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Equus begins in darkness and silence. Gradually a dim light illuminates what appears to be a boxing ring—a square with railings on three sides; the side facing the audience is open. Suddenly, in the center of this square, a spotlight illuminates a teenage boy, whose head is pressed against the chest of a tall man wearing on his head a large sculpture of gleaming wire in the shape of a horse’s head. The scene is one of tenderness; the boy’s hands stretch up to fondle the sculpted head, and the head itself nuzzles the boy’s neck. The boy, the audience will soon learn, is Alan Strang, and the “horse” is Nugget. Their moment alone is abruptly interrupted by a flash of flame from a cigarette lighter downstage and to the left; then the stage brightens to illuminate a large circle, in the center of which is the square ring. The man with the lighter is now clearly visible, sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette, and will soon be identified as Martin Dysart, Alan’s psychiatrist. His will be the play’s first—and last—words, spoken directly to the audience about Alan, Nugget, and himself.
Initially Dysart admits that he is less interested in the boy than in the horse; as the doctor asks himself and the audience unanswerable questions about the horse’s desires and grief, Alan leads Nugget out of the square and offstage through a tunnel behind the set. Dysart rises and enters the square. He admits to being “lost” regarding Alan’s case, admits to having a “desperate” feeling that he himself is “wearing that horse’s head,” and admits to being filled with longstanding personal and professional doubts which have been made acute by the extremity of the boy’s case. He abruptly truncates his opening monologue by expressing his desire to explain the case to the audience from its beginning. The remaining twenty scenes of act 1, therefore, are flashbacks to crucial episodes in Dysart’s study of Alan and his background. Hesther Salomon, a magistrate and longtime friend of Dysart, visits his office in Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital and pleads with him to admit seventeen year-old Alan to the hospital. This will keep the boy out of jail, Hesther tells him; besides, she feels certain the boy needs Dysart’s expert psychiatric help because the crime he has committed, at the riding stable where he worked, is so horrible that even other doctors will think the boy disgustingly unworthy of help: He has stabbed out the eyes of six horses with a steel spike.
During their first interview, Alan refuses to answer Dysart’s questions, replying instead by singing advertising jingles which serve, Dysart learns, as rebellious expressions against Frank Strang, Alan’s father, who forbade his son to watch television, a “dangerous drug.” Dysart interviews Frank and Dora Strang several times, attempting to unravel the boy’s history and lay bare the genesis of his crime. He learns that Alan’s mother has devoted years to reading the Bible to Alan at night and instilling in him the belief that sex must be “spiritual” and that “God sees you. . . . God’s got eyes everywhere.” According to Alan’s father, an atheist, religion is “bad sex,” and he blames the Bible and his wife’s religious training of Alan for the boy’s crime. “Well, look at it yourself,” he says to Dysart. “A boy spends night after night having this stuff read into him: an innocent man tortured to death—thorns driven into his head—nails into his hands—a spear jammed through his ribs. It can mark anyone for life, that kind of thing.” Besides arguing about religion with Dora when Alan was growing up, Frank had gone so far as to rip a picture of Christ (suffering in chains) off Alan’s bedroom wall when the boy was about twelve. He replaced it with a picture of a horse, its position to Alan’s bed “absolutely head on” and “all eyes.”
By the end of the first act, it has become increasingly apparent to Dysart and the audience that Alan has created his own religion, the god of which is Equus, who wears a chain perpetually in his mouth for “the sins of the world.” Alan would remove horses, Equus’ surrogates, from the stable (the “Temple”) late at night and ride naked and bareback through a large field until, on each ride, he reached a moment of orgasmic intensity that felt as though he and the horse, his god, had become “One Person.” Act 1 ends in such a climactic moment of apotheosis as Alan, under hypnosis, reenacts for Dysart such a ride upon Equus.
