Equus is as complex as the human mind. Exploring psychological questions such as what does it mean to be normal, and should individuality be sacrificed for the sake of normality? Whilst propelling a mystery, crime story, and a psychological thriller, Peter Shaffers Equus examines the minds of a young stable boy who has blinded several horses and the aging psychiatrist asked to cure him. But would a cure really normalize the teenager?
A seventeen year old boy, Alan is brought to a psychiatric hospital because he has blinded six horses with a hoof pick. Dysart, a psychiatrist, works to normalize the boy, feeling that as he makes the boy safe for society, he is taking away his worship and sexual vitality, both of which are missing in the doctors own personal life. Dysart actually envies Alan and the sexual worship he has experienced. In spite of his own hang-ups, the doctor does help the boy work through his obsession, in which he identifies the horse Equus with God.
Shaffer is expressing to his audience that taking away the atypical aspects of this boy would take away part of the person he is, part of the character he has developed and most important, the God he worships.
When Equus leaves – if he lives at all – it will be with
your intestines in his teeth…Ill give him the good, normal
world…and give him normal places for his ecstasy…
Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor it cannot
Pages 92 & 93*
Alans love for horses develops into devotion, a religious passion for the horses as all-powerful Gods. As Dysart envies Alans passion for horses, a type of passion that he knows he will never feel, he questions his livelihood as a healer. He is healing nothing by removing the boys worship and faith. Is it right or worthwhile to try to normalize Alan when what others consider his infatuation with horses, he considers his religion.
Dysart: What am I trying to do to him?
Hesther: Restore him, surely?
Dysart: To what?
Hesther: A normal life.
Hesther: it still means something.
Dysart: Does it?page 47*
Shaffer employs to the reader that there is a place in society for eccentric, different, individual, passionate and nonconformist people, Alans own parents are the prime example. Alans background includes a fanatically religious mother who is polarized by a socialistic atheist father who opposes television. Alans fathers distaste with television is further contradicted by his mothers allowance of the television medium to play a significant role in Alans life.
Frank: …its the Bible that responsible for all this…night after night having this stuff read to him: an innocent man tortured to death…Bloody religion, its our only real problem in this house.
Dora: (to Dysart)You must excuse my husband, Doctor. This one subject is something of an obsession to him…
Frank: Call it what you like. All that stuff to me is just bad sex.
These contrasting beliefs of his parents leads Alan into a world of personal problems which encompasses an understanding of the world formed largely by watching television, an inability to read, a distorted view of sex and violence, and no sense of his place in society.
The plots painful journey into the tortured mind of Alan Strang and the equally conflicted mind of child Psychiatrist Martin Dysart created an inharmonious encounter at first. Their differences, and more importantly there own abnormalities soon let both Dysart and Alan accept each other. Shaffer condemns and criticizes modern religion, as Alans extreme actions are almost justified as an act of religious fanaticism.
What does society mean by the term normal? Is it conforming to societies ideals of marriage, having a job and career path or developing political views? At the same time society says we should follow a religion, so this may well mean that Alans ritual was part of his religion. Overall Equus is not about religion, normality violence or even love and sex, it is a play about passion. Dysart took on the characteristics of his of his dreams, he had stolen Alans passion whilst giving him his pain or true normality.