Places: Equus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1973

First produced: 1973, at the Old Vic Theatre, London

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedRokeby Psychiatric Hospital

Rokeby EquusPsychiatric Hospital. British psychiatric hospital to which teenager Alan Strang has been remanded by a court, after he blinded six horses with a metal spike. In contrast to the realistic clinical setting of Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film version of Equus, which included white-coated doctors tending clearly psychotic patients, the set of the original play carefully avoids realistic imagery, other than the occasional appearance of a nurse.

John Napier’s design for the set calls for a wooden square atop a wooden circle. The square resembles a boxing ring, which makes Alan and Dysart resemble evenly matched prize-fighters in their relentless rhetorical counterpunching. Functioning as witnesses, much like a Greek chorus, all other characters sit on benches behind the square, where they remain always visible to the audience. Napier’s stage directions include three tiers of audience seats placed around the circle, “in the fashion of a dissecting theater.” Metal horse-masks, donned by actors, are mounted on wooden poles.

Dalton’s stable

Dalton’s stable. Scene of the blinding incident, which is bloodlessly, almost balletically, reenacted at the play’s climax. To Alan, the stable is a temple for clandestine worship of his horse-god, Equus–and the site of his failed first attempt at sexual intercourse with Jill Mason.

*Mycenae

*Mycenae (my-SEE-nee). Ancient Greek site of pagan rituals of worship that are idealized by psychiatrist Martin Dysart, in contrast to the sterility that he believes characterizes the modern world.

Strang home

Strang home. Working-class household in southern England that is the site of various family conflicts, primarily over religion. In his bedroom, Alan reenacts secret rituals of worship before a poster-sized photograph of a horse, which has replaced an image of Christ in chains that his atheist father removed.

Beach

Beach. Site of six-year-old Alan’s first ride on a horse, Trojan, which was interrupted when his father pulled him off the horse. The psychologically traumatic scene is reenacted during the play.

Field of Ha-Ha

Field of Ha-Ha. Alan’s name for the site of his exultant clandestine night ride, which is reenacted at the end of the first act. He takes the name from a passage in the Old Testament: “He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting” (Job 39:25).

BibliographyBeckerman, Bernard. “The Dynamics of Peter Shaffer’s Drama.” In The Play and Its Critic: Essays for Eric Bentley, edited by Michael Bertin. Lanham, Md.: University Presses of America, 1986. This article examines the stagecraft of Peter Shaffer by examining the dramatic structure of several of his plays.Gianakaris, C. J. Peter Shaffer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This book-length study focuses on thematic issues in Shaffer’s dramatic works, examining particularly the role of stagecraft in terms of the presentation of those themes.Klein, Dennis A. “A Note on the Use of Dreams in Peter Shaffer’s Major Plays.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 9 (March, 1989): 25-32. This article is an examination of Dysart and the role that dreams play in Equus, focusing both on the dreams of Alan and those of Dysart in terms of progress of the play’s meaning.Klein, Dennis A. Peter Shaffer. Boston: Twayne, 1979. One of three book-length studies of Shaffer’s work, this one begins with a chapter of biography before it moves to a chronological handling of Shaffer’s plays, providing basic background as well as major thematic concerns.Klein, Dennis A. “Peter Shaffer’s Equus as Modern Aristotelian Tragedy.” Studies in Iconography 9 (1983): 175-181. After detailing Aristotle’s vision of the nature of tragedy and how it is encapsulated in drama, Klein examines the ways in which Equus fits the patterns of tragic drama that Aristotle outlines.Mustazza, Leonard. “A Jealous God: Ritual and Judgement in Shaffer’s Equus.” Papers on Language and Literature 28 (1992): 174-184. Focusing on the treatment of Equus as the jealous, demanding god figure in Alan’s life, this article examines the relationship of the play’s meanings to the mythic figure of Dionysius.Plunka, Gene A. Peter Shaffer: Roles, Rites, and Rituals in the Theater. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988. This study of Shaffer’s dramas examines the uses to which Shaffer puts ritual and rite–particularly religious ritual and rite–in his theatrical productions and notes the effects of these rites, both in terms of the meaning of the dramas and in terms of how the dramas are produced on stage.Witham, Barry B. “The Anger of Equus.” Modern Drama 22 (1979): 61-66. Focuses on Dysart’s dilemma of whether he should “heal” Alan, thus depriving him of his ability to worship passionately, or allow Alan to keep the passion that Dysart is missing.
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