Act 2 begins with a continuation of Dysart’s monologue in the “present.” It is in the second act that Dysart, feeling certain Alan wants to tell him what happened the night he blinded the horses, gives the boy a placebo (supposedly a truth-inducing pill). Under the pill’s imagined influence Alan reenacts the date he had with Jill Mason, a girl also employed at the stable, during which she convinces him to go to see a “skinflick” with her. While they are watching the film, Alan’s father enters the cinema and spots his son. He creates a loud scene and forces Alan and Jill to leave. After a somewhat heated exchange between father and son, each obviously embarrassed at having caught the other in such a cinema, they part, and Jill leads Alan to the stable, intending to seduce him. Terrified that his gods the horses will see him having sex with Jill, Alan—now naked and in Jill’s arms—suffers impotence. He becomes enraged and manic, frightening Jill away by threatening her with a steel spike. Then, in growing darkness (while howling “Eyes! . . . White eyes—never closed! Eyes like flames—coming—coming! . . . God seest! God seest! . . . NO! . . .”), he stabs out the six horses’ eyes and collapses on the floor. Quickly, the light becomes bright, and Dysart enters the square to comfort and cure Alan. The doctor’s closing monologue voices his serious doubts about the efficacy and wisdom of the cure he will bring to Alan.
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Early in Equus, Dysart tells the audience of a dream he had after his first interview with Alan. In the dream he wears a gold mask, wields a sharp knife and is “a chief priest in Homeric Greece.” He is officiating at an important ritual sacrifice of hundreds of children, their bodies laid out before him one by one, and his job is to cut open their abdomens and eviscerate them. Despite his efforts to look professional as he operates, he begins to feel nauseous. His mask begins to slip off his face; he fears his two assistants will notice his slipping mask, see his sweat and distress, and take his knife—and power—away from him. At the instant they do what he fears, he wakes. The dream’s central action, that of pagan sacrifices to a god or gods, is archetypal. Well it should be, since Peter Shaffer portrays in the play an 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). Shaffer employs several dramatic devices in the play to exemplify this conflict.
The set of the play is itself such a device. Lying on the stage is a large circular platform, and centered upon this is a smaller arena-like square mounted on ball bearings so it can be turned in a circle. The play’s main action takes place within Dysart’s office, the square: a rational and lineal construct with sharp-cornered margins. The only time the square is rotated is when Alan is reliving his ride on his equine god, while his first horseback ride takes place outside the square and in the circle’s area. The circle, in fact, is the domain of Alan’s religious life, and just as lineal time is imposed upon cyclical time, it is significant that Shaffer chose to place the square within the circle and not vice versa. Psychologically speaking, the set’s arrangement is also appropriate because the foundation of civilized, rational consciousness is the primitive, irrational unconscious.
Because Alan’s religiosity and equine god are portrayed as rooted in the irrational, and because Dysart’s task is to purge him of his mental illness and thus his god, the play seems grounded in Greek tragedy, wherein characters suffer catastrophes for defying their gods. Besides Dysart’s numerous references and allusions to ancient Greece, Shaffer’s artistic debt to Greek tragedy is apparent in the staging: scenes are played between two actors, many scenes are framed by narrative commentary, the actors portraying horses wear masks, and all the actors—when not performing their scenes—serve as a chorus. Additionally, Shaffer uses as a backdrop for the set a half-circle of seats in tiers where part of the play’s audience is seated, as if in an amphitheater or—according to Shaffer’s notes—“a dissecting theatre,” either being an appropriate setting for Apollonian healer Dysart to purge Alan of his Dionysian excesses.
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Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital
Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital. British psychiatric hospital to which teenager Alan Strang has been remanded by a court, after he blinded six horses with a metal spike. In contrast to the realistic clinical setting of Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film version of Equus, which included white-coated doctors tending clearly psychotic patients, the set of the original play carefully avoids realistic imagery, other than the occasional appearance of a nurse.
John Napier’s design for the set calls for a wooden square atop a wooden circle. The square resembles a boxing ring, which makes Alan and Dysart resemble evenly matched prize-fighters in their relentless rhetorical counterpunching. Functioning as witnesses, much like a Greek chorus, all other characters sit on benches behind the square, where they remain always visible to the audience. Napier’s stage directions include three tiers of audience seats placed around the circle, “in the fashion of a dissecting theater.” Metal horse-masks, donned by actors, are mounted on wooden poles.
Dalton’s stable. Scene of the blinding incident, which is bloodlessly, almost balletically, reenacted at the play’s climax. To Alan, the stable is a temple for clandestine worship of his horse-god, Equus—and the site of his failed first attempt at sexual intercourse with Jill Mason.
