Dysart’s situation compared to Alan reverses throughout the play. He begins as a laid back character but as he meets Alan, who is full of worship and passion, his situation becomes desperate. Dysart’s problem in the play is that he does not know what positive effect psychiatry is doing to his patients. The conflicted argument with Hesther over “the normal” makes Dysart not treat Alan but eventually he is forced to do so. Dysart wants a free life with passion and a sociable wife whom he can take to Greece where he can then worship and savour his life. Dysart sees something in Alan he has never seen before. He looks up to Alan constantly admitting his jealousy of the young adolescent.
Shaffer’s play is one that questions drama containing traditional values. The pre 1967 drama in theatres lacked excitement and thrill whereas post 1967 theatrical drama challenged the usual tedious socialistic society. It completely reshaped the way theatre was portrayed. The abolition of Lord Chamberlain’s series of laws came as a relief to playwrights as previously unknown and colloquial language was used. Shaffer incorporates this into his play along with sexual, open language as: “fucking swiz.” Alan is also shown “with one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces.” Shaffer also shows the clash in sexuality and religion when Alan and his father meet in a pornographic movie: Alan being with his girlfriend. This so called “New Wave” theatre smashed through known barriers and freely challenged political and social views. Shaffer’s use of revolutionary iconoclastic movement prevents his basic conventions of society from being upheld.
Theatre sets were also changing simultaneous to plays. They became more realistic offering more dynamism. They also changed the context of plays through new presentation and setting styles. The new spacious stages with sets offering walking circles for the actors (such as Dysart uses on stage to walk around) also provide better views for audiences: raising tension and drama with new lights and sounds. Shaffer uses psychology, religion and bonding throughout his play and questions whether psychiatry treats, or is “normal.”
Martin Dysart is a genius at his working job. His profession of psychiatry is famous for its cases and many special cases have been admitted to Dysart by the law. One of whom is Alan Strang brought to Dysart by Hesther. Dysart’s interests are ignited immediately by Alan. Dysart was not affected by what Alan had done and showed interest in Alan professionally. Many psychiatrists would be appalled by a lad such as Alan but Dysart accepted him into his family of work.
Dysart is a professional man and has been an expert in his work for several years. He shows us this throughout the play, not controlling Alan but letting Alan control him: “now your turn.” Alan sets out to confuse Dysart and sings irritating television jingles to try and intimidate the psychiatrist. It was just as Alan thought he had won the moral battle that Dysart’s quick and clever thinking caught up: “By the way, which parent is it who won’t allow you to watch television?” Alan is left baffled over how Dysart figured him out.
Dysart, however, is in crisis; he is not satisfied with the work he does and feels he has not fulfilled his potential. He manages to illustrate his boredom, expressions and lack of pleasure through his dreams and nightmares. In scene 5 he has a nightmare expressive of his working capabilities: I slice elegantly down to the navel, just like a seamstress following a pattern. I part the flaps, saver the inner tubes, yank them out and throw them hot and steaming on the floor.” The nightmare clearly symbolises the work he is doing through psychiatry as “tops as chief priest.” Dysart feels “nauseous and becomes more negative with one more “victim.” “Then of course-the damn mask begins to slip” and Dysart feels he is losing his touch. He has no concept of why he carries out psychiatry.
Dysart is now going through “professional menopause” and as Act 2 commences, he finds himself contained within another dilemma. When he shines his “dim torch” into the “black cave of the Psyche” he is confronted by Equus, there to torment him: “Do you really imagine you can account for Me? Totally, infallibly, inevitably account for Me? Poor Doctor Dysart!” Dysart is breaking and is struggling to support his mental effects. He now realises that Equus or any other worshipped is the unique personality and individuality of each human being. Dysart shows that he is professionally thrown by this case.
Dysart is plagued with radical doubt and feels dubious about the value of his work and how it improves his patients’ lifestyle. His envy of Alan has brought his angst into his work and when Dysart finds out Alan has been in a similar situation to him, his jealousy grows swiftly. Dysart also relates to the “normal” and asks himself what it is. He is worried of depriving people of what they have and want. Is it what they are which is normal or is it the majority which is normal? Particularly with Alan, Dysart feels he is sending him off into the world cured but without any passion and sense of worship as he had before. Dysart reflects this through his use of words and language. His extended metaphors of nightmares show him in Alan’s situation feeling the worship of Equus. This is why Dysart illustrates why passion “can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.” Dysart is determined not to disfigure Alan’s life remaining calm and professional.
