In Equus, what is Shaffer trying to say with the ambiguous ending? Is there a greater meaning? Does Dr. Dysart cure Alan and destroy his passion, or let him remain unique? 

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Equus, by Peter Shaffer, the characters are conflicted between their own perceptions and those of the other characters which are so diverse and even disturbing. Dr Dysart is no exception. He recognizes his own existence as lacking in passion with no direction and little inspiration. Ironically, it is Alan who inspires him to question his life, his future and the future that Alan would face if, indeed, Dr Dysart does treat him:

"My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband - a caring citizen - a worshipper of an abstract and unifying God. My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost!"

Dysart's actions will contradict his intentions as he watches Alan's interminable struggle and is urged to ease Alan's "pain." Shaffer reveals

the archetypal struggle: that between the Apollonian tendency (its domain being the rational or conscious mind and controlled emotions) and the Dionysian (its domain being the irrational or unconscious mind and wild passions). 

It is the extremes that Dysart witnesses and his references to ancient Greece that confuse him. His knowledge of the gods but own lack of spirituality confound his thinking. Alan's act of blinding the horses is ruthless and supposedly meaningless but to Alan it represents his religious fervor, something that Dysart admires but is also disgusted by. The more that Dysart understands about Alan, the less he becomes convinced of his own vocation in life. Searching for a motive for Alan's actions, Dysart is forced to look beyond conventions and the norms for treating Alan. Alan's mother strikes a chord when she suggests that "Alan is himself" and not a product of his parents' failings. 

Shaffer leaves the audience to contemplate Alan's desperate situation and Dysart's unenviable choice to treat or not treat Alan. He wants the audience to explore and even question their own spirituality. Despite working towards and steadily solving the mystery of Alan's actions to the point that Dysart therefore is convinced that he can "cure" Alan, Shaffer has purposely left Dysart conflicted and he even feels "envy" for the passion Alan experiences.  In Dysart's own words, there is no right or wrong thing to do because "There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out." This infers Dysart's ability to cure Alan but stresses that he will not feel the satisfaction that should come from it. Who is to say that it will be the best thing for Alan?