Equus

Martin Dysart Character Analysis

A psychiatrist at Rokesby Psychiatric Hospital who takes on Alan Strang’s case. Dysart is devoted to his work and generally admired for his skill as a psychiatrist, but throughout the play voices his ambivalence about the true purpose of psychiatry and the way that it often ends up eliminating true passion in an effort to force people into a narrow interpretation of what’s normal. Alan’s case greatly unsettles Dysart, and forces him to reevaluate the value of his practice, to reflect on his own marriage and the lack of passion in it, and his daily life.

Martin Dysart Quotes in Equus

The Equus quotes below are all either spoken by Martin Dysart or refer to Martin Dysart. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Equus published in 1984.
Act 1 Quotes

You see, I’m wearing that horse’s head myself. That’s the feeling. All reined up in old language and old assumptions, straining to jump clean-hoofed on to a whole new track of being I only suspect is there. I can’t see it, because my educated, average head is being held at the wrong angle. I can’t jump because the bit forbids it, and my own basic force—my horsepower, if you like—is too little. The only thing I know for sure is this: a horse’s head is finally unknowable to me.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker)
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

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Frank: He took a piece of string out of his pocket. Made up into a noose. And put it in his mouth. And then with his other hand he picked up a coat hanger. A wooden coat hanger, and—and—
Dysart: Began to beat himself?
Frank: You see why I couldn’t tell his mother…Religion. Religion’s at the bottom of all this!

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Frank Strang (speaker), Alan Strang, Dora Strang
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

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I wish there was one person in my life I could show. One instinctive, absolutely unbrisk person I could take to Greece, and stand in front of certain shrines and sacred streams and say ‘Look! Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods. And not just the old dead ones with names like Zeus—no, but living Geniuses of Place and Person! And not just Greece but modern England! Spirits off certain trees, certain curves of brick wall, certain chip shops, if you like, and slate roofs—just as of certain frowns in people and slouches’ …I’d say to them—‘Worship as many as you can see—and more will appear!’ …If I had a son, I bet you he’d come out exactly like his mother. Utterly worshipless.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Hesther Salomon
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes—all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills—like a God. It is the Ordinary made beautiful; it is also the Average made lethal. The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his Priest. My tools are very delicate. My compassion is honest. I have honestly assisted children in this room. I have talked away terrors and relieved many agonies. But also—beyond question—I have cut from them parts of individuality repugnant to his God, in both his aspects. Parts sacred to rarer and more wonderful Gods. And at what length…Sacrifices to Zeus took at the most, surely, sixty seconds each. Sacrifices to the Normal can take as long as sixty months.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang, Hesther Salomon
Page Number: 64-65
Explanation and Analysis:

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Alan [ritually]: Equus—son of Fleckwus—son of Neckwus—Walk.
Here we go. The King rides out on Equus, mightiest of horses. Only I can ride him. He lets me turn him this way and that. His neck comes out of my body. It lifts in the dark. Equus, my Godslave! …Now the King commands you. Tonight, we ride against them all.
Dysart: Who’s all?
Alan: My foes and His.
Dysart: Who are your foes?
Alan: The Hosts of Hoover. The Hosts of Philco. The Hosts of Pifco. The House of Remington and all its tribe!
Dysart: Who are His foes?
Alan: The Hosts of Jodhpur. The Hosts of Bowler and Gymkhana. All those who show him off for their vanity!

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang (speaker)
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2 Quotes

A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs—it sucks—it strokes its eyes over the whole uncomfortable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even, with time, pull them apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all—just those particular moments of experience and no others—I don’t know. And nor does anyone else. Yet if I don’t know—if I can never know that—then what I am doing here? I don’t mean clinically doing or socially doing—I mean fundamentally! These questions, these Whys, are fundamental—yet they have no place in a consulting room.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whatever’s happened has happened because of Alan. Alan is himself. Every soul is itself. If you added up everything we ever did to him, from his first day on earth to this, you wouldn’t find why he did this terrible thing—because that’s him; not just all of our things added up. Do you understand what I’m saying? I want you to understand, because I lie awake and awake thinking it out, and I want you to know that I deny it absolutely what he’s doing now, staring at me, attacking me for what he’s done, for what he is! [Pause: calmer.] You’ve got your words, and I’ve got mine. You call it a complex, I suppose. But if you knew God, Doctor, you would know about the Devil. You’d know the Devil isn’t made by what mummy says and daddy says. The Devil’s there.

