Character Tracking - Dysart


Character Description:

Dysart is portrayed as an expert psychiatrist who does not feel satisfied with both the work he does, and his life at home because of marital issues. As a result he turns to his coworker, Hesther, for company. Dysart・s struggles with his role as .chief priest・ of the god of .The Normal・ are best suggested by his reoccurring dream about slicing open hundreds of children in order to offer them as a sacrifice to Zeus. Through the course of the dream Dysart・s conviction begins to waver and he ultimately wonders whether .this repetitive and smelly work is doing any social good at all.・ (25). Initially Dysart is able to counter Alan・s attempts at avoiding questions but as the play goes on, he becomes more and more confused and we sense a growing disillusionment with, and uncertainty about, his work as a psychiatrist.



Quotations & Analysis:


:Madam Chairman! Welcome to the torture chamber!;

This line introduces Dysart・s darkly sarcastic side and continues to establish him as a world-weary expert. The humour here implies an intimacy in the relationship between him and Hesther but the darkness also hints at his jaded disillusionment and although he jokes, the impression created is that Dysart is actually acknowledging a half admitted truth while using humour (like the mask in his dream) to hide the fact that he has lost faith in something else that everyone believes in.



:No - just a fifteen-year-old thrashed into catatonia by her father. Normal, really...You・re in state.;

This quotation quickly helps to reinforce the impression that we get of Dysart as jaded and disillusioned as it suggests that he has come to regard what would normally be quite shocking to the general populace as normal, indeed it has even become the subject of dark humor.



Benett and Thoroughgood. They・ll be as shocked as the public.;

Hester・s assertion that only Dysart will be able to really understand Alan・s story and help him suggests that Dysart Is different to most other people and either suggests that Dysart is more open minded than others or that his definition of normal clashes with the rest of the public, and indeed that of two other psychiatrists. In this way Dysart, like Alan, is marked out as being different from regular society similar to Alan, and this perhaps foreshadows Dysart・s willingness to discuss the value of norms normally held as sacrosanct and the connection between the characters that we see develop later.



:What did I expect of him? Very little, I promise you.;

We see that Dysart is initially unimpressed upon hearing about Alan・s case. He seems to think of Alan as just another patient that he will have to :adjust and this in part suggests Dysart・s professional confidence that he will be easily able to cure Alan. However, when coupled with the following lines about .One more dented little face.  One more adolescent freak.・ it also reveals his blasé attitude to his patients and his disenchantment with his profession. Dysart appears dull and hollow here, as in he has become inured to he suffering of others and sees no real value in the .adjustments・ he performs. The fact that he initially believes that Alan・s case will be unremarkable contrasts with the profound effect that Alan subsequently has on him and the significant and profound questions that Alan・s treatment raise.


One interesting implication of the fact that this play is told in retrospect from Dysart・s point of view is that we can never be sure how significant Alan really is. Dysart claims that he is not having a .professional menopause・ K but perhaps he is, and in this case his presentation of Alan would reveal far more about the doctor than it does of the patient.



you know, I was wrong. I really do think that one・s better.;

This line shows Dysart toying with Alan and is used to establish Dysart・s expertise as it appears that Alan has not previously encountered an adult who has not been fazed by his singing of jingles. Dysart・s ability to neutralize Alan in this way establishes him as the dominant partner in the relationship and perhaps explains why Alan subsequently opens up more to Dysart than he has to anyone else previously.



:By the way, which parent is it who won・t allow you to watch television? Mother or Father? Or is it both? K. Nurse!;

This flourish of expertise shows how good Dysart is at his job, and how insightful he can be. This establishes him as the dominant partner in his relationship with Alan as he understands him in a way that no one else does and this impression is reinforced when he sends Alan off when he wishes by calling the nurse thereby cutting off any further comments from Alan.



:Then, with surgical skill that amazes even me, I fit in the knife and slice elegantlyK;

This line from Dysart・s dream, which sees him slicing open hundreds of children as a sacrifice, is obviously representative of Dysart・s profession as a psychiatrist where he metaphorically dissects the minds of troubled children. However, in the dream this dissection has lost its connotations of medical treatment (dissection is obviously a medical term) and has taken on the appearance of a sacrifice. This difference is significant as .treatment・ is obviously intended to benefit the patient while sacrifice is only intended to appease a god.


