(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The success of Equus was attributable partly to the staging designed by John Dexter, who has also directed Black Comedy and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Dexter helped Shaffer visualize the abstractions that give the play its power and the rituals that inform the play’s spectacle. The play is about madness, and Shaffer manages to dramatize the fantasies of a disturbed boy’s mind, as well as the frustrations of the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who is asked by his friend Hesther Salomon to cure the boy who has, for no apparent reason, blinded the horses.

Act 1 is a search for motive and meaning as Dysart interviews the boy and his parents. The boy is at first uncooperative but later comes to trust Dysart and reveals his psychological secrets. Using hypnosis, Dysart gets the boy to remember the experience and manages to put the boy on the road to recovery. Dysart seriously questions, however, whether he should treat the boy at all. The boy, Alan Strang, has a vitality and twisted imagination that fascinate the doctor. Dysart questions whether he should rob Alan of his uniqueness and make him normal, which is to say, ordinary. The play is shaped by Dysart’s monologues and by two spectacles, Alan’s “wild midnight ride” at the end of act 1 and his blinding of the horses at the climax of act 2.

Alan is a friendless loner, ignored by his parents. His worship of horses is solitary, not communal, reflecting...

(The entire section is 466 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Martin Dysart, a child psychiatrist, recognizes that his life is filled with emptiness and pain. He is confronted by this recognition through his treatment of Alan Strang, an adolescent who inexplicably blinds six horses with a horsepick. It is a crime that shocks and outrages the owner of the stables, who believes that Alan should be imprisoned. However, Hesther Salomon, the magistrate in charge of the case, recognizes a deep need in the boy, and she brings him to Dysart hoping that he can make the boy “normal.” Dysart comes to recognize that he can, but at a terrible cost.

At first distrustful of Dysart, Alan sings jingles to block Dysart’s overtures. Unperturbed, Dysart begins seeing Alan and then begins to make inquiries. He finds the Strang household to be absolutely normal superficially, but, beneath this appearance of normality, strange tensions vibrate. Mr. Strang is dictatorial and repressed; Mrs. Strang is filled with religious mania. Neither is able to deal in any real way with what happened.

Alan himself seems unable to deal with his actions, and Dysart works to find ways to allow Alan to tell him things that will help to explain the blinding of the horses. Using a small recorder, Alan tells Dysart of his first encounter with a horse on a beach when he was six years old. A rider took him up and down through the surf, Alan glorying in the ride until his enraged father pulled him down from the horse, claiming that the horse and rider were menaces to safety. For Alan, it was a moment of great passion; it began his sense of a godlike spirit in horses, a god he named Equus.

From Mr. Dalton, Dysart learns that Alan was introduced to the stable by Jill Mason, and at first he believed that he found a good worker, since Alan did much more than his share of grooming the horses and cleaning the stables. Oddly, however, Alan never rode the horses, though Mr. Dalton suspected that periodically they were ridden at night. Clearly, Alan was passionately fascinated by horses; in fact, he worshiped the god...

(The entire section is 836 words.)