Equus

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.
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon

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 a horse—that is, to express his animal instincts. The ritual of becoming “One Person” with Equus is simultaneously an act of purification and a surrender to bestial desire. In this way, Alan’s religious ritual is also a kind of sex act, in its combination of perfect love and animal lust.

It is perhaps because Alan’s sexuality is repressed throughout the play that his erotic and religious activity is intertwined, also, with acts of self-harm. While Equus grants Alan a sense of sexual and spiritual freedom, the shame that Alan feels regarding his sexuality forces him to submit himself to immense physical pain. The intensity of Alan’s shame is revealed at the end of the play when, after his embarrassing sexual experience with Jill Mason, he blinds the horses in the stable, then begs for his own death. Alan’s attempt to have sex with Jill may be read as an attempt to “normalize” his sexuality—that is, to make his sexuality conform to society’s expectations. In his failure to become aroused by Jill, he feels at once embarrassed that he is unable to perform what a man “should” be able to perform, and ashamed that he has betrayed his true passion, the horse-god Equus. The shame becomes too much to bear: hearing Equus’s accusatory and judgmental voice in his head, Alan blinds the horses in the stable, wanting to silence the force that has ruled his life and made him a societal outcast.

Alan’s sexuality is not the only sexuality that is being repressed in Shaffer’s play, however. Toward the end of Act Two, when Jill and Alan attend a pornographic movie, the play makes it apparent that society as a whole has repressed the sexual desires of human beings. It is only in the dark that humans are allowed to express their carnal desires. Alan finally realizes that sex is a natural thing for all men when he runs into his father, Frank, in the pornography theater. In that moment he understands that all men have their own secrets, and enact their own fantasies in private. Alan’s own passion, however, is too intense to be kept in the darkness of a pornography theater. The collision between his “normal” sexual encounter with Jill and the site of his erotic and spiritual rituals proves too much for Alan, and results in his heinous crime and psychological breakdown.

Alan Strang powerfully embodies the conflict between modern society and human nature. In the beginning of the play, he communicates only by singing advertising jingles; this expression of commercial culture in Alan’s psychopathic state stresses the repetitive and dehumanizing nature of modern life. His hatred of modern society emerges in his religion as well: the brands that Alan sells at the appliance store—Hoover, Remington, etc.—become the “foes” that he rides against during his midnight adventure with his horse, Nugget. Alan’s desire to live outside the bounds of modern society also manifests itself in his admiration for cowboys. In his mind, cowboys are lawless orphans, nomadic individuals who are completely free and uninhibited, untethered from the repression of family and society.

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Sex and Sexuality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sex and Sexuality appears in each act of Equus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sex and Sexuality Quotes in Equus

Below you will find the important quotes in Equus related to the theme of Sex and Sexuality.
Act 1 Quotes

A boy spends night after night having this stuff read to him; an innocent man tortured to death—thorns driven into his head—nails into his hands—a spear jammed through his ribs. It can mark anyone for life, that kind of thing. I’m not joking. The boy was absolutely fascinated by all that. He was always mooning over religious pictures. I mean real kinky ones, if you receive my meaning…. Bloody religion—it’s our only real problem in this house, but it’s insuperable; I don’t mind admitting it.

Related Characters: Frank Strang (speaker), Alan Strang, Frank Strang
Page Number: 34
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.

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:

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.LoLoremLorem ipLorem 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.

Act 2 Quotes

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:

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.