*Mycenae (my-SEE-nee). Ancient Greek site of pagan rituals of worship that are idealized by psychiatrist Martin Dysart, in contrast to the sterility that he believes characterizes the modern world.
Strang home. Working-class household in southern England that is the site of various family conflicts, primarily over religion. In his bedroom, Alan reenacts secret rituals of worship before a poster-sized photograph of a horse, which has replaced an image of Christ in chains that his atheist father removed.
Beach. Site of six-year-old Alan’s first ride on a horse, Trojan, which was interrupted when his father pulled him off the horse. The psychologically traumatic scene is reenacted during the play.
Field of Ha-Ha
Field of Ha-Ha. Alan’s name for the site of his exultant clandestine night ride, which is reenacted at the end of the first act. He takes the name from a passage in the Old Testament: “He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting” (Job 39:25).
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Equus premiered in 1973, near the beginning of a decade largely characterized in Britain by crisis and economic decline. Recovering from the ruins of World War II Britain slowly built prosperity on a moderately socialist model. Many private institutions were nationalized, but the foreign debt tripled. The Labour government of the late-1960s lost ground due to the eroding economic situation, especially the monetary devaluation crisis of 1967, in which the country’s currency dropped precipitously against other world markets.
Although the economy improved slightly in 1969, the Conservative Party rose to power in the election of 1970. Regarding foreign policy, the disastrous Suez Crisis of 1956, in which England lost control of the vital Suez Canal shipping passage, suggested strongly that Britain was no longer a major world power. Since the height of the British Empire in the early twentieth century, important possessions had been surrendered (most significantly, independence was granted to India one of the Empire’s colonial jewels, in 1947). Beginning in the late 1950s, the British government followed a deliberate policy of decolonization, one that systematically dismantled the country’s once vast system of colonies.
In the early 1970s the British government continued to struggle with inflation. Violence plagued Northern Ireland, as battles between Protestant and Catholic factions continued to erupt. Both problems would dog British governments throughout the decade. In early 1974, Conservatives lost the general elections in the midst of a coal miners’ strike. The government’s refusal to capitulate to the miners’ demands forced energy rationing and a fuel-conserving three-day work week. Although victorious, the Labour party lacked a full majority in Parliament, significantly limiting their power to enact policies in support of working people. Labour won a full majority of Parliamentary seats in October, 1974, but Britain continued to be plagued by inflation and economic decline. Widespread economic discontent led eventually to the victory of the Conservatives in 1979, and the election of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose term in office would be riddled with controversy, partisan battles, and wildly fluctuating public support.
On October 6, 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, both sides blaming the other for having initiated the new aggression (Israel had shot down two Syrian jets). The Yom Kippur War (named for the Jewish Holy Day of Atonement on which the conflict began) was the fourth Arab-Israeli war since 1948. The Soviet union gave military support to the Arabs in response to U.S. support of Israel. Thus, the war had a distinctly Cold War context in which Britain was also implicated.
The greatest impact of the Arab-Israeli war on the West, however, was the resulting oil embargo by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The oil embargo exacerbated an energy crisis that was already gripping the world. Connected to the energy crisis and other factors, the West additionally experienced an inflation crisis; annual double-digit inflation became a reality for the first time for most industrial nations. The oil shock and soaring grain prices precipitated a world monetary crisis and then a worldwide economic recession, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In Britain, these economic contractions contributed to an increasing sense of social hopelessness.
The Bahamas gained full independence July 10, 1973, after 256 years as a British crown colony. The British Empire continued its inexorable progress toward decolonization. As British control was waning in far-flung parts of the world they once dominated, so British independence was challenged by the growing movement toward union among Western European nations. In 1973, Britain joined the European Community after a decade of controversy, agreeing to participate in common decisions on trade, agriculture, industry, the environment, foreign policy, and defense. In 1993, the European Union (E.U.) was created following ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Britain is today an uneasy member of the E.U.; they would not take part, for example, in the creation of a common currency, the euro, which debuted on world markets on January 4, 1999.
