Equus: Character Profile ¡V Hester



Character Description:

Hesther Salomon is the judge who, in the opening scenes of Equus by Peter Shaffer, sends seventeen year-old Alan Strang to Dr. Martin Dysart - a psychiatrist growing increasingly dissatisfied with his job. She is initially shown to be compassionate, as seen when she worries about the well being of Alan due to his actions which she acknowledges would be ¡§[shocking] the public]¡¨. Rather than place the blame on Alan, she concludes that his actions are those of a misunderstood boy who simply needs to be ¡¥treated¡¦, and continues to assure Dysart that becoming ¡¥normal¡¦ will help Alan become a proper and happy addition to society.


Throughout the play, the audience can begin to see Hesther as the voice of normality reassuring Dysart on the continuing value of the ¡¥obvious goods¡¦ such as the ¡§normal smile in a child¡¦s eyes¡¨ as she insists that curing Alan will ultimately be for his good. She is unwavering in this respect, and never sways from this position and in this respect her steadfastness contrasts markedly with Dysart¡¦s uncertainty.


There are also numerous hints throughout the play of the affection between Hesther and Dysart, for example in the warm lighting and the way that she ¡§kiss[es] his cheek¡¨. The affection that we sense here becomes even more apparent when we consider that Dysart hasn¡¦t kissed his wife in six years and in this way Hester is used to reinforce the impression of Dysart as one dissatisfied with his own life.



Quotations and Analysis:





¡§No it¡¦s not - and he¡¦s probably abominable. All I know is, he needs you badly. Because there really is nobody within a hundred miles of your desk who can handle him. And perhaps understand what this is about.¡¨

There¡¦s a sense of genuine care in Hesther¡¦s decision to assign Alan to Dysart rather than let him go to jail. Although she acts as a representative of the ¡¥Normal¡¦ in contrast to Dysart, she also seems to be more open to deviations from convention, unlike Dysart¡¦s colleagues. Illustrating Hesther to be confident in her values and yet open to deviants lends a realism and depth to her character, but perhaps also only strengthens her commitment to the value of normality even more because she is open to curing those who are abnormal of their unconventionality.



¡§Please don¡¦t be ridiculous. You¡¦ve done the most superb work with children. You must know that.¡¨

This line accentuates Hesther¡¦s role in the play as a representative of what is viewed as ¡¥normal¡¦ by society as well as her importance as a source of emotional support for Dysart. The phrase ¡§don¡¦t be ridiculous¡¨ creates an impression of her as someone committed to Dysart and comfortable enough with him to dismiss his self doubt as nonsense.


Hesther¡¦s strong belief in ¡¥normality¡¦ allows her to sound all the more convincing when she attempts to reassure Dysart that he has done the ¡§most superb work with children¡¨. However, this certainty perhaps also creates the impression of Hester as someone who (like the rest of us) has taken her commitment to the normal for granted. The presumption that everyone, including Dysart, shares her thoughts that ¡¥being normal¡¦ is obviously good, as suggested, for example, by the phrase: ¡§You must know that.¡¨, suggest that her position is unconsidered and thus that Dysart has perhaps glimpsed a truth that she has been unable to see.



¡§Oh of course. I feel totally fit to be a magistrate all the time.¡¨

An example of Hesther¡¦s banter with Dysart within the play. There is a lack of formality in the character¡¦s words portrayed by the use of ¡§Oh of course.¡¨ and ¡§totally fit¡¨, both of which carry a tone of lightness that accentuates Hesther¡¦s informal, friendly relationship with Dysart.


