Equus

Equus Act 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Scene 22. Act 2 begins slightly after Act 1 left off. Dysart is in a reflective mood; Alan has gone to his room, and the psychiatrist is now “alone with Equus.” Dysart tells the audience that he can hear Equus’s voice: the horse-god mockingly asks him, “Do you really imagine you can account for Me?” Dysart acknowledges that this case is the most unsettling he has encountered—it’s causing him to ask questions that he has avoided throughout his career. Dysart pauses, then asks himself why a child becomes the person that it becomes. Experiences “snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles.” Dysart is confounded by this process, and feels that if he cannot understand it, then he can no longer understand the purpose of his practice.
Now that Dysart has a clear picture of Alan’s invented religion, he is still left with the task of explaining how Alan came to be this way. But this bewildering task also becomes a larger question for Dysart as he wonders how any one person comes to be the person they are? If our experiences, which are to a certain extent random, come to form our identities, does this mean that our selves are determined by chance events? When Equus asks Dysart to account for him, he is simultaneously asking the psychiatrist how he can account for any of the dark, irrational forces that influence human beings.
Themes
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The Nurse interrupts Dysart’s musings. She tells him Dora has come to visit Alan, and they have begun to quarrel. Mother and son leap up from their respective benches and confront each other downstage. Dora tells Alan not to “look at [her] like that,” and slaps him. Dysart disrupts the visit and tells her to leave the room. Dora walks away from Alan and enters the square. Dysart follows her as Alan and the Nurse return to their places.
While the play mostly centers on Alan and Dysart’s struggles, Shaffer wants the audience to be aware of the grief that Alan’s behavior has caused those around him. Here, we are acutely aware of Dora’s strained relationship with her son and the anger and pain that she is suffering.
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Scene 23. Dysart asks Dora not to visit again: Alan is at a fragile stage of his treatment and cannot be disturbed. Dora angrily tells Dysart that she deserves more sympathy. She comments that “parent” is a “dirty word” in psychiatric hospitals; most people believe that parents are always to blame for their children’s mental illnesses. Dora argues that she and Frank were good parents who shouldn’t be treated like “criminals.” They loved and cared for Alan. Even though they had occasional troubles, they aren’t enough to explain Alan’s bizarre behavior. “Alan is himself,” she says. “Every soul is itself.” Dora insists that the person Alan is today is not the sum of his parents’ influences. “I only know that he was my little Alan,” she laments, “and then the Devil came.” Dora leaves and sits on her bench. Dysart leaves the square to talk to Alan.
Dora’s claim that she and Frank are not to blame for Alan’s illness is related to Dysart’s meditation on how a human being comes to be his or herself. Just as Dysart doesn’t understand how a chain of experiences determines a self, Dora argues that her parenting of Alan is not necessarily the sole, or even major, cause of his condition. Dora’s claim that “Every soul is itself” is another way of saying that a person can be shaped by irrational forces beyond our understanding. To Dora, these forces are caused by the Devil, who, like Equus, cannot be accounted for.
Themes
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Scene 24. Dysart assures Alan that he has not told his mother anything that Alan divulged under hypnosis. Alan, glaring at the doctor, denies that anything he said during that session was true, and expresses contempt for all of Dysart’s “bloody tricks.” He tells Dysart that he knows about the “truth drug,” a drug he believes that the psychiatrist will force on him to get him to talk. Dysart quickly leaves Alan’s room and reenters the square.
Alan’s combativeness actually leads to a breakthrough for Dysart. The psychiatrist realizes that in this encounter Alan has subconsciously betrayed his desire to tell Dysart the truth about his crime.