Related Characters: Dora Strang (speaker), Martin Dysart, Alan Strang, Frank Strang
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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Can you think of anything worse one can do to anybody than take away their worship?

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Martin Dysart, Alan Strang, Hesther Salomon
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

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Hesther: I mean he’s in pain, Martin. He’s been in pain for most of his life. That much, at least, you know.
Dysart: Possibly.
Hesther: Possibly?! …That cut-off little figure you just described must have been in pain for years.
Dysart [doggedly]: Possibly.
Hesther: And you can take it away.
Dysart: Still—possibly.

Hesther: Then that’s enough. That simply has to be enough for you, surely?
Dysart: No!
Hesther: Why not?
Dysart: Because it’s his.
Hesther: I don’t understand.
Dysart: His pain. His own. He made it.
[Pause.]
[Earnestly.] Look…to go through life and call it yours—your life—you first have to get your own pain. Pain that’s unique to you…. He’s done that. All right, he’s sick. He’s full of misery and fear…. But that boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have ƒelt in any second of my life. And let me tell you something: I envy it.
Hesther: You can’t.
Dysart [vehemently]: Don’t you see? That’s the Accusation! That’s what his stare has been saying to me all this time. ‘At least I galloped! When did you?’ …[Simply.] I’m jealous, Hesther. Jealous of Alan Strang.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Hesther Salomon (speaker), Alan Strang
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:

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Poor old sod, that’s what I felt—he’s just like me! He hates ladies and gents just like me! Posh things—and la-di-da. He goes off by himself at night, and does his own secret thing which no one’ll know about, just like me! There’s no difference—he’s just the same as me—just the same—

Related Characters: Alan Strang (speaker), Martin Dysart, Frank Strang
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

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All right! I’ll take it away! He’ll be delivered from madness. What then? He’ll feel himself acceptable! What then? Do you think feelings like his can be simply re-attached, like plasters? Stuck on to other objects we select? Look at him! …My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband—a caring citizen—a worshipper of abstract and unifying God. My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost!

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang, Hesther Salomon
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

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And now for me it never stops: that voice of Equus out of the cave—‘Why me? …Why me? …Account for me!’ …All right—I surrender! I say it! …In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place—yet I do ultimate things. Essentially I cannot know what I do—yet I do essential things. Irreversible, terminal things. I stand in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads!

I need—more desperately than my children need me—a way of seeing in the dark. What way is this? …What dark is this? …I cannot call it ordained of God: I can’t get that far. I will however pay it so much homage. There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang
Related Symbols: Horses, Hoof-pick
Page Number: 108-109
Explanation and Analysis:

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Martin Dysart Character Timeline in Equus