A further interesting aspect of this quotation is the sense of distance with which Dysart talks about himself. Although this could be interpreted as a natural part of a dream, this distance seems to suggest Dysart・s horrified fascination with himself, almost as if he cannot believe how proficient he has become at such a potentially destructive job.



:The only thing is, unknown to them, I・ve started to feel distinctly nauseous...Of course, I redouble my efforts to look professional.;

This extract from Dysart・s dream about .carving up children・, which is recalled in an aside to the audience, continues to hint at his disillusionment with psychiatry and the value of .the normal・. Dysart・s efforts to keep his failing conviction from showing by hiding behind the mask suggest that he fears becoming disconnected from what everyone else views as normal and in this way we can see a close parallel with Alan who, despite being devoted to his god Equus, also appears to want to be cured at points. In this way we can see that the two characters trace paths that head in opposite directions as we progress through the play: Alan starts of as strange, eventually to become normalised



:What sort of thing did you tell him? I・m sorry if this is embarrassing;

The concern here and professionalism suggests Dysart・s sincerity and sensitivity



:[controlling himself];

Dysart・s reaction to Alan・s question regarding his wife is telling, as it indicates something of his troubled married life. This quotation stands out because Dysart has previously dealt with Alan・s provocations, such as the advertisement by responding calmly, e.g.  :Please do that one again.; (p. 23). This suggests that his wife is something of a .raw nerve・ for Dysart or, as he puts it in his own words, his area of maximum vulnerability.



:[to audience]: It was then - that moment - I felt real alarm. Why was it? The shadow of a giant head across my desk?;

This was in response to Dora・s revelation that Frank had replaced the poster of Christ with a poster of a horse staring straight on at Alan. The fact that Dysart feels alarm because of Alan, and openly with the audience, suggests an equality between the patient and the doctor fact which in turn implies that the :exacting; and :antiseptic; way in which Dysart carries out his profession has now been compromised. This :alarm; that Dysart feels is comparable to that which Alan feels in the presence of Equus, who always watches, and acts as a sort of source of restraint, doubt and fear for Alan. In this quotation, Shaffer indirectly compares Alan to Equus, a :shadow of a giant head across [Dysart・s] desk.; The image of a shadow evokes a sense of something half-there, half-not, like a haunting nagging presence.  Perhaps this image of a shadow of a giant head, this indirect metaphor that depicts Alan as somewhat like Equus for Dysart, conveys the idea that there are aspects of Alan that, like Equus, incite feelings of fear, of being watched, self-doubt, accusation and inferiority.



:... One instinctive, absolutely unbrisk person I could take to Greece, and stand in front of certain shrines and sacred streams and say, .Look! Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods! ... I・d say to them, :Worship as many as you can see - and more will appear!;

In this quotation, Dysart speaks to Hesther about his jealousy of Alan, who at least manages to live for :lone hour every three weeks;. He speaks about the importance of worship, be it of gods or of regular inanimate objects like trees or slate roofs and as such this quotation indirectly characterizes Dysart as extremely self-aware, introspective and as a man who has extreme insight into the human spirit, not just the mind. As a psychiatrist he has access to the :black cave of Psyche; and has a relatively scientific and objective view of the mind. Nonetheless Dysart・s insight (although keen) is not psychiatric or scientific - it is spiritual and humanistic. He is essentially assenting to the fact that the human experience is only :comprehensible; or significant through worship, and the submitting of oneself to a higher ideal (not necessarily a God but sometimes something as mundane as :the living Geniuses of Place and Person!;) is what is required in order to give life meaning. The ecstasy that Dysart (and most of us) feels nowhere else is obviously present here in the abundant punctuation and tone of enrapt wonderment.


Moreover, in the quotation :Worship as many as you can see - and more will appear!; Shaffer empowers the human beings who worship rather than the idol being worshipped by implying that Gods are arbitrary and manmade and that this is what makes worship such a beautiful, humanistic aspect of life. In this way Shaffer explores the complex dynamic between worshipper and worshipped, between power and submission and reveals how worship need not involve slavish obedience to a higher being but can be celebratory. These contradictions perhaps echo the naming of Equus the :Godslave;, an obvious conflation of those in power and those not which suggests the way in which the worshipper can be both the creator and the acolyte.



