Equus By: Peter Shaffer

equus cover.jpg
Book Cover of Equus Daniel Radcliffe as Alan

Summary:

Alan Strang is the main character that blinds six horses after being made fun of by his god, Equus. Alan is taken in to a child psychiatric hospital, instead of going to prison. Dr. Dysart is the head doctor at the hospital and is supposed to be the best at what he does. He does many tests on Alan to see how far he will be able to push him to figure out what made him snap. Through the process to cure Alan, Dr. Dysart realizes that Alan had no way to express his own feelings and emotions. Creating Equus was his own form of expression and freedom from his controlling parents. Dysarts also comes to terms with his own life, and sees that he hasn't lived his life to the full potential. He hasn't done what he has wanted to do with his life, he is in a loveless marriage, and all he ever sees are the same white walls of the hospital. He sees that he lost his creativity and freedom a long time ago, and doesn't want Alan to lose his passion and creativity like him. Dysart doesn't think that making him "normal" will be beneficial to him; it will just strip him of his passion and creativity. Dr. Dysart eventually figures out why Alan blinded the horses and what led him to the breaking point. (Shaffer, 1973)

Peter Shaffer:

Shaffer was born May 26, 1926 in Liverpool England. He has a twin brother Anthony who was also a playwright. Shaffer was married three times and had six children between the three marriages. He attended the University of Cambridge and studied History. Before becoming a playwright he held many different jobs such as; coal miner, bookstore clerk, and assistant at the New York Public Library. Peter Shaffer wrote many famous play such as Amadeus, Black Comedy, The Salt Land, The Royal Hunt for the Sun, and Equus. (www.imdb.com)
peter shaffer.jpg
Author: Peter Shaffer

Equus' Background:
Peter Shaffer was told a story from one of his friends at BBC about a young man who blinded twenty six horses. The story was never confirmed to be true. Shaffer's insider friend passed away before he was able to get more details about the story. He claims that he was happy he couldn't find out more about the actual story because it gave him the freedom to interpret what happened in his own way. He was able to use personal thoughts and thoughts from a child psychiatrist to provide a more realistic view about what happened. Equus was written and completed in 1973. (Burke, 2004)

Characters:

The main character in the story include:

  • Alan Strang: A young man who blinded the horses and no one was able to understand what happened, or why he did it. When he arrives at the psychiatric hospital he is only able to recite jingles that he has previously heard on television. he has no friends, the only people he has are his parents, who are constantly trying to infuse him with their own personal views on life.
  • Dr. Dysart: The doctor that takes Alan in to his childrens psychiatric hospital as a favor. He is supposed to be the best child psychiatrist around, and if he can't fix Alan no one can. Dr. Dysart figures out why Alan blinds the horses, and in the meantime finds out things in his own life that he never knew about before.
  • Dora and Frank Strang: (Alan's parents) Frank is very against religion and doesn't like religion in his house. he replaces Alan's picture of Jesus with the picture of a horse. Dora is very religious and is always reciting Bible versus to Alan, even though her husband doesn't like it.
  • Jill Mason: The girl that Alan meets while working in the horse stables. She wants Alan to take her on a date to a "skin flick" and then back to the horse stables for his first sexual encounter, which ends with Alan breaking and blinding the six horses.
  • Nugget: The horse that Alan becomes obsessed with, which Alan calls Equus, his god. Alan takes Nugget out at night and rides him while performing certain "religious" rituals. In the end of the story Nugget mocks Alan for not being more sexually experienced.

Major Themes:

  • Obsession: In the play you can see obsession between Alan and Equus. This is a combination of his views on life, misconceptions he has on life, and the views that his parents force upon him. Frank and Dora Strang are also obsessed with their on views, whether it is to be religious or to not be religious. They are constantly steering Alan in different directions, which makes him confused and leaves him feeling trapped.
  • Religion: Alan chooses to make a "god" and make religious rituals. Religion is really all he knows because of his parents. There are many comparisons between Equus and Christ, and many religious images that Shaffer portrays for the reader. The biggest dispute in the Strang household is religion. They are constantly fighting over which is better and which way Alan should go regarding religion.
  • Freedom: The entire idea of Equus is based around Alan being free from the world around him. This is a way that he can have his own ideas and views on life without anyone interfering or adding the personal thoughts. Equus is his own, and no one can take that away from him.
  • Identity: Alan is trying to find his identity throughout the play which leads to the creation of Equus. Alan was never given a chance to find his own identity because he was completely sheltered his entire life. He wasn't allowed to watch television very much, he had no friends, and he wasn't able to choose what his religious views would be. Dr. Dysart is trying to help Alan find his identity but in the meantime he finds out that he hasn't found his own identity or even lost his identity and it may be too late for him to recover what he has lost. He realizes that if he cures Alan that will strip him of the little identity he has in order to make him "normal". (Burke, 2004)
religious picture equus.jpg

Actors:

  • Dr. Dysart:
- Anthony Hopkins
- Richard Burton
- Anthony Perkins
- Charles S. Dutton

  • Alan Strang:
- Peter Firth
- Daniel Radcliffe
- Brad Mays

Awards and Nominations:

  • 1975 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Foreign Play
  • 1975 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1975 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
  • 2009 Drama Desk Award for best Leading Actor in a Play: Daniel Radcliffe (nominated)
  • 2009 Tony Award for Best Sound Design of a Play: Gregory Clark (nominated)
  • 2009 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play: David Hersey (nominated)

Sources:
Shaffer, Peter Equus 1973

Peter Shaffer 2003
www.imdb.com

Brantley, Ben In The Darkness of The Stable
September 26, 2008 www.theatre.nytimes.com

Burke, keith Journey into a Mind
December 2004 www.wsu.edu

Giankias, C.J South Central Review, The John Hopkins University Press
Vol. 7 No. 1 Spring 1990, www.jstor.org.opac.acc.msmc.edu/stable