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- April , 2001

 

 

A Struggle of Resistance against Restriction

 

  What makes 'Equus' a powerful play?  What makes 'Equus' a famous play? Is it an interesting play? Or is it just the nakedness of the actors' bodies?

   This play begins with Dysart's monologue which describes a boy named Alan Strang. At the same time, we see a boy stroking a horse very gently with a lover's gesture at the back of the stage. A soprano voice in the background makes a mysterious atmosphere on the dark stage.

  One weekend in the early 1970's, Peter Shaffer, who is also well known as the writer of 'Amadeus', heard a shocking story from a friend when he was driving past a quiet stable. It was about a boy who stabbed the eyes of six horses and made them blind. This scary story attracted Shaffer's curiosity and overwhelmed him. Later he created his famous play, Equus (which is Latin for 'horse', based on this event.

  The play begins with the introduction of the young boy who blinded six horses he was familiar with, but the plot's painful journey into the tortured mind of Alan Strang and the equally conflict-filled mind of child psychiatrist Martin Dysart creates an evening of introspection. On the night after Alan first came to Dysart's office, Dysart had a nightmare in which he was a priest and performed a human sacrifice with several children. In the dream he is afraid to let the other priests find out that his face turns deadly pale with fright. This dream symbolizes the conflict between himself as a doctor and his inner self, and at the same time foreshadows his change of mind at the end of the play.

  Alan grows up with a secret from his overly conservative religious mother and his atheistic father, that he is in love with a horse. He had been fascinated by horses since he rode a white horse with a marvelous horseman. After that, horses seemed omniscient and almighty beings to him. Alan's love for horses developed into a religious fervor as if they were all-powerful gods. He felt love and trust, fascination and ecstasy only with horses, so he thinks that to betray a horse is the most fearful sin in the world.

  One day, he meets a girl named Zeel by chance, gets work at a stable on her recommendation, and they become sweethearts. He goes to an adult movie with her and there meets his father, a symbol of absolute authority. He is shocked by seeing him there. Zeel tempts him into a stable with her, and he is terrified after he has sex with her, because he thinks that horses were glaring at him with their bloodshot eyes. Horses are no longer god-like beings, but beings which restrain his instincts. He stabs out the eyes of all the horses in the stable, to express his rebellion against god, father, mother and all authorities who see and judge everything he does. At the final curtain, after the horses disappear in the darkness, he also stabs out his own eyes like Oedipus and screams.

  Dysart, who led Alan to relive this  horror, is in a dilemma at the end because Alan has passion such as Dysart had never felt before. While he is sitting in a chair looking at pictures of a centaur running, the boy is eager to be united with a horse that he can see running in the Hampshire field outside the window. Dysart envies Alan's freedom and his inner world of primitive desire, so different from Dysart's passive observation. He also discovers the presence of a "bit" in his mouth called "normality," that people have created for themselves. He can't even understand how to treat the boy in that situation or how to set limits between normality and abnormality. He doubts his own identity, and the play ends with another monologue in which Dysart tells us that he needs a way of seeing the dark more desperately than his young patients need him. He wonders if the darkness he sees comes from God, and pays it the homage that would be due if it were - but feels the"bit" again, a sharp chain that will never be removed.

  This play deals with a mixture of parenting and religion, love and sex, and the thin line between madness and normality. It makes all of us in the audience reconsider our own view of reality. People are squeezed on every side by daily life, with society grinding us down like an industrial gear, a system with rules which constantly suppress our instincts and feelings, and the flat, insipid world which disapproves of miracles and mysteries. Shaffer makes the audience feel nostalgia for the primitive joy of a life in which gods and humans can communicate with and love each other, where humans can breathe in nature and get food from nature, and where desires and urges can be expressed freely. But, in the same moment we experience this nostalgia, we discover that the "gag" of self-loss in our mouths is already painfully tight. This is what makes the play Equus famous: it's excellent expression of the eager desires of people who want to communicate with god and nature as passionately as the boy Alan and the psychiatrist Dysart.

By Lee Ja-young  
najayung@hanmail.net  

 

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