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Equus | Themes
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There is an ethical ambiguity explored in Equus, the conflict between two ideas of right. The freedom of the individual to do whatever he or she wants must alwaysbe balanced with the social need to limit this freedom when a person’s actions are harmful to others. This is certainly the case with Alan’s shocking crime; society’s highest priority in this case isto put Alan away, or to cure his psychological distress so that, hopefully, he will not again cause such harm. Dysart recognizes that he cannot simply allow Alan to act entirely of his own will, butat the same time he is loathe to administer a cure that will most likely quell or kill the boy’s imagination and passion. The doctor also worries that the force driving Alan’s actions is somethingcloser to instinct rather than a simple mental problem. He is concerned that squelching such impulses will essentially rob Alan of all identity. Yet the concerns of society as a whole prevail in thiscase; Alan’s actions, if left unchecked, will ultimately hinder the freedom and happiness of others.
God and Religion
Not only is religion a significant theme in Equus, it has shown itself importantto Shaffer’s writing throughout his long career. Shaffer is fascinated by the human need to believe in a god, to discover a suitable form of worship. In this play the primary theological distinction isbetween Christianity and paganism (in the form of a horse-god). Alan has been brought up in a Christian faith by his mother, but the horrific tales of Christ’s crucifixion disturbed him. He creates...
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