Equus Essay - Critical Evaluation

Peter Shaffer

Critical Evaluation

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...

(The entire section is 1123 words.)