Equus: Human Conflicts and the Trinity
Peter Shaffer’s play Equus has been savagely attacked by drama critics and psychoanalysts alike. Said one analyst: “I felt I had been had.” Yet Equus has now held the stage for almost four years. Having survived even the vicissitudes of translation, it continues to fill houses in several European capitals. Its appeal must emanate from something other than superb acting and imaginative direction. What is the secret of its durability? The play compels audiences to ask the ultimate meaning of life.
Projections into the Ultimate
Mere entertainment leaves an insipid taste unless it surreptitiously leads us into questioning the purpose of existence. That, of course, is usually the business of religion. Whenever the conventional churches fail in their mission to communicate the holy and to respond to grace, the search for the ultimate meaning of life becomes the province of secular culture, especially of the theater. Playwrights know, deep within themselves, that modern audiences are starved for transcendence.
The plot of Equus was suggested to Shaffer by an actual fait-divers which occurred some years ago on the outskirts of a small English town. A 17-year-old lad who worked weekends as a stable groom seized a metal spike one night and blinded six horses. In the play, Shaffer has renamed the boy Alan Strang and has placed him most of the time on stage center, acting out his dreams and his memories.
Instead of sending the, delinquent youth to a reform school, a tough but compassionate magistrate, Hesther Salomon, commits him to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital and convinces her friend, Dr. Martin Dysart, to take the boy as a mental patient. The entire play takes place in Dr. Dysart’s consultation room. At the same time, the set simulates a boxing ring, which in turn becomes the boy’s home, a stable or even the local cinema. When they are not participating in the action,...