In the end, Dysart becomes emotionally frayed as he shouts at Hesther: “Alright! I’ll take it away! He’ll be delivered from madness.” Dysart is defending what he wants most from Alan: passion. Dysart aims for spirituality and hopes that through his work with Alan he may achieve this.
Dysart is portrayed as a nihilistic and existential character from a film noir. Dysart is seen with his cigar, puffing away as he thinks about the crime. The play can be imagined with moonlight in the back and a typical detective working in stages to progress to his conclusion. He works progressively to help Alan break his fears. The depression Dysart suffers from, also forces him to defend Alan from psychiatry treatment fearing it would make Alan into what Dysart currently is: “My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband. My achievement, however, is more likely to make him a ghost.” Dysart tries as hard as possible to prove his work as pointless.
Dysart’s desperate and depressed state saddens him together with his “brisk” wedding and “brisk” disappointment. Dysart plucks up the courage to describe his wife meaningfully, calling her “the familiar domestic monster. Margaret Dysart; the Shrink’s Shrink. It has all evaporated his transcendence, worship and passion making Dysart an unstable and emotional man. Dysart wants to live in Greece with “one instinctive, absolutely unbrisk person” but feels his wife does not fulfil this. In Greece, “life is only comprehensible by a thousand local Gods” where he can relax and gain spiritual freedom. Dysart does not blame his wife though; he constantly attacks himself in an envious and sorrow state. It is he with the “lowest sperm count” and he who is “some pagan.” He is also the “finicky, critical husband” in a “pallid and provincial state.” Shaffer uses these words carefully to describe Dysart. The hard letters show Dysart’s hard and edgy side whereas the alliteration shows us the boring and tense side of Dysart. This is why Dysart feels he needs to inject some enthusiasm into his life but is prevented by his wife’s antiseptic proficiency.
Dysart tries to relieve himself through sport. He seems to be interested in Scottish games: “The highland Games, now there’s a norrmal sport.” Their house is also dull and dreary with a “salmon-pink, glazed brick fireplace.”
Dysart’s language varies form time to time. His views upon society, passion and normality bring strong and vivid language. It flows and is poetic compared to the times when he talks about himself. This is when he uses spiritless, tedious ‘psychiatric’ language. It is usually his monologues that bring the rhythmic and poetic language.
The shift between Dysart’s colloquial and elite register changes simultaneously with his subject. When talking about Alan and the sense of worship and passion he possesses, Dysart uses poetic and figurative language, describing Alan after a night ride as: “like a frozen tango dancer, inhaling its cold sweet breath.” This is excellent language giving him the much needed passion and inspiration into his life.
Dysart’s use of colloquial language appears when he talks to the audience or when he is in a dialogue. The use of words such as “gee gees” for horses comes to Dysart as an instinct. Dysart also likes to use physical and abstract visionary movement. He uses this with deification and paradoxical language. When mentioning Alan “sucking the sweat off his God’s hairy cheek,” Dysart includes references to infantile and sexual movement through sucking which gives a juxtaposed image. Dysart also includes a striking image of God shocking the audience on stage. Alliteration is also used by Dysart to raise the drama and suspense on the stage. The sentence also comes in contrast with Dysart’s stereotypical cultural life including the mediated experiences of holidays and photos. Dysart tells the audience next of how Alan “lives one hour in three weeks-howling in a mist.” He image this gives is one of pain and mystery. There is a lycanthropic sense: a werewolf painfully howling in the moonlight of a black and white film noir.
Dysart commonly uses paradoxical language throughout the play. On describing the patient he is waiting for, Dysart is diffident and bored out of his wits. He waits for “the usual unusual” patient. Although it seems absurd, we can see how unique Alan is and so the truth can be seen. Dysart then builds a list of what Alan has and has not got. The short repetitive sentences beginning “no or “not” are effective for dramatic, rhetorical and intense use on stage.
