Peter Shaffer

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Themes and Colors
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Equus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


The place and value of passion in life is the most important issue raised by Shaffer’s play. The play portrays a world—and you could certainly argue that the world of the play accurately resembles our own—in which people’s deepest human desires are being squeezed out of their lives and replaced by banal and mass-produced pleasures. Alan Strang feels this pressure powerfully: his job at the appliance store emphasizes the profusion of new consumer goods that…

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Religion and Worship

The concepts of passion and worship are intimately related in Equus, and over the course of the play, Shaffer complicates our idea of what religion is and should be. The main characters in Equus display a wide range of relationships to religion. By exploring these relationships, Shaffer shows us that we all “worship” something in life, whether or not we belong to an “actual” religion. Frank Strang, for instance, is an atheist, but…

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Sex and Sexuality

Alan Strang’s religion and the rituals he develops around it are highly erotic. His description of riding Nugget in the field highlights the physicality and sensuality of the event, and his desire to be “One Person” with Equus suggests how religion and sex can be transcendent, spiritual activities. As Dora Strang says, sex can be “the most important happening of [one’s] life.” But Alan’s worship of Equus also indicates Alan’s wish to be like…

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Modern Society and Normality

The commercialized and mechanized society that we live in forms the backdrop to Equus, and the play offers a powerful critique of modern society’s effect on the individual. Whether one is Christian, agnostic or atheist, modern society is actually its own kind of religion—the religion of the “Normal.” As Martin Dysart explains, “The Normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes,” but also “the dead stare in a million adults.” In this religion…

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Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness

According to psychoanalytic theory, the abnormal repression of desires and impulses in an individual can result in mental illness. In Alan Strang’s case, it would appear that the repression of his sexuality, combined with the anxiety induced by society and his parents, lead to his self-destructive and antisocial behavior. As a psychiatrist, Martin Dysart’s job is to cure Alan’s abnormalities. He does this by relieving Alan’s repression—that is, by bringing repressed memories and…

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