When Dysart has trouble coming to terms with ¡¥curing¡¦ Alan Strang, Hesther is frequently used to represent the value of this cure through her generally affable and comfortably ¡¥normal¡¦ nature. Her claim that she, too, has doubts about her job leaves us with a lingering question as to whether Dysart¡¦s tortured uncertainty about the value of the work he does is really little more than, as he says, a ¡¥professional menopause¡¦. In this way Hesther plays a vital role in undermining Dysart¡¦s doubts about normality and thus makes a significant contribution to the sense of uncertainty that the audience is left with at the end of the play as, although we are naturally drawn to Dysart¡¦s view that his doubts are justified, Hester raises the prospect that, for all his sincerity, Dysart is having little more than a mid-life crisis and shouldn¡¦t be treated any more seriously than the average 50 year old man who goes out and acquires a Ferrari and a mistress to fend off the spectre of his own aging.


Arguably, her appearances serve as both a base for comparison between what is normal and what is not, as well as a welcome dose of normality after the appearances of the more unnerving, abnormal characters.


¡§Really. I¡¦ve got an Everest of papers to get through before bed.¡¨

Another small sample of a conversation between Hesther and Dysart. As a fully functional ¡¥normal¡¦ member of society, Hesther is dedicated to her work and is referred to by Dysart as someone who ¡§never stops¡¨ - indicating the strength of her character and, subsequently, placing her in a respectable position.


The fact that Hesther is a judge who works diligently and with absolute commitment to her profession places her in a position where she is able to literally and figuratively pass judgment on individuals - thus accentuating her position of power in Equus as a whole.


The informality and intimacy here also further serves to hint at the closeness between these two characters and thus the sympathy we feel for Dysart who appears to be trapped in a love-less relationship. Dysart¡¦s ultimate timidity (evident in his eventual decision to ¡¥cure¡¦ Alan and rob him of the desire to worship Equus) is perhaps further reinforced by his unwillingness to ¡¥jump on to the other track¡¦ and do the unconventional thing of leaving his wife for Hesther.



Hesther: ¡§I¡¦d say so.¡¨

Dysart: ¡§What am I trying to do to him?¡¨

Hesther: ¡§Restore him, surely?¡¨

¡§To what?¡¨

Hesther: ¡§A normal life.¡¨

Dysart: ¡§Normal?¡¨

Hesther: ¡§It still means something.¡¨

Once again we see Hesther asserting the common sense value of a ¡¥normal life¡¦ ¡K the fact that she puts forth a sincere argument in defence of the ¡¥normal¡¦ (an argument that ultimately manages to convince Dysart himself) and the straightforward confidence that she has in the validity of her position is crucial in undermining Dysart¡¦s equally powerful argument in defence of ¡¥galloping¡¦. Shaffer thus, ultimately, leaves uncertain about the value of the normal as both Dysart and Hester appear to have a point.



[rising : smiling ] ¡§I won¡¦t be put on the stand like this, Martin. You¡¦re really disgraceful!... [pause] You know what I mean by a normal smile in a child¡¦s eyes, and one that isn¡¦t - even if I can¡¦t exactly define it. Don¡¦t you?¡¨

Hesther seems to be a representative of the ¡¥Normal¡¦, trying to explain the value of the conventional to Dysart. At the same time she also seems to be genuinely caring and almost maternal, after all she was the one who sent Alan to Dysart rather than jail. She also understands that Dysart could take away Alan¡¦s suffering and seems to make a series of points about the value of being normal that even Dysart, grudgingly, has to assent to.



¡§Then we have a duty to that, surely? Both of us.¡¨

Despite Hesther¡¦s friendly and largely informal relationship with Dysart it is clear that she holds significant influence over the psychiatrist as she regularly reminds him of the duty to which he is bound. This influence comes not only from her relationship with Dysart but also from the fact that she makes a series of points that Dysart, despite all of his admiration for the worship of ¡¥local gods¡¦, finds it hard to deny.



¡§Worship isn¡¦t destructive, Martin. I know that¡¨

Hesther draws from personal experience in order to convince Dysart of the morality of his profession. She assures him that she ¡§know[s]¡¨ ¡§worship isn¡¦t destructive¡¨ - though it is unclear as to what personal experience, if any, led to this conclusion ¡K although we are left with the impression that she doesn¡¦t fully understand the depth of feeling that Alan is capable of when he gallops with Equus.