Across the Atlantic, 1973 was also a tumultuous year in American society. American troops were withdrawn from the war in Vietnam but bombing raids on that country continued. The U.S. launched Skylab, its first space station. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in their landmark decision Roe v. Wade. Public approval for President Richard Nixon continued to plummet, as accusations and evidence continued to support the fact that he had granted approval for the June 17, 1972, burglary of Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington. Like public opinion over Vietnam, Watergate was an important symbol both of stark divisions in American society and a growing disillusionment with the integrity of national leaders. In late 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned under pressure, pleading no contest (no lo contendre ) to charges of income tax evasion and consequently setting the tone for scandals that would continue to rock the executive branch (Nixon himself, under threat of impeachment and removal from office, resigned the following year; other cabinet members, such as Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, and Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, would also be implicated in the crime).
Culturally, London had in the 1960s become a world capital of theatre, fashion, and popular music, but this image was tarnished somewhat by ongoing the economic decline. Save some notable exceptions, 1973 was not a banner year for the London theatre: Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular and David Storey’s Cromwell being two of the few works to share acclaim with Shaffer’s Equus. On the American stage, 1973 saw the premier of Lanford Wilson’s Hot l Baltimore, Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, and the blockbuster musical A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim.
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Equus closely resembles a suspense thriller in form and structure, revealing Shaffer’s fondness for detective stories. Dysart is much like a classic sleuth solving a crime; he painstakingly tracks down the factors that led Alan to blind the six horses. Shaffer has worked in many dramatic genres, including domestic tragedy, farce, and historical drama. Many critics have noted that what makes Equus a unique theatrical experience is its seamless incorporation of several dramatic genres. In addition to being a serviceable suspense tale, the play has also been credited for its intriguing examination of the roots of mental illness as well as its canny updating of Greek tragedy. The play’s popularity among audiences and critics has been attributed to its ability to appeal to numerous tastes. Likewise, not linked to any one dramatic school of thought, Shaffer has demonstrated his versatility with each new play.
Point of View
In Equus—as he has in other plays such as Amadeus—Shaffer uses the dramatic device of the raisonneur, a kind of ‘‘color commentator’’ who directly addresses the audience, providing details that assist the viewer in understanding the play’s action. Thus, the point of view of Equus is largely that of Dysart (the play’s raisonneur), who provides the context in which the story unfolds. However, certain elements in the play are clearly presented from Alan’s perspective: the flashbacks are a theatrical reenactment of Alan’s memories.
The set for Equus, rather than being realistic, is flexible and allows for numerous different performing spaces. The almost cinematic structure of the play—multiple, brief scenes in numerous locations— requires rapid changes in staging. This effect is achieved through a rotating turntable as well as other set techniques such as spot lighting and sparse use of props. For example, Alan picks up benches at one point and moves them, forming three stalls for a scene at Dalton’s stables. The use of mimed objects and actions is also significant to the play’s theatrical technique. Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times that Shaffer ‘‘has his theatre set up here as a kind of bullring with a section of the audience actually sitting on stage.’’ In addition to members of the audience, all the actors are seated on stage, rising to perform in scenes and then being seated, still in view of the audience. Thus, there is little separation between stage and audience, creating an intimacy which underscores the intensity of the drama. Irving Wardle wrote in the London Times that the stage ‘‘combines the elements of rodeo, stable, and Greek amphitheatre.’’
Rather than moving forward in strictly linear time, Equus combines a main plot unfolding in the present with repeated flashbacks to past events. Dysart’s opening monologue in each act, and some of the therapy sessions with Alan, take place in the present. Incidents involving Alan’s childhood and the night of his crime are in flashback, as are the sequences in Dysart’s life that lead up to his treating the boy. The different temporal threads are woven together, with overlapping elements providing points of transition.
For example, the Nurse’s comments to Dysart about Alan’s condition are melded with Dysart later relating the same details to Hesther. By staging both events on stage at the same time, Shaffer achieves a kind of cinematic edit that allows the same topic to be simultaneously discussed in two distinct settings. The Nurse tells Dysart that Alan has been having nightmares during which he repeatedly screams ‘‘Ek!’’ Hesther, however, not Dysart, asks ‘‘Ek?’’ but the Nurse continues, ‘‘Yes, Doctor. Ek.’’ The past is revealed in glimpses, usually an acting out of what one character is telling another in the present. As these memories are recalled in the present, lighting and set placement allow the actors to slip to another part of the stage and enact the past event being described.