:The Normal is the good smile in a child・s eyes - all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills- like a God. It is the Ordinary made beautiful; it is also the Average made lethal. The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his Priest. ... My compassion is honest.;

This quotation once again exemplifies how extremely self-aware Dysart is, especially of the inherently paradoxical way in which he is acting compassionately by helping to normalize people while at the same time robbing them of that which makes them unique. Here Shaffer explores the paradoxical nature of Normality by exploring contradictory aspects of psychiatry which :both sustains and kills like a God;, it・s :lethal;, and it is :murderous; yet :indispensable; - and Dysart is the executor of this paradox. There is a beautiful simplicity and honesty in his claim that his :compassion is honest; which contrasts markedly with the figurative and elaborate language in the lines quoted which makes his compassion seem almost secondary or marginal, even though it is his main motivator. Thus Shaffer outlines the main internal conflict that plagues Dysart throughout the play - having to choose between admiring the purity of Alan・s passion and  individuality or reintegrating him into a society where he will be accepted but only at the cost of sharing the .dead stare・ that can also be found in the eyes of a million adults.



:[ALAN leads NUGGET out the square. DYSART rises. The horse walks away up the tunnel and disappears. The boy comes downstage and sits on the bench DYSART has vacated. DYSART crosses downstage and moves slowly up round the circle, until he reaches the central entrance to the square.];

This is the second stage direction at the opening of Act 2. The first describes :DYSART [as he] sits on the downstage bench where he began in Act One.; (75) At the beginning of Act 2, Dysart also begins with the same line of dialogue as he did at the beginning of the play - :With one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces.; However, in this instance, :The boy comes downstage and sits on the bench Dysart has vacated;, displacing Dysart in his almost symbolic seat of authority, as Dysart crosses downstage and stands where Alan has just left. This very visual, extremely explicit show of an exchanging of position between Dysart and Alan marks the point in the play where Shaffer has shifted the focus of the :dissecting theatre; somewhat from Alan to Dysart. In this monologue, he once again breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience as he nears the peak of his internal conflict: :These questions, these Whys are fundamental - yet they have no place in a consulting room. So then, do I?;



:Alan - look. Everything I say has a trick or catch. Everything I do is a trick or catch. That・s all I know to do. But they work - and you know that. Trust me. [pause];

In this quotation, Dysart introduces Alan to the supposed :truth drug;. This is the third attempt on Dysart・s part to evoke sharing from Alan, the first being the use of the tape recorder in the middle of Act 1 and the successful attempt at hypnotism at its end. This quotation sums up Dysart・s and Alan・s relationship at this point as Dysart speaks plainly and honestly showing not only his self-awareness both of himself as a psychiatrist (:that・s all I know to do;) and the profession of psychiatry itself (:everything is a trick or catch;), but also explicitly acknowledging that Alan is completely aware of this and wishes to play along. The final, simply put sentence of :Trust me; further emphasizes the frankness and openness of this moment, as does the pause when Alan considers this implied offer of Normality.




Dysart・s Role in the Play:

Dysart・s most obvious role in the play is to act as a chorus-like figure and lead us through the plot while providing the audience with a deeper insight into the characters on stage, the issues being raised and, as a result, the psyche of the audience themselves. The doctor is used by Shaffer to explore the fact that it seems that a passionate and individually fulfilling life can only be lived at the cost of being branded socially abnormal. This contradiction is perhaps best embodied in the dilemma that Dysart faces when he questions whether :adjusting; the children who are brought to him is really worth the loss of the faith and passion that will need to be sacrificed in order to make their rehabilitation possible.


Additionally, Dysart・s .psychic dissection・ of his patient is used to reveal how Alan came to develop his own series of unconventional and unorthodox views and this becomes a tool that in turn enables Shaffer to explore how .normal・ and conventional beliefs are formed. Although Dysart and Alan come from two different worlds with Dysart being a successful, respected psychiatrist and Alan being a .modern citizen for which a society does not exist;, the juxtaposition between the two enables audiences to realize the arbitrariness and triviality of how all beliefs, orthodox or not, are formed.


Finally, Dysart is also used to explore the importance of passion in life and it is clear that his enchantment with Ancient Greece parallels, in a subdued from, Alan・s passionate devotion to Equus. Dysart・s reflections on the value of passion are in turn meant to make the audience think about their own society and the importance / absence of passion in their own lives. Thus his journey of exploration and self-discovery in Equus serves as the main vehicle through which audiences are encouraged to undergo a similar journey.