Again, Dysart uses paradox to describe Alan. He describes him as “a modern citizen for whom society doesn’t exist.” Dysart is showing his feelings about the conflicted process of treatment he is carrying out on Alan. It can be seen that Dysart has an intimate relationship with Alan forming passion and worship for the boy. It could be even seen as if Dysart wants the boy to be his. He wants the boy to be free of his conflicted parents and may want to keep him to gain transcendence.
Alan’s problems mostly revolve around his parents. His father sees himself as a new, rational and socialistic man. According to Dysart, he is “relentlessly self-improving” and possesses no religious feelings. Alan retaliates to his father’s rule of banning television by refusing to read any books. Alan’s mother though, is gentle and religious. Mr Strang calls the situation in his house as awful: “Bloody religion-it’s our only real problem in this house.”
Shaffer also builds in alliteration and onomatopoeia throughout the play. Dysart uses these to intensify and dramatise the play on stage. Words such as “finicky” and “critical” give assonance of the letter ‘I’ and alliteration of ‘c’. These sounds reinforce the brittleness and desiccation of the situation. Dysart also uses forceful lines on stage. The words “pallid” and “provincial” alliterate and give emphasis on Dysart’s life situation.
Dysart also includes the aspect of sarcasm and irony in his dialogues. “I’m the pagan. Some pagan.” Dysart also thinks that he should be the one getting treated as the abnormal and strange person. He thinks he “should go off to hospital to treat him for insanity.” He also responds sarcastically when telling Alan “when Equus leaves -if he leaves at all-it will be with your intestines in his teeth.” This sentence is metaphoric of Alan losing his visceral responses because of the loss of Equus. It shows Alan after psychiatry with “parts of individuality” cut from him.
Dysart’s language frequently comes up with Dystopian, surreal images of the modern world laughing at the ancient side: “Oh the primitive world.” Dysart compares the modern and traditional ways of life: “He’ll trot on his metal pony tamely through the concrete evening.” Dysart refers to a scooter through metal pony later commenting “I’ll send him puttering off into the normal world” sarcastically. Dysart also refers to more man made substances like metal, plastic and cathode ray. He even replaces the scooter with a car. These modern phenomena and synthetic materials relate to Alan’s future and how he would live in it; hiding from the every day aspects of passion and worship post treatment. This capitalist thinking from Dysart reflects on himself as being God. It seems to be he who is in control. There is also modern versus ancient in the stage directions: “Their metal hooves stamp on the wood.” This gives a hard effect to the setting of the scene.
The moment Alan met Dysart; it was obvious to Dysart that he was not “one more dented little face. One more adolescent freak. The usual unusual.” Dysart finds a certain affinity towards Alan due to the similarities the two have between them. It is as if Alan is the person Dysart can only dream to be. Alan has passion, excitement, worship and sexual instincts. Dysart is extremely envious of this aspect that Alan possesses. Both men also have the same type of monotonous job. They are both unfulfilled and have a repetitive job. Alan in his father’s electrical shop is tired of “Remington, Pifco, Philco and Volex.” To Alan, these are not just brand names used inside his shop but represent the stark contrast in domestic, modern energy and classical raw energy. It is similar to Dysart’s contrasts of the traditional and synthetic more modern world. Alan also shows the hosts of Bowler and Jodhpur as restrictions of “equitation.” Dysart’s profound envy of this primitive and passionate worship found within Alan reflects the play’s tragic conflict.
In his dreams, Dysart also sees himself in Alan’s shoes; committing the same crimes he did in an inseparable bond with Alan: “stand in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads!” This analogy with Alan shows how important he is to Dysart.
Dysart also conveys a sense of respect toward Alan. He is prepared to listen to Alan singing television jingles as long as he can reason a way with Alan telling him what has happened. Dysart is confident that Alan can be helped and by using hypnosis and a few lies, he forces Alan into an abreaction.
Dysart feels in some ways that it should be Alan who is helping him and not vice versa. Dysart’s affinity is plainly due to his dreams of unfulfilling work and love. He wants to learn of Alan and maybe even save Alan by keeping him for himself. The lack of interrelations in sex and religion Dysart has pushes him closer to Alan, wanting to keep the passion, worship and love Alan has with him. Maybe Dysart wants Alan to be his son for all the misfortune he has had in his miserable life.
