uniquely theirs, substituting only the safe and bland normal.
Equus is a play about passion and worship, and the strong suggestion of the dramatist is that modern society has lost its ability to worship anything, let alone worship it passionately. Dysart realizes that while he looks at books on classical Greece and travels there with all accommodations booked and all...
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