Regardless of this, the fact that Hesther draws from personal experience in this way shows how close she is with Dysart as strives to make him feel better about his actions.


The subject of ¡¥worship¡¦ connects to the overarching theme of the importance of belief structures in the play. Hesther is shown to be an unwavering believer in the concept of normality that society has laid out, and also seems to dedicate herself wholly to her profession. Hesther¡¦s commitment to her belief structure and her apparent obliviousness to its arbitrary nature shows that she also is, perhaps, not as different to other characters than she may at first seem.


¡§I mean he¡¦s in pain, Martin. He¡¦s been in pain for most of his life. That much, at least, you know.¡¨

Unlike Dysart, Hesther never wavers in her belief that it is their duty to cure Alan ¡K and indeed all of the misfits and outcasts that come before her in her position as a judge. She points out to Dysart what seems most obvious, that he is erasing the pain in Alan¡¦s life. Yet, perhaps it is the obvious nature of her words that make Dysart¡¦s doubts even more relevant- for where did these seemingly obvious values we take for granted even come from? And why do we abide by them? What if more harm comes from them than good? How should this good be defined?



¡§Then that¡¦s enough. That simply has to be enough for you, surely?¡¨

Hesther¡¦s use of the words ¡§enough¡¨; ¡§simply¡¨, and ¡§surely¡¨ indicate the strength of her conviction, as they create an impression of finality and certainty. By using these words to convince Dysart of the morality in his work, Hesther is characterized as a somewhat forceful character who, in the process of attempting to convince others of the righteousness of her own opinions, may come to be seen as not so different from characters like Dora and Frank Strang, who also sought to sway Alan in the direction of their individual belief systems. In this way Hesther, despite her calm words and reasonable, balanced attitude, may also demonstrate how we are all committed to our own belief system and how, once we believe, even the most rational and insightful of us can fail to see the limited nature of our value system.



Dysart: ¡§And let me tell you something: I envy [Alan¡¦s passion].

Hesther: ¡§You can¡¦t.¡¨

Dysart: [vehemently] ¡§...I¡¦m jealous, Hesther. Jealous of Alan Strang.¡¨

Hesther: ¡§That¡¦s absurd.¡¨

Hesther¡¦s short sentences in this exchange reveal her clear stance on their conversation. She is placed in contrast with Dysart to emphasize his internal turmoil as he questions the value of normality and thus his work. Her clear commitment to the jobs that both she and Dysart do fulfill at least two functions: firstly, to show how committed we all are to our own belief systems and, secondly, to call into question Dysart¡¦s admiration of Alan and thus leave the audience uncertain at the end of the play whether or not it is better to be normal or to have galloped!




Hesther¡¦s Role in the Play:

Hesther acts as a pillar of normality supporting and reinforcing the justness of Dysart¡¦s treatment of Alan Strang. She is a representative of the values of society and the voice that helps Dysart understand how his actions are ¡§beneficial¡¨ in that, by curing Alan, he is helping the latter become a more acceptable and thus happier member of society. In this way Hesther fulfils at least two important thematic functions: firstly, she is used to show how strongly we all believe in our own belief systems and, secondly, she is used to call into question Dysart¡¦s admiration of Alan thus leaving the audience uncertain at the end of the play whether or not Dysart should have cured Alan ¡V which in turn raises the fundamental question of the play: is it better to be a passionate freak or a safely neutered ¡¥normal¡¦ person.


In addition to offering moral support, Hesther is also used to reinforce the impression that Dysart is dissatisfied with his life and, in particular, his loveless marriage. Dysart openly shows affection to Hesther, exchanges witty banter with her and the fact that she makes consistent appearances on stage in comparison to Dysart¡¦s wife (who is only ever referred to) suggests a closeness and intimacy between the two that Dysart does not have at home. Ultimately, the fact that Dysart does the conventional thing and remains loyal to his wife despite the attraction he feels to Hesther acts as another indication of how Dysart does not have the ¡¥horse power¡¦ to really change the direction in which his life is going.