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Scene 25. Incredulous, Dysart relates this encounter to Hesther during their next meeting. He believes that Alan actually wants a truth drug; he wants to be able to speak freely. Dysart tells Hesther that he will give Alan a placebo pill to trick him into divulging everything; he thinks Alan is ready to “abreact”—to express the things he has been repressing, and thus begin to overcome his illness. However, Dysart professes that he is ambivalent about this stage of the treatment. “Can you think of anything worse one can do to anybody than take away their worship?” he asks. Alan worships Equus; to cure him of his fantasy would be to take away the “core of his life.” Without it, Alan is just a boy with no education, no friends, and no real engagement with modern society.
In this scene, Dysart clearly lays out what is at stake for Alan. The boy’s bizarre religion has turned him into a social outcast, but if Dysart cures him and makes him normal and fit to return to society, Alan will be left with nothing of the intense passion and belief that makes him unique, that makes him who he is . The psychiatrist is unsure which is the worse fate: to suffer from mental illness and live as a social outcast, or to live with no beliefs and no purpose at all.
Themes
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Hesther argues that Dysart has a chance to relieve Alan of an immense amount of pain. “That simply has to be enough for you, surely?” she asks. But Dysart rejects this idea—because even if Alan is in pain, the pain is uniquely his. To Dysart, having and going through one’s own pain is an integral part of having one’s own life, and Alan has done this to a degree the doctor will never experience. Dysart confesses that he is jealous of Alan’s pain and passion. He tells Hesther that he has “settled” for a “pallid and provincial” life; that without “[r]eal worship,” he is left imagining what a wild, primitive, pagan existence would be like from the dull comfort of his home. As Dysart flips through pictures of centaurs, Alan is “trying to become one, in a Hampshire field!” Hesther replies that all she sees, ultimately, is a boy in pain. She rises, and the two bid each other goodbye.
This scene also reveals how deeply Alan’s case has affected Dysart himself. The passion Alan feels for Equus has forced the psychiatrist to reevaluate the emptiness of his own life, so much so that he is jealous of Alan’s suffering. While Dysart is more concerned about what will happen to Alan’s selfhood when his worship is taken away, Hesther cares more about relieving Alan’s pain. Once again, we see that Dysart and Hesther have different ideas of what a humane treatment of Alan Strang would look like. Hesther’s opinion fits the norms of modern society—it meets the demands of the “God of Health,” as Dysart has previously put it. But Dysart is aware that Alan’s pain is what makes him feel alive, and that without it he is nothing.
Themes
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Scene 26. Dysart reads a letter from Alan apologizing for his previous defensiveness, and admitting that what he said under hypnosis was true. Realizing that a breakthrough is near, Dysart excitedly calls for the Nurse and asks if Alan is awake. She replies that he is up, most likely watching television. The psychiatrist tells her to fetch Alan to his office, and to call his wife and tell her he will be home late. Nurse goes to Alan’s bench, whispers Dysart’s message in his ear, and goes back to her place. Alan enters the square.
Despite Alan’s temper tantrums and verbal attacks, his letter to Dysart shows that he actually trusts the psychiatrist and wants to be helped. He understands that Dysart is the only one who is remotely close to understanding him. Meanwhile, Dysart’s decision to stay at the office late into the night indicates his dedication to his patient, one might even say his “passion” for working on this case (as well as his dissatisfaction with his own life).
Themes
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Scene 27. Dysart thanks Alan for the letter and offers to have a session with him now. This surprises Alan, as it is quite late. Dysart assures the boy that he can trust him. He admits that everything he does as a psychiatrist involves some kind of trick, but in the end his tricks work to help Alan defeat his illness. Dysart then offers Alan a truth drug, which will force Alan “to speak the truth at all costs.” He shows the patient a bottle of pills, and asks if Alan wants to try it. The boy initially rejects the pills, but Dysart entices him by saying that after this process he’ll be cured of his nightmares. Alan is still hesitant, but takes a pill and swallows it. Dysart tells him that he won’t feel any different—that he should just relax and say whatever it is he wants to say.