As Shaffer says himself, “Tragedy does not lie in a conflict of Right and Wrong, but in a collision between two kinds of Right: in this case between Dysart’s professional obligation to treat a terrified boy who has committed a dreadful crime, and Alan’s passionate capacity for worship.” This is why Dysart does what he does and the relationship between Dysart and Alan is close. To Dysart, Alan could well be his missing link: his son.
It is not only pride that Dysart takes from his patient. He is personally envious and wants to be Alan. He knows that Alan “has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life” and he is totally envious of it: “I envy it.” – “I’m jealous Hesther. Jealous of Alan Strang.”
Alan has created a fantasy world of euphoric attachment towards Equus with all the different images of horses he acquires: the poster and the beach ride on the horse. Alan also feels he can directly communicate with Equus as he hears Equus say “I see you.” “I will save you.” Alan even feels he is threatened by Equus and is taunted by him: “Mine! You’re mine!” “I see you. I see you. Always! Everywhere! Forever!” Dysart is astounded by this intense worship Alan has and due to the lack of it in his own life, Dysart doesn’t want to take it away from Alan: ‘Can you think of anything worse one can do to anybody than take away their worship?’
At the end of the play the two characters roles are reversed with Alan in a calm relaxed mood and Dysart in angst and self doubt: “And now for me it never stops: that voice of Equus out of the cave -Why Me? … Why Me? … Account for Me! … All right-I surrender! I say it … In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place-yet I do ultimate things. Essentially I cannot know what I do-yet I do essential things.”
Language is not the only way that Shaffer fills the play with drama. His use of lighting, sound and movement bring dynamic character into the play. Intense tension and suspense is brought upon Alan’s outcome and as the play mindset changes, so do the preceding series of lights and sounds such as “humming from the chorus.”
The way the play flicks between past and present constantly requires the attention of the audience and as Dysart moves about talking to the audience and characters, the movement around the stage brings drama and tension. This can be seen in particular in the last scene where Dysart is seen moving “swiftly” and signifies Dysart’s state of emergency towards Alan who is now undergoing severe pain. The general setting of the stage with characters moving with props can set a foreboding and ominous scene.
The lights coordinate with Dysart’s feelings. They become dimmer when he is emotional and brighten up on talking to the audience. The lights are also fixed on Dysart and Alan when they act out their performances on stage.
In the first Act tension is built up as there is sudden movement and a light appears.This creates suspense and drama for the audience. Dysart is smoking and has a laid back approach: “The flame of a cigarrette lighter jumps in the dark.” This gives a dramatic impact as well as a mysterious setting. The sudden light stands out in the audience. This is typical of a film noir and justifies Dysart’s role as an investigator piecing together the crime scene on stage. There are also a lot of pauses throughout the play before any important speech. These pauses increase the tension and suspense.
To thoroughly make his point, Dysart uses a lot of monologues and recalls of metaphors. They bring repetitive lines and constantly take the audience back to previous, important scenes such as the nightmare.
The stage is also important to the play due to numerous occassions when Dysart comes forth and “storms” at the audience: “he steps out of the square and walks round the upstage end of it, storming at the audience.” This line is metaphoric of Dysart stepping out of his job and leaves to confront his troubles. The passionate and fierce way in which Dysart talks to the audience brings depth and meaning to the play; letting the audience enjoy and join in.
The blackout at the end of the play brings back memories of the dark moments in the play when Dysart meets Equus. It brings relief to the audience fior Dysart and for Alan being cured. It is a signal for a new fresh start for both characters.
The problem for Dysart is that there is no explanation for Equus. Being a psychiatrist Dysart wants to find out more and understand the concept of Alan’s worship but it is ineffable. Dysart also feels people should be more open in their worship: “Look! Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods.” The choice he has to make in the play for Alan becomes Dyart’s tragic conflict. Should he treat Alan into the usual unusual, normal boy: or should he let Alan keep his passion, worship and feelings to make him that unique individual Dysart dreams to be. Dysart cannot stand his job anymore and feels he has ruined enough patients’ lives. This is why he leaves his job into a modern, synthetic world.