The timeline below shows where the character Martin Dysart appears in Equus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...of the circle. The bench to the left of the circle is used by Martin Dysart as a listening station when he is not in the square; it also functions as... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...a horse named Nugget. Lights come up on the outer circle, and we see Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist in his mid-forties, on the left bench, smoking. Dysart describes Alan and Nugget... (full context)
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Dysart rises and, addressing the audience, expresses confusion about his purpose in life. In fact, he... (full context)
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Scene 2. Dysart sits down on a bench in the square—we are presumably in his office—and a Nurse... (full context)
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Hesther proceeds to tell Dysart that Alan Strang, age 17, blinded six horses with a hoof-pick one night in a... (full context)
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Scene 3. Dysart begins to go through Alan’s file, and asks the boy questions as he reads. We... (full context)
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Scene 5. Dysart stands at center stage and addresses the audience: he relates the dream he had the... (full context)
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Scene 6. Hesther enters and tells Dysart not to be “ridiculous.” Apparently, it is a few days later, and the doctor has... (full context)
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Dysart’s description of his encounter with Alan is itself interrupted by the boy, who leaps to... (full context)
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Back in Dysart’s office, the psychiatrist describes Frank as a “[r]elentlessly self-improving” socialist. Dysart goes on to discuss... (full context)
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Scene 7. Martin Dysart visits the Strang home on a Sunday evening. He meets Dora there, but Frank is... (full context)
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...is why he isn’t particularly bright. Furthermore, he says, Dora is “excessively” religious. He tells Dysart that he is an atheist, and that in his opinion, “it’s the Bible that’s responsible... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...the word “Ek,” and as he does, recorded cries of “Ek!” fill the entire theater. Dysart enters the boy’s room and witnesses Alan crying “Ek!” one final time before abruptly waking... (full context)
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Scene 9. The next day, Alan visits Dysart’s office for his session. He is evasive, and insists that he will answer the doctor’s... (full context)
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Scene 10. As Alan describes this memory for Dysart, he walks around the circle and acts it out onstage. He tells Dysart that he... (full context)
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Dysart thanks Alan for sharing the memory and comments that he has never been on a... (full context)
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Scene 11. Later that evening, Dora visits Dysart’s office; she wants to tell the doctor something important about the horse photograph Alan has... (full context)
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Scene 12. Harry Dalton, the owner of the stable where Alan worked, visits Dysart’s office. He says that in his opinion, Alan should be in prison, and tells Dysart... (full context)
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...his bed, gives the tape recorder to the Nurse, who in turn gives it to Dysart. Dysart turns on the machine and begins to listen. Onstage, Alan recites as Dysart “plays”... (full context)
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...free as a cowboy. “I bet all cowboys are orphans!” he says. The Nurse interrupts Dysart to tell him that Frank Strang has arrived to see him. The doctor, surprised, tells... (full context)
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Scene 14. Frank Strang enters the square. Dora doesn’t know he is here—he tells Dysart that he must inform him of an event he witnessed eighteen months ago. Late one... (full context)
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Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...is the cause of Alan’s bizarre behavior, and adds that there is one more thing Dysart should know: on the night that Alan blinded the horses in the stable, he had... (full context)
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Scene 15. Dysart questions Alan about Jill, the girl who introduced Alan to the stable. Alan tells him... (full context)
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Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...slowly feels the horse’s neck and back. He smells his palm, drinking in Nugget’s scent. Dysart begins to interrogate Alan about the experience. He asks Alan if it felt good to... (full context)
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Scene 17. Dysart apologizes for his persistence, but Alan is still fuming. He demands that the doctor answer... (full context)
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Scene 18. Hesther and Dysart discuss the psychiatrist’s relationship with his wife. Dysart explains that he and his wife used... (full context)
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Dysart changes the subject and begins talking about Alan. He asks Hesther what he should be... (full context)
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Scene 19. Alan and Dysart meet for a session. They have both calmed down since their fight the previous day,... (full context)
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Once Alan’s hypnosis is complete, Dysart instructs the boy to answer all of his questions. He tells Alan to remember his... (full context)
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Dysart asks Alan to remember Dalton’s stable. He asks Alan if the stable is Equus’s temple,... (full context)
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...opens the door of the stable and the chorus begins humming the Equus Noise. As Dysart prompts him to explain the midnight ritual, Alan performs it onstage. The audience sees him... (full context)
Act 2
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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... (full context)
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The Nurse interrupts Dysart’s musings. She tells him Dora has come to visit Alan, and they have begun to... (full context)
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Scene 23. Dysart asks Dora not to visit again: Alan is at a fragile stage of his treatment... (full context)
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Scene 24. Dysart assures Alan that he has not told his mother anything that Alan divulged under hypnosis.... (full context)
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Scene 25. Incredulous, Dysart relates this encounter to Hesther during their next meeting. He believes that Alan actually wants... (full context)
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Hesther argues that Dysart has a chance to relieve Alan of an immense amount of pain. “That simply has... (full context)
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Scene 26. Dysart reads a letter from Alan apologizing for his previous defensiveness, and admitting that what he... (full context)
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Scene 27. Dysart thanks Alan for the letter and offers to have a session with him now. This... (full context)
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Dysart opens up to Alan about his life. He tells the boy he is weary of... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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.” (full context)
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...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,”... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Dysart asks Alan what happened next, and Alan responds that he “put it in her.” Dysart,... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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Scene 35. Dysart wraps a blanket around the convulsing boy and lays him down on a bed, trying... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Dysart addresses Alan, who is still asleep. “You won’t gallop any more, Alan,” he says. “You... (full context)