Dysart uses a combination of truth and deception to get Alan to trust him. He speaks to Alan with a candor that we have not previously seen. (As an aside, Equus was published in 1973, when belief in the effectiveness of the sort of psychiatry practiced by Dysart was stronger than it is today. Put another way, it is unlikely that a modern psychiatrist would be so definitively certain about being able to “cure” someone of their nightmares through a single act, or even at all.)
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Dysart opens up to Alan about his life. He tells the boy he is weary of his work—he wants to leave the psychiatric hospital forever and travel to a sea “where the Gods used to go to bathe”—the old gods, “Before they died.” Alan rejects the notion that gods can die, but Dysart maintains that they do. Alan asks the doctor how he would be a “Nosey Parker” without his hospital room, and Dysart replies that he would not care; he doesn’t like being a psychiatrist. Alan asks Dysart why he does it, if he doesn’t enjoy it. “Because you’re unhappy,” Dysart says. “So are you,” Alan replies quickly. Dysart is startled by the boy’s words, and Alan “sits up in alarm,” stunned that he actually said his thoughts out loud. Dysart tells him the truth drug is working.
The truth pill that Alan takes seems to encourage Dysart to open up about his own feelings, too. However, Dysart’s honesty could be another tactic he uses to get Alan to be more comfortable talking about himself. Indeed, their conversation about Dysart’s unhappiness as a psychiatrist leads Alan to say something he himself didn’t expect, which convinces him of the drug’s effectiveness. Dysart’s assertion that gods can die refers to the rise and fall of various religions and epochs; it simultaneously foreshadows the death of Equus that will occur once Alan is cured.
Themes
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Excited by the effect of the placebo truth drug, Alan tells Dysart to ask him a question. Dysart immediately asks him about Jill. Alan turns away, resistant to talk. The doctor asks him repeatedly to describe her, but Alan insists that he doesn’t remember anything about her. Dysart gets up and approaches his patient. He sternly tells Alan that he must tell him everything about Jill Mason. “And not just tell me—show me,” he says. He tells Alan to act out what he describes, “to feel free to do absolutely anything in this room.” He reassures Alan that the pill and Dysart himself will help. He then asks Alan where Jill lives. After a silence, Alan replies that she lives near the stables. Dysart leaves the square and sits on a downstage bench as Jill enters the square and the next scene begins.
Once again, Dysart encourages Alan to act out what he describes, a psychoanalytic technique that helps patients express their emotions. Alan’s unwillingness to talk about Jill on several occasions signals that Alan’s relationship with Jill is critical to his crime.
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Scene 28. Jill’s behavior “is open and lightly provocative.” She tells Alan that when her father left her family, her mother was left with no money and had to support the family by herself. As a result, her mother hates men and Jill can never bring boys home with her. Alan tells Dysart that Jill “was always looking” at him, and complimenting his “super” eyes. Alan says that Jill, too, had beautiful eyes. We see Jill sit close to Alan—flustered, the boy moves away. Jill begins a conversation about what girls find attractive about boys. Most girls find “bottoms” attractive, she says, but she thinks the most fascinating part of a boy is his eyes. She asks Alan if he also finds eyes interesting—“Or is it only horses’ eyes?” Jill tells him that she saw him gazing into Nugget’s eyes “for ages” one day. Shocked by her provocation, Alan grows defensive; he says there must have been something in Nugget’s eye.
Jill’s free-spiritedness is strikingly different from Frank Strang’s severity and Dora Strang’s religiosity. The fact that Jill grew up in a less traditional home, with only a mother as a role model, seems to have influenced her sense of independence and confidence. Because he is so unused to this type of behavior, Alan does not know how to react to Jill’s flirtation. Her ability to talk openly about the human body suggests that she embodies the changing social norms of the 1960s and 1970s, when discussing sex and sexuality became less taboo. Alan’s defensiveness about looking into Nugget’s eyes again shows how guilty and ashamed Alan feels about his personal religion – a guilt and shame likely built up by the way his father shamed both Dora and Alan about their religious feelings and the “kinky” imagery of the crucified Christ.
