Modern man is an aiming to struggle within the private and the public sphere. He wants to be a productive member of the society yet still wants to avail the freedom of living in the society. The central theme that Peter Shaffer tries to deliver in Equus is of this struggle and conflict of the modern man. In this play, Schaffer tries to depict the longings of the soul and body which are mainly of worship and sexuality. On the other hand, the man tries to seek perfection by obliging to the conventions set in the society.
The quest of humans in seeking their spiritual fulfillment or their belief something that has some spiritual worth appears to be the primary and most important concern of Peter Shaffer. Other aspects of his plays includes the unfortunate dimension in most of his plays comes from the apparent conviction o the playwright. He believes that human's quest of spiritual fulfillment stems for numerous reasons that are usually associated with feelings of envy and inadequacy. He has shown in his plays, including Equus that humans are apparently convinced to destroy either what their belief is or what their capacity for belief is.
Equus is basically a popular play that was written by Peter Shaffer in the year 1973. The play mainly revolves around a psychiatrist who tries to treat a young boy who comes to him with a pathological religious attraction with horses.
In order for us to understand the techniques used by Shaffer to write this play, it is important for us to bring into limelight the inspiration that caused him to write Equus. He started writing the play when he came to know of a crime that involved a 17-year-old child. Basically, this child blinded six horses. All of these horses were blinded in a small town that was situated near Suffolk. This is what led him to construct a fictional account, assumed what had happened that caused the incident to take place. He made up a fictional account of the incident since he did not know of any details pertaining to the crime. The action of the play is similar to that of a detective story. Shaffer has used techniques that are used in detective stories. This technique becomes quite evident when the psychiatrist of the child Alan, Dr. Martin Dysart attempts to understand the reason behind the actions of the boy, meanwhile he himself struggles with his own sense of purpose in life. The behavior of the psychiatrist while he is treating the child is by all means a very reasonable example of a person who is trying to solve the conflict between social responsibility and his personal desires.
The most significant themes that have been discussed in this play, especially with respect to personal desire and social responsibility are ritual sacrifice themes and religious themes. There are several other issues that have been addressed by the narrator, which includes the technique used by Shaffer to construct the character of Alan Strang. Alan is shown to build a personal theology that revolves around horses and as a part of this theology starts believing that the godhead of these horses is Equus. Alan is shown to perceive horses as being a representative of God, and this is why he confuses his fascination and admiration of his "God" with sexual desire and attraction.
It will not be wrong to say that the important aspect of the play for which Shaffer has used special techniques was in fact his examination of the conflict between societal mores, institutions, expectations and satisfaction and personal values. In specific references to the classical structure of the play, characterization and themes, Shaffer has brought into limelight the conflict that exists between Dionysian and Apollonian systems and values pertaining to the human life.
The point-of-view that is shown in this play with respect to social responsibilities and personal desire is quite variable. First, Shaffer allows the audience to see the perspective of the character and then that perspective are elaborated presented another point-of-view, and that is of the narrator. The basic theme that Shaffer is trying to depict through this play is about a young teenager who has entangled conflicts with respect to his relations with his first flirt Jill and his parents. It will be safe to say that this play did not only serve the purpose of an extremely useful source book for the understanding of social responsibilities and conflicts within a family, but is also played the role of putting forth the affirmation that are is capable of telling us things that are beyond the scope of science. The techniques used by Shaffer make it possible for him to portray the psychological construct of the characters, and this is why Equus is a good piece of drama in which the themes of reason, passion and worship and the concept of "abnormal" and "normal" are shown as being linked by Shaffer so as to make his audience raise doubts about the beliefs of the society, as well as their own.
Speaking strictly in terms of literature, the techniques used by Shaffer include the structure of the play, rhetorical devices and the methods of characterization, in order to show the conflict between social responsibilities and personal desires.
The play starts off in the present when Alan is starting off his treatment. In midst of his treatment, the crime that Alan committed is shown as a series of flashbacks of his child hood. This effect goes on to add to the essence of treatment that Alan is going through. These flashbacks are of the night of the "crime" and also of Dysart's life. This therefore shows that the treatment is important in regards to Alan and of Daystars life as well.
At different times, past and present are intermingled in startling ways to show the impact of the treatment that Alan is going through. For instance, when Nurses and Dysart discuss Alan, Dysart tells Heather about this conversation.
This is considered as fluid treatment of time and the way that two different time periods can be arranged juxtaposed. In this way, the psychiatrist is then made to ponder his own idea of sanity and insanity. This therefore strengthens his reflections (Shaffer, 2005)
Frank, who is Alan's father and a staunch atheist, is presented as man who wants to be in control and that is quite visible when he presents his disagreement for the television. He does not really care about what the other person feels and goes on to unsympathetically critics. He is not proud of his son and he also openly criticizes his wife as well.
Along with being unsympathetic, he is also shown to be a proud man. He has had lower class origins and maybe that's why he feels that he has to uphold his position. This sort of inferiority complex therefore causes him to be extremely proud, arrogant and pompous at times. Because he feels that he has to live up to certain situation, he wants to make his own credibility in all points. This therefore also shows that Frank rarely admits when he is wrong. Most of the time, he appears stern and like a brute but his soft side comes out in his occasional moments with Dora.
Majority of his stubbornness and attitude arises from the fact that he cannot control nor alter his son. He wants to reinforce his ways and thinking that at the same time he is limited by the actions of his son as well. Therefore, Frank is aggressive and non-conforming at times, but he does not make use of violence to get his point across. He does make his demands but shows calmness where he can be calm.
When Frank first meets Dysart, the stage directions quite prominently show that their relationship is quite untrusting and awkward. This is most seen when Frank goes on make significant distance between Dysart, Dora and himself. Frank also repeatedly says the line, "If you receive my meaning." This again highlights the pompousness and arrogance that is present in Frank's character
Dora on the other hand is quite a loving figure. Even though she upholds her Christian and her religious beliefs, she does not seem the kind that would enforce her ideals on someone. Seeing how Alan is the son of Dora and Frank, their difference in personalities quite clearly depicts the different treatment that both of them would exhibit with their son. She is seen as more of a nurturing kind as she constantly feeds Alan her religious ideals. She also has a taste for horses as she belongs to a rather upper class family. This again shows a major difference between Dora and Frank. Dora does not feel like she has to uphold o or prove anything. Even though she is not proud, she is satisfied with her job as a parent. Her actions and words throughout the play go on to show that she thinks that she cannot…