Equus

Horses Symbol Icon
The horse is the primary symbol in Equus, and at a glance, it represents everything we might expect a horse to represent: power, freedom, animal desire. Indeed, Alan Strang’s worship of the horse-god Equus emphasizes the pure physicality of the horse. His love of stroking horses and riding them naked attests to the sense of emotional, spiritual, and sexual freedom he feels around these animals. However, over the course of the play the horse comes to symbolize the exact opposite. When Alan calls Equus a “Godslave,” he means that the horse is powerful, yet cannot control itself. Its speed and force imply great freedom, and yet the saddle and bit that it wears is painfully constricting. In this way, Shaffer draws a parallel between horses and human beings. As humans, we have the capacity to be free and individual; yet the conditions into which we are born immediately limit this capacity. The society we are born into, our economic class, our religious restrictions—so many factors actually control the way that we live in our world. The horse becomes a symbol for our paradoxical position: we are simultaneously powerful and free and helplessly limited.

Horses Quotes in Equus

The Equus quotes below all refer to the symbol of Horses. 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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I was pushed forward on the horse. There was sweat on my legs from his neck. The fellow held me tight, and let me turn the horse which way I wanted. All that power going any way you wanted…. It was always the same, after that. Every time I heard one clop by, I had to run and see…. I can’t remember when it started. Mum reading to me about Prince who no one could ride, except one boy. Or the white horse in Revelations. ‘He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True. His eyes were as flames of fire, and he had a name written that no man knew but himself’…. No one understands! …Except cowboys. They do. I wish I was a cowboy. They’re free. They just swing up and then it’s miles of grass…I bet all cowboys are orphans! …I bet they are!

Related Characters: Alan Strang (speaker), Dora Strang, Young Horseman
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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I’m raw! Raw!
Feel me on you! On you! On you! On you!
I want to be in you!
I want to BE you forever and ever! –
Equus, I love you!
Now! –
Bear me away!
Make us One Person!

Related Characters: Alan Strang (speaker)
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2 Quotes

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Horses Symbol Timeline in Equus

The timeline below shows where the symbol Horses appears in Equus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Passion Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...with a dim light on the central square. In the spotlight, Alan Strang caresses a horse named Nugget. Lights come up on the outer circle, and we see Martin Dysart, a... (full context)
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...audience, expresses confusion about his purpose in life. In fact, he himself feels like a horse, trapped by his own bit, “[a]ll reined up in old language and old assumptions.” He... (full context)
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
Hesther proceeds to tell Dysart that Alan Strang, age 17, blinded six horses with a hoof-pick one night in a stable where he worked on weekends. Hesther remarks... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...Dora is still incredulous that Alan could do such a thing, especially since he loves horses. Dora tells Dysart that Alan has a photograph of a horse hung up in his... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...returns home, and Dora resumes talking. She says that the Strangs have always been a “horsey” family. Her grandfather would ride every morning “all dressed up in bowler hat and jodhpurs.”... (full context)
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...with Alan until the boy begins to speak openly about his first memory of a horse. At first Alan throws a tantrum, but as he realizes that Dysart will continue to... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...The man then offers to give Alan a ride. He lifts the boy onto the horse—the actor simulates this by lifting Alan onto his shoulders—and they ride together along the beach,... (full context)
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...coolly responds that Alan was perfectly safe. Frank tells his son to get off the horse, but Alan refuses. Furious, Frank pulls Alan from the Horseman’s shoulders and the boy falls... (full context)
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...thanks Alan for sharing the memory and comments that he has never been on a horse before, and Alan says that after his experience with the Horseman, he never rode again.... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...evening, Dora visits Dysart’s office; she wants to tell the doctor something important about the horse photograph Alan has in his room. She reveals that this photograph actually took the place... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...extremely diligent worker, but reveals his suspicions about Alan’s claim that he never rode the horses. Dalton discloses that he noticed some strange things about the horses after Alan began working... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...“plays” the recorded message. In the message, Alan resumes talking about his experience with the horse on the beach. Alan describes the sweat on his legs from the horse’s neck and... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Alan continues to describe the erotic feel of horses, claiming that his mother would never understand. Dora likes the showiness of horseback riding, Alan... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...it out onstage. First, Frank heard the sound of chanting—Alan reciting a fictitious genealogy of horses, including Prince, the horse Dora told him stories about. Then Frank saw Alan standing in... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...there is one more thing Dysart should know: on the night that Alan blinded the horses in the stable, he had been out with a girl. Dysart asks Frank how he... (full context)
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...overwhelmed by the chaos. Jill enters, and asks Alan for a clipping machine to shear horses. Alan recognizes her as the girl who works at Dalton’s stable, while Jill also recognizes... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Scene 16. We hear the “exultant humming” of the Equus Noise, and the sound of horses’ hooves. Alan stands in the middle of the square, which is now Dalton’s stable. Immersed... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
Alan touches Nugget’s shoulder, then slowly feels the horse’s neck and back. He smells his palm, drinking in Nugget’s scent. Dysart begins to interrogate... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...to answer all of his questions. He tells Alan to remember his experience with the horse on the beach, particularly the moment when he asked the horse if his bit hurt.... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...night, and Alan confirms Dysart’s suspicion. He tells the psychiatrist that he would ride the horses in secret every three weeks. Dysart now tells Alan to imagine that he is actually... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...to explain the midnight ritual, Alan performs it onstage. The audience sees him select the horse Nugget and put a bit in his mouth. He slips the bridle onto the horse... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...his mouth. He feeds Nugget a lump of sugar, his “Last Supper,” then mounts the horse, shouting, “Take me!” He cries out as the horse’s coat rubs painfully against his naked... (full context)
Act 2
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Jill tells Alan that she loves horses’ eyes. “D’you find them sexy?” she asks Alan. Shocked, Alan leaps away from the girl.... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...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”... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...“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... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)