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Jill tells Alan that she loves horses’ eyes. “D’you find them sexy?” she asks Alan. Shocked, Alan leaps away from the girl. She continues to talk; she remarks that girls often find horses sexy—it’s a normal phase of their lives. Jill herself remembers a time when she pet and kissed horses quite often. “I suppose it’s just a substitute, really,” she says. Alan says to Dysart that Jill flirted with and provoked him in this way frequently. All of this, Alan says, came to a head “one night….” Dysart pushes his patient to talk about that night. After a pause, Alan divulges that one Saturday night, Jill asked him to take her out to a “skinflick.”
In addition to embodying a new spirit of sexual and social freedom, Jill also represents the natural process of sexual development, one unhindered by pain and trauma. Her acknowledgement that she finds horses “sexy” is shocking to Alan, whose infatuation with horses has been so private. Yet while for Jill the “sexiness” of horses is a substitute, with the implication being that it is a substitute for the strength and virility of men, for Alan it is not a substitute – it’s the horses that he worships.
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Alan is initially hesitant, but Jill persuades him to go with her by evoking images of “heavy Swedes, panting at each other.” Alan agrees to go—then steps off the square and tells Dysart that he is tired and wants to sleep. The doctor insists that he cannot end the session here; he wants to hear more about the movie. “It was bloody awful!” Alan shouts angrily, as actors move the benches on the square into rows and pretend to be moviegoers.
Jill’s description of the “heavy Swedes” is less sexual than humorous—it again demonstrates Jill’s casual relationship to sex. Her carefree nature rubs off on Alan, who is initially excited to see the film. Of course, Alan’s desire not to talk further and exclamation that the movie was awful ratchets up the tension about what actually happens.
Themes
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Scene 29. Alan enters the square again, which is now a darkened movie theater. Together, he and Jill find their way to the downstage bench. Alan tells Dysart that the cinema was “full of men” except for Jill. The two of them sit next to each other and look at the invisible movie screen, above the main audience. Alan describes the film to Dysart. When the girl in the film begins to take a shower, Alan grows excited. Meanwhile, we see Frank Strang enter the back of the square and look for a place to sit. Alan says that this was the first time he had seen a naked woman; he describes the men watching the movie as if “they were in church.” Suddenly, Alan and Frank see each other and shout. Mortified, Alan tries to hide behind Jill, but Frank is already advancing down the aisle toward him. Alan and Jill get up and leave the square. The moviegoers replace the benches and leave the square as Dysart enters it.
Alan’s description of the movie theater as a kind of church highlights the ritualistic nature of going to the cinema. It is also important that all of these men are at the movies to watch a sex act: sex is depicted in this scene as a kind of religious experience, showing that people need, even worship, sex. And Alan’s initial response to the movie is excitement, not that dissimilar to his own religious experiences. And yet shame does intrude on this scene, as it always seems to for Alan, in the form of Frank. In spotting Frank (and being spotted by Frank), society intrudes on this “church of sex” and the social taboos regarding sex return, leading to shame for everyone.
Themes
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Scene 30. Frank, Alan and Jill stand at a bus stop outside the movie theater. Alan and Jill try to explain themselves—Alan tells his father that he has never gone to this kind of cinema before, and Jill says that it was her idea to do it in the first place. Frank doesn’t respond for some time, and then says that he came to the theater for work purposes—to “discuss posters” — and had no idea they showed pornographic movies. The bus arrives, and Frank tells Alan to say goodbye to Jill, but the boy insists on seeing his date home. Frank reluctantly agrees; he exits and returns to his bench. Alan is shaken by this encounter. He tells Dysart that it felt “like a hole had been drilled in [his] tummy.”
Frank’s story about why he was at the theater is an obvious lie, obvious to both the audience and to Alan. That Frank lies indicates the shame that Frank feels about his presence there, and about sex in general. Alan can see all this, and it is the first time that he can see past his father’s outward demeanor of a man of morals and self-reliance to see the more complicated person of needs and insecurities within.