Many critics have called Equus a ‘‘modern tragedy,’’ some evoking Aristotle’s principles of tragedy (as he outlines in his Poetics ) to discuss the manner in which the play operates. While Equus does not truly follow the formula for tragedy, it does contain many of the genre’s important components. One of the most closely related is that of catharsis: the purgation of feelings of pity and fear, which Aristotle identified as the social function of tragedy. Parallel to the concept of catharsis is that of abreaction, the discharge of the emotional energy supposed to be attached to a repressed idea, especially by the conscious verbalization of that idea in the presence of a therapist. Thus, the staging of Alan’s repressed memories has a therapeutic purpose that mirrors the potential cathartic effect of the play upon an audience.
The 1964 full-length play Royal Hunt of the Sun: A Play Concerning the Conquest of Peru introduced Shaffer’s characteristic technique of opposing two central figures (in that play’s case, the Inca king Atahualpa and the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro) whose actions establish a dialectic on complex philosophical questions. This technique revealed itself again in the pairing of Dr. Dysart and Alan and would later resurface with the characters of Mozart and Salieri in Shaffer’s 1979 play, Amadeus. Dysart and Alan stand, respectively, as philosophical representatives for subdued rationalism and passionate instinct. As the factors underlying Alan’s violent act are revealed, Dysart discovers a dilemma of his own. Ridding Alan of his mental conflicts only succeeds in transferring them onto Dysart himself.
The Horse Chorus
In Greek theatre, the masked chorus serves to comment on the action of the play. Shaffer has a similar concept in mind with his chorus, although they make equine noises of humming, thumping, and stamping rather than speaking. In the early scenes concerning Alan’s interaction with horses, the choral noises intensify the emotional content, making a connection between the early scenes and the foreshadowing of the act Alan will later commit. This non-realistic technique allows the audience a glimpse into Alan’s state of mind—for the noise, as Shaffer comments, ‘‘heralds or illustrates the presence of Equus the God.’’
Among the chorus are six actors who represent Nugget and the other horses in the play. No attempt is made to make them appear realistic; they wear horse-like masks of wire and leather beneath which the heads of the actors are visible. Barnes observed that while ‘‘is not easy to present men playing horses on stage without provoking giggles . . . here the horses live up to their reputed godhead.’’ Mollie Panter-Downes commented in the New Yorker that ‘‘these masked presences standing in the shadows of the stable manage to suggest the eeriness and power of . . . the old hoofed god.’’
When Alan mounts Nugget for the first time, all the other horses lean forward to create a visual picture that highlights Alan’s belief that his god Equus resides in all horses. By having the same actor play the Horseman and Nugget, a visual connection is established which suggests Alan’s transference of emotions from humans onto horses.
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1973: Children are widely viewed as innocent, and an act of violence like that committed by Alan is considered especially perplexing. As Hesther observes of Alan’s actions in Equus, even psychiatric professionals ‘‘are going to be disgusted by the whole thing.’’
Today: Rates of violent crime committed by children have skyrocketed in the latter decades of the twentieth century. While the U.S. has been shocked by a rash adolescent violence—notably a series of shootings at schools in 1998—violent crimes by children are less a factor of life in Britain. Through isolated incidents and exposure to international media, however, British society has been made aware of the propensity for violence among troubled youth.
1973: While the Conservative Party controls Parliament, the British Labour party is developing strength and will win important elections in the following year. After several more years of recession and other economic problems, however, voters will usher in a new Conservative government in 1979, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Today: Ending eighteen years of Conservative Party control of the Parliament, the Labour Party achieves an overwhelming national election victory in 1997. Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister, but many feel that ‘‘New Labour’’ has abandoned so many of its traditionally leftist policies that the election is not so much a victory for working class people in Britain as it might appear.
1973: Britain, like many nations in the industrialized West, is in the midst of an economic crisis characterized by wild inflation and labor unrest. Today: The economy has largely stabilized. Conservative governments held down inflation in the 1980s and early-1990s and privatized many national industries. The social cost of these policies, however, was a widening of the gap between rich and poor in Britain, cause for even more class resentment like that expressed by Frank Strang in Equus.
