Equus: Truth Obscured by Bestiality?

Warning: This blog contains spoilers and deals with disturbing situations. I also apologize for the length of the explanation necessary to get to my questions.


Near the beginning of the school year, I was intrigued by the opportunity to go to a dramatic reading of Equus, the psychodrama by Peter Shaffer. Ever since hearing all the media hype about Daniel Radcliffe (star of Harry Potter) playing the role of Alan Strang, the 17-year-old boy who inexplicably blinds 6 horses with a metal spike, I had been interested in hearing the complete play.

The story was disturbing. It is told by child psychiatrist Martin Dysart who had the boy at his hospital after the incident. The tale unfolds and it is revealed that Alan Strang, a stable boy with no real friends and a rather dysfunctional family (stiff, religious mother and uncaring, atheist father), had created for himself a religion based on the divine horse spirit Equus. His religion involved occasional bouts of self-flagellation, chants that resemble a mix between Christianity, mythology and his own ideas, and homoerotic experiences with the horses at the stable. (He would ride them at night naked, a very passionate, erotic and spiritual experience for him.)

After awhile, working at the stables, he becomes near-friends with a girl who works at the stables. One night she convinces him to go with her to a skin flick. That night they return to the stable for the purpose of having sex. He is sexually aroused by this girl but at the same time he is petrified with the feeling that this arousal, this passion for the girl, is a sin against his god, a betrayal. He is terrorized by the belief that those six horses are watching him, damning him. So he throws the girl out and grabs a metal spike (used earlier in the play to pick the hooves of the horses) and blinds all six horses. Throughout the unfolding tale Dysart struggles with his own feelings commenting at one point, “Passion can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.” He is unsure of whether he actually should tear away this boys passion, restore him to “normal.“ Later he confesses to another character, “The boy has created out of his drab existence a passion more ferocious than any I have known in any second of my life. And let me tell you something—I envy it.”

This play left me with many questions and I would like to hear some more thoughts on this. I’m mainly looking for thoughts from people who have actually heard/seen/read Equus but any thoughts are welcome. So my questions are thus: does bestiality obscure the message of this story? What is the message? Dysart asks at one point, “Is there any form of good passion?” “Is normal better?” What do you think of Dysart’s statement, “I envy him”? Why did Alan Strang create this religion for himself? Was he attempting to a fill void in his life?

Please respond.



~ by mineown on November 6, 2008.

One Response to “Equus: Truth Obscured by Bestiality?”

  1. These are great questions Lisa. I only wish I had seen the play so I could respond intelligently. Questions of unbridled passions vs. complacent normalcy has always facinated me. Certainly there are extremes but isn’t it better to err on the side of passion? Christ said of the Laodecian church “because you are niether hot nor cold I vomit you out.” It seems that ther is something redemptive (and life-affirming) about passion…learning to bridle it, I think, is very different than domesticating it completely.

    Thanks for the review. I’m intrigued.

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