Themes
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Scene 31. Alan walks around the circle and describes Frank’s face as he rode off on the bus as “scared.” He bitterly reflects on the times his father told him to be disciplined, to improve his character. Jill runs after Alan and asks him what’s on his mind. “Nothing,” he says. Jill begins to laugh, and tells Alan that she finds the whole situation “terrible,” but also “very funny.” She tries to reassure Alan, telling him that this encounter only means that he and his father share something in common. Alan tells Dysart that he realized, then, that all of the men around him were not “just Dads,” but also “people with pricks.” He tells Jill that Frank is a “[p]oor old sod,” and the girl agrees. He surmises that Frank attends the pornography theater because Dora Strang “doesn’t give him anything”; she is too prim and proper to be a sexual being.
Frank’s hypocrisy makes Alan realize that all men must contend with their sexuality, and that most tend to keep it secret. This scene also marks the first time Alan reflects on his parents’ relationship. Where he previously felt closer to his mother and despised his father, he now feels that he understands Frank’s inner struggle with his sexual desires. His resentment of his mother for not satisfying Frank shows that Alan is considering his parents’ sex life from a male’s perspective. That he is realizing any of this at all shows that he is becoming more mature, and seeing the world not just from his own perspective.
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Alan now feels sorry for Frank, a man with secret needs and desires, just like himself. Feeling distraught, he asks Dysart to end the session. The doctor pushes him to continue. “You were happy at that second, weren’t you?” he asks. Alan affirms Dysart’s question: his new perspective on his father made him feel free. He tells Dysart that at this moment, Jill was holding his hand. The doctor asks him what he was thinking at this moment. Alan confesses that he found her eyes alluring, and that he wanted to look at her breasts. Jill kisses Alan, and whispers to him that she knows a secret place where they can have sex. Jill runs across the stage, and Alan realizes that she is going to Dalton’s stable.
Alan’s realization that all men have and seek to satisfy their sexual desires releases him from any shame about his own sexual desires—probably in part because Frank helped to fill Alan with that shame. Again, Alan seems to be maturing and to be on the verge of having a “normal” sexual experience. And it seems very possible that things would have proceeded in this “normal” manner had Jill not led him back to the Dalton’s stable. But, of course, she does lead him to Dalton’s stable. And the audience, which already knows of Alan’s crime, can sense that the mixture of possible sex with Jill and the presence of the horses and Equus in the stable is likely to be explosive.
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Scene 32. The chorus “makes a warning hum” as Alan steps back in horror. Jill pressures him to enter the stable. Alan asks if they can go to Jill’s house instead, but she says that her mother doesn’t like it when she brings dates home. Alan is still extremely uncomfortable, and tells Jill that it is because they are so close to the horses. Jill says they can just shut the door of the barn so that they don’t have to see the animals at all.
The possibility of having sex in Dalton’s stable is terrifying to Alan. We’ve already seen that his religion combines aspects of sex and shame. Bringing “normal” sex into the equation only further emphasizes the oddness of his religion. At the same time, such “normal” sex is like betraying the horses. Having sex with Jill in this space would be unfaithful to his religion; it would be akin to desecrating his temple.
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Scene 33. Alan and Jill enter the square; he tells her to lock the door to the stable, and she obeys. Dysart tells Alan to describe the barn, and the boy walks around it, commenting that it is a large room with plenty of straw. He picks up a hoof-pick and drops it quickly. Upstage, he continues, there is a door with six horses behind it. Dysart instructs him to continue the scene.
Alan wants to get as much separation from Equus as possible before having sex with Jill. Alan’s momentary interaction with the hoof-pick is another moment of foreshadowing of his crime to come.