Today: The economy has largely stabilized. Conservative governments held down inflation in the 1980s and early-1990s and privatized many national industries. The social cost of these policies, however, was a widening of the gap between rich and poor in Britain, cause for even more class resentment like that expressed by Frank Strang in Equus.
1973: The British are a people known for their love of animals and are especially reverent toward horses. Shaffer must carefully tailor his depiction of Alan’s crime so that Equus will startle audiences without sickening and outraging them. The 1977 film adaptation of the play depicts the blinding of the horses in a realistic and bloody fashion, drawing protests from animal- rights activists and criticism from Shaffer himself.
Today: The British, like every culture so heavily exposed to the media, have been forced to adjust to ubiquitous images of violence. The welfare of animals, however, continues to be of great concern in Britain, where animals-rights activism is much more common than in other countries.
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Equus was adapted into a film in 1977 by United Artists and directed by Sidney Lumet. Shaffer’s script received an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay based on material from another medium. The film also received Academy Award nominations for best actor (Richard Burton portraying Dr. Dysart) and best supporting actor (Peter Firth as Alan).
A BBC sound recording of Equus was made in 1984 (distributed in the United States by Audio- Forum).
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Barnes, Clive. ’’Equus a New Success on Broadway’’ in the New York Times, October 25, 1974, p. 26.
Billington, Michael. Review of Equus in the Manchester Guardian, July 27, 1973, p. 12.
Christie, Ian. Review of Equus in the Daily Express (London), July 27, 1973, p. 10.
Clum, John M. ‘‘Religion and Five Contemporary Plays: The Quest for God in a Godless World’’ in the South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 77, no. 4, 1978, pp. 418-32.
Hewes, Henry. ‘‘The Crime of Dispassion’’ in the Saturday Review, January 25, 1975, p. 54.
Hughes, Catherine. ‘‘London’s Stars Come Out’’ in America,
Kerr, Walter. ’’Equus: A Play That Takes Risks and Emerges Victorious’’ in the New York Times, November 3, 1974, p. 11.
Klein, Dennis A. ‘‘Game-Playing in Four Plays by Peter Shaffer’’ in Peter Shaffer: A Casebook, edited by C. J.
Gianakaris, Garland (New York), 1991, pp. 95-113. Lambert, J. W. Review of Equus in Drama (London), Vol. 111, 1973, pp. 14-16.
Lawrence, Frank. ‘‘The Equus Aesthetic: The Doctor’s Dilemma’’ in Four Quarters, Vol. 29, no. 2, 1980, pp. 13-18.
Panter-Downes, Mollie. ‘‘Letter from London’’ in the New Yorker, November 12, 1973, pp. 181-84.
Peter Shaffer (‘‘English Authors Series,’’ Vol. 261, revised edition), Twayne, 1993.
Shaffer, Peter. ‘‘Equus: Playwright Peter Shaffer Interprets Its Ritual’’ in Vogue, February, 1975, p. 136.
Stacy, James R. ‘‘The Sun and the Horse: Peter Shaffer’s Search for Worship’’ in Peter Shaffer: A Casebook, edited by C. J. Gianakaris, Garland, 1991, pp. 95-113.
Walls, Doyle W. ‘‘Equus: Shaffer, Nietzsche, and the Neuroses of Health’’ in Modern Drama, Vol. 27, no. 3, 1984, pp. 314-23.
Wardle, Irving. ‘‘Shaffer’s Variation on a Theme’’ in the Times (London), July 27, 1973, p. 15.
Weightman, John. ‘‘Christ As Man and Horse’’ in Encounter, Vol. 44, no. 3, 1975, pp. 44-46.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale: Volume 5, Volume 14, Volume 18, Volume 37, Volume 60. This resource compiles selections of criticism; it is an excellent starting point for a research paper about Shaffer. The selections in these five volumes span Shaffer’s career. For an overview of Shaffer’s life, see the entry on him in Volume 13 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Also see Volume 7 of Gale’s Drama Criticism.
Cooke, Virginia, and Malcom Page, compilers. File on Shaffer, Methuen, 1987. This slim but excellent resource reprints excerpts from a wide variety of sources (reviews, interviews, etc.). It also includes a chronology of works, production, and publication data as well as information on Shaffer’s non-theatrical works.
Eberle, Thomas. Peter Shaffer: An Annotated Bibliography, Garland, 1991. A resource intended to serve the needs of both teachers/ students of dramatic literature and theatre professionals. Organized with each major play as a separate chapter. The bibliographic entries are subdivided as follows: editions of the text, play reviews, news reports and feature stories, scholarly essays, and (where applicable) film adaptations and reviews. The span of this work is from March, 1956, to May, 1990 (through Lettice and Lovage). It also contains a complete chronology of Shaffer’s plays and additional chapters covering general works (biographies and works analyzing more than one play), interviews, and Shaffer’s early works (prior to Five Finger Exercise).
Gianakaris, C. J. Peter Shaffer, Macmillan (New York), 1992. A book-length study of Shaffer and his works. Gianakaris writes of Shaffer, ’’Five Finger Exercise and The Royal Hunt of the Sun signaled the arrival on the scene of a new, innovative voice in the theatre; Equus confirmed it.’’ In his analysis of specific plays, Gianakaris defines the common threads of theme and technique which run through many of Shaffer’s theatrical works.
Gianakaris, C. J., editor. Peter Shaffer: A Casebook (‘‘Casebook on Modern Dramatists’’ series, Vol. 10), Garland, 1991. This collection includes ten essays on Shaffer and a 1990 interview with the playwright. Many of the selections offer comparative readings of Shaffer’s major works. Also included are a comprehensive index of opening dates for Shaffer’s plays and an abbreviated bibliography.
Klein, Dennis A. Peter Shaffer, revised edition, Twayne, 1993. A general study of Shaffer’s works by a critic who has also published on Equus in particular (‘‘Peter Shaffer’s Equus as a Modern Aristotelian Tragedy’’ in Studies in Iconography, Vol. 9, 1983). The opening section provides an outline of Shaffer’s life and discusses his early and minor works. Each chapter on one of the major plays provides sections on the plot; the major characters; sources, symbols, and themes; structure and stagecraft; and critical appraisal.
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Beckerman, Bernard. “The Dynamics of Peter Shaffer’s Drama.” In The Play and Its Critic: Essays for Eric Bentley, edited by Michael Bertin. Lanham, Md.: University Presses of America, 1986. This article examines the stagecraft of Peter Shaffer by examining the dramatic structure of several of his plays.
Gianakaris, C. J. Peter Shaffer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This book-length study focuses on thematic issues in Shaffer’s dramatic works, examining particularly the role of stagecraft in terms of the presentation of those themes.
Klein, Dennis A. “A Note on the Use of Dreams in Peter Shaffer’s Major Plays.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 9 (March, 1989): 25-32. This article is an examination of Dysart and the role that dreams play in Equus, focusing both on the dreams of Alan and those of Dysart in terms of progress of the play’s meaning.
Klein, Dennis A. Peter Shaffer. Boston: Twayne, 1979. One of three book-length studies of Shaffer’s work, this one begins with a chapter of biography before it moves to a chronological handling of Shaffer’s plays, providing basic background as well as major thematic concerns.
Klein, Dennis A. “Peter Shaffer’s Equus as Modern Aristotelian Tragedy.” Studies in Iconography 9 (1983): 175-181. After detailing Aristotle’s vision of the nature of tragedy and how it is encapsulated in drama, Klein examines the ways in which Equus fits the patterns of tragic drama that Aristotle outlines.
Mustazza, Leonard. “A Jealous God: Ritual and Judgement in Shaffer’s Equus.” Papers on Language and Literature 28 (1992): 174-184. Focusing on the treatment of Equus as the jealous, demanding god figure in Alan’s life, this article examines the relationship of the play’s meanings to the mythic figure of Dionysius.
Plunka, Gene A. Peter Shaffer: Roles, Rites, and Rituals in the Theater. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988. This study of Shaffer’s dramas examines the uses to which Shaffer puts ritual and rite—particularly religious ritual and rite—in his theatrical productions and notes the effects of these rites, both in terms of the meaning of the dramas and in terms of how the dramas are produced on stage.
Witham, Barry B. “The Anger of Equus.” Modern Drama 22 (1979): 61-66. Focuses on Dysart’s dilemma of whether he should “heal” Alan, thus depriving him of his ability to worship passionately, or allow Alan to keep the passion that Dysart is missing.