Equus By Peter Shaffer : A Critical Analysis

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Equus by Peter Shaffer: A Critical Analysis Equus was written by Peter Shaffer in the 1970s, a time for great change in both culture and the field of psychiatry. In his play, Shaffer explores the conflict between social responsibility and individual desire, and the difficulty of finding a balance between the two. The playwright contrasts the characters Martin Dysart, an unsatisfied child psychiatrist, and Alan Strang, his seventeen year old patient, to explore the two extremes of the spectrum of duty and desire. Likewise, Alan’s parents, Frank and Dora Strang, are contrasted to demonstrate that individual desires can impact on the social responsibility of raising a child. Shaffer uses Christian symbolism in relation to Alan’s worship of…show more content…
Frank and Dora are shown to have many differences; Frank is described as an ’Old-type Socialist’ (p.21) and ‘an atheist’ (p.27), who believes ‘it’s the Bible that’s responsible’ (p.27) for Alan’s breakdown. Meanwhile, Dora is ‘an ex-school teacher’, who is very Christian, ‘excessively so’ (p.27) by Frank’s standards. Similarly, Frank is very against television, while Dora allowed Alan sneak off to watch Westerns. The playwright is suggesting that this conflict between individual beliefs and the social responsibility of family were a common source of tension for Alan, which is what could have caused him to commit the violent act and to worship horses. When Dora confronts Dysart, she believes ‘whatever’s happened has happened because of Alan’ (p.76), and that it is ‘not just all of our things added up’ (p.77). Shaffer is attempting to get the reader to question if this constant conflict between desire and duty is indirectly responsible or if it is Alan’s violent nature. Christian and religious symbolism in relation to Alan’s worship is another literary technique used by Shaffer to highlight the conflict between individual desire and social responsibility. Growing up in a religious environment but with a father who was against Christianity seemed to make Alan substitute Jesus with Equus, and the “chinkle-chankle” Equus wears ‘for the sins of the world’ (p.63) ― a substitute for Jesus and his

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