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Alan and Jill sit down and begin to kiss, but a “faint trampling” startles Alan. Despite his uneasiness, Jill continues to seduce him. The horses stamp the ground again, and Alan breaks away , but Jill approaches him and “gently” tells him that she will take her sweater off if he removes his. He stares at her; after a silence, Jill begins to undress. Alan follows suit; they remove their sweaters, shoes, socks, and pants. They meet in an embrace and lay down. Alan gets on top of Jill, ready to have sex, but suddenly the Equus Noise fills the air. Alan goes stiff and “stares straight ahead.”
As sexual encounters go, Jill is remarkably tender and considerate. And she clearly has the sense that Alan’s nerves are just the nerves of someone who is new to sex. But of course it is Alan’s religious connections to the horses that get in the way, as even in the moment when he might be expected to be overwhelmed by sex he is in fact overwhelmed by the Equus noise.
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Dysart asks Alan what happened next, and Alan responds that he “put it in her.” Dysart, disbelieving, tries to get Alan to elaborate on the sex act, and then demands that the boy tell the truth. Alan screams at the doctor and collapses in anguish. He confesses that he couldn’t bring himself to have sex with Jill because “He was in the way.” Every time he touched Jill, he felt Equus instead. “I couldn’t feel her flesh at all!” he exclaims. “I wanted the foam off his neck.” Alan can no longer bring himself to kiss the girl.
Alan’s inability to get an erection and have sex with Jill is the catalyst for his eventual blinding of the horses in Dalton’s stable. His distress when describing the experience to Dysart indicates his intense shame and frustration. Alan’s confession that Equus was “in the way” and that he wanted the “foam” from its neck implies that the horse remains his true sexual obsession.
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Jill sits up and asks Alan what the matter is, but Alan runs into a corner and crouches down, horrified and embarrassed. Jill tries to soothe him, saying that nothing is wrong, and she doesn’t mind if they don’t have sex. But Alan yells at her, demanding that she leave, even threatening her with the hoof-pick. Jill insists that she is Alan’s friend and that he shouldn’t feel any pressure to have sex. She suggests that they lie down together and talk, but Alan insists that she leave. Jill puts on her clothes, and Alan warns her that she had better not tell anyone about this encounter. Jill reassures him that she won’t. She tenderly bids him goodnight, but Alan “turns on her, hissing.” Terrified, Jill runs out of the stable.
Jill’s kindness and understanding toward Alan shows that beyond being attracted to him, she genuinely likes Alan and wants to befriend him. Her insistence that Alan should not feel embarrassed also demonstrates how much more comfortable she is discussing sex, and offers a general possibility for a less shame-ridden view of sex than that held by either Alan or by someone like Frank. But Alan, in what seems to be a kind of double shame both at his failure to be normal and his failure to be true to Equus, can’t experience such kindness. He is overcome by shame.
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Scene 34. Alone now, and still naked, Alan hears Equus laughing and mocking him. He begs Equus to forgive him; kneeling down, he promises that he will “never do it again.” Dysart asks Alan what Equus says in response. Alan whispers the horse-god’s words: “I see you. I see you. Always! Everywhere! Forever!” Dysart then channels the voice of Equus. “Lie with anyone and I will see,” he says to Alan; “You will see ME—and you will FAIL!” Alan is ashamed and frightened; he clutches his body as horses surround him and the Equus Noise increases.
In this scene we see a crueler side of Equus than we have previously seen. Equus is not only the object of Alan’s sexual worship; he also judges Alan’s actions, mocks him for being inadequate, and punishes him for being unfaithful. Equus’s threat that he is always watching and judging echoes the Christian notion that the Lord is a jealous god—that there is only one true god and any false idols are not of that god.
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Terrified, Alan exclaims that Equus sees him with “[w]hite eyes—never closed.” However, after a pause, he steels himself and quietly says, “No more, Equus.” Alan picks up the hoof-pick and walks slowly to Nugget. He strokes the horse, talking to him gently, before stabbing out his eyes. The theater is filled with screams and stamps as Alan slashes the eyes of the other horses in the stable. The square “is filled with cannoning, blinded horses”; Alan is among them, running and flailing to avoid them. Eventually the horses “plunge off into darkness” and the Equus Noise dies out. Alan falls to the ground, hysterical. Stabbing at his eyes, he begs Equus to find and kill him.
