“Equus: My Only Begotten Son”


Equus is an unusual presentational play in its artistic and scriptural content. Some key elements were the monologues by Dysart, his first person narration, and the flashback format. The horses used in the play are not to be actual or even true to life representations. I think the Shaffer might have done this because he wanted a connection to be drawn between the horses and the common man. While the horses are ridden to serve man, man can be “ridden” by other men. The work world is an example of this where everyone answers to a boss or a bill collector or a spouse. Every man has his own form of a “chinkle-chankle.” Further proof of this theme is in Dysart’s dream. He is afraid of his fellow priest seeing his doubt in his clerical duties when his mask slips off and his green face shows.
The Latin name of the play, Equus, recollects Greek theater. The Greek overtones are not only in the title but in the stage set up. Part of the audience is to sit actually on the stage itself in bleachers like a miniaturized theater of Dionysus. The horses play the part of the chorus. Dysart is probably the most blatant reference to Greek life. He is obsessed with their ancient art, religion, and culture. In his reoccurring dream, he sacrifices children and examines their insides like a fortune teller. I think his dream is a metaphor for his false life, his worthless ritual, and his charlatan antidotes for curing children. Dysart feel like he his in actuality dissecting children to examine and remove their abnormalities. As with Allen, Dysart is taking away the children’s individuality and passion for life. He feels like he is merely making average clones that are socially acceptable. Hester tells Dysart Allen is in pain and it is the doctor’s job to remove the pain. Dysart meets this argument in his ending monologue with the conclusion it is better to feel pain than feel nothing like him. Dysart is sexually starved, passionless, boring, and sterile. He envies Allen’s worship of horses because it is everything Dysart isn’t.
The religious symbolism in Equus is not hard to pick up on. Allen has an atheist father and a conservative Christian mother. When Allen’s father replaces Jesus on his way to Calvary with a photo of a horse, he is symbolically replacing Jesus with Equus. Equus is the Godslave to the people just like Jesus humbled himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Allen’s father is like a god to Allen also, that is to say until he finds out he was at the same pornographic movie as Allen. When Allen’s father calls out his name in the theater, Allen answers first, “God.” Allen has a revelation after this incident. He sees that his father is scared of him telling his mother what he knows. Allen’s father looses most of his godlike authority when he is caught at the movie. Allen says his dad is just another man with a prick. Allen also gains the ability to pity his father. His dad, like Dysart is sexually deprived and stuck in an unfulfilling job.
The conundrum of Equus is the trade off between curing insanity and losing one’s identity, thus succumbing to the staleness that modern society has to offer. I think Shaffer is making a comment on society, namely its lack of feeling. Pain and passion are the two most focused on emotions of the play. Even though Allen is disturbed, he has a worship that is more powerful and fulfilling than the worship of money, fame, and prestige that society holds in esteem. I imagine that after the time table of the play, Dysart went on that trip to Greece. I think even that he might have even taken Allen with him.