Alan seeks to free himself from the religion he has created, presumably because he wants to escape this constant judgment and to be a normal person in society. But, of course, his attempt to do this is unsuccessful. Alan’s mutilation of the horses can also be understood as a self-mutilation—for his attempt to kill Equus is also an attempt to destroy the most important part of his life. Alan ultimately finds this task impossible and extremely painful, and wishes death on himself.
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Scene 35. Dysart wraps a blanket around the convulsing boy and lays him down on a bed, trying to comfort him. He tells Alan that the worst of it is over now, and that he will get well—no more nightmares, no more Equus. He soothes him until the boy falls asleep. Then he stands and moves to center stage. “I’m lying to you, Alan,” he says. “When Equus finally leaves—if he leaves at all—it will be with your intestines in his teeth.” Dysart says that if Alan knew any better, he would run away from the hospital to escape the treatment.
Dysart presents his treatment as something that can finish what Alan could not do himself. But the psychiatrist knows that, like the blinded horses who have lost their sight, the treatment will leave Alan lacking. In his case, it is not his sight he will lose but his passion, his “guts.” the core of Alan’s selfhood. Dysart presents himself here as someone who will do the duty society gives him, as the “priest of the normal.”
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Hesther speaks up from her bench upstage: she says that the boy is in pain, and that Dysart can relieve him. Is that not enough? “All right! I’ll take it away!” the psychiatrist shouts. But what happens next? He says that his goal may be to turn Alan into “a caring citizen—a worshipper of abstract and unifying God,” but the treatment will probably turn Alan into a “ghost.” Dysart walks around the square, addressing the audience. He says that he can heal Alan and let him reenter the “Normal world where animals are treated properly: made extinct, or put into servitude, or tethered all their lives in dim light, just to feed it.” From now on, Alan will “feel nothing at his fork but Approved Flesh.” But his life, as a result, will be passionless.
Dysart’s direct address to the audience encourages the audience to think critically about Alan’s situation and engage in debate. The fact that Hesther speaks up from her bench furthers this effect; it is almost as if she is speaking from outside the bounds of the play. In his final speech, Dysart highlights the ironies of modern society. We perceive Alan’s crime as horrendous and unforgivable, yet we think it is “normal” to make animals our slaves. His point is that what is considered normal is not necessarily any more moral or good or right than what we consider immoral. And so, he asks whether it is worth it to make Alan “normal” when the price is the unique passion Alan experiences, even if there is pain as part of that passion.
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Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
Dysart addresses Alan, who is still asleep. “You won’t gallop any more, Alan,” he says. “You will, however, be without pain.” He then turns to the theater and confesses that the voice of Equus still haunts him, asking Dysart, “Why Me? ... Account for me!” He says that he surrenders, that he does not know what his purpose is in life: “In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place—yet I do ultimate things.” Bewildered by the irrationality of human nature and of his own practice, Dysart describes himself as “stand[ing] in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads!” Dysart sits down on a bench and reflects that he needs “a way of seeing in the dark.” He comments that he feels a “sharp chain” in his mouth that will never be removed. He stares out into the darkness of the theater until blackout.
Dysart ends the play completely disenchanted with his job as a psychiatrist and with modern society’s presumption that it knows how people should behave. The fact that Dysart does not know what his purpose is in the world rubs uncomfortably with the fact that it is his job to guide other people toward how they should think and feel about themselves. Dysart’s description of himself with a hoof-pick is a direct echo of Alan’s crime. The psychiatrist believes that he practices a kind of violence on his patients: he destroys their true selves, he blinds them to themselves, and does not really know why. The bit that he feels in his mouth symbolizes Dysart’s powerlessness as a subject under the control of societal pressures and norms.
Themes
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon