Motif Tracking: Equus - Violence



The motif of violence in Equus is used to demonstrate character development. Firstly, violence is used to suggest Dysart・s increasing awareness of the destructive nature of his profession, as he begins to doubt whether it has any social benefit whatsoever. Secondly, it allows the audience to better examine the relationship Alan has with Equus, as he has conflated notions of worship and sexual gratification by switching between both dominant and subordinate roles, and inflicting pain upon himself. 


Additionally, violence is used to further explore several themes of the play. The value of normality is called into question as Alan・s sado-masochistic worship of Equus results in an intense pleasure and sense of fulfilment, despite its inherently harmful and abnormal nature. Additionally, this allows for greater insight into the darkness of the human psyche, as only through these violent acts does Alan・s worship become as meaningful as it is.



Quotations & Analysis:





:Then with a surgical skill that amazes even me, I fit in the knife and slice elegantly down to the navel, just like a seamstress following a pattern. I part the flaps, sever the inner tubes, yank them out and throw them hot and steaming on to the floor;

The destructive nature of Dysart・s profession is emphasized by the brutal violence with which the removal of body parts is carried out, and idea that is made especially clear in the works :yank; and :throw;. This violence clashes with what is normally perceived of as surgery, highlighting the destructive nature of the act. In addition the way in which Dysart carries out the surgery (by cutting down to the navel) is very reminiscent of an autopsy after someone has died. This suggestion of death may be symbolic of the death of individuality seeing as by providing .treatment・ to his patients Dysart normalizes them and robs them of their uniqueness.



:It・s exactly like being accused. Violently accused. But what of? ... Treating him is going to be unsettling.;

Alan・s stare catalyzes (or at least accelearates) Dysart・s descent into disillusionment with his profession, as he comes to interpret it as Alan accusing him (and indeed everyone on the receiving end of the stare) of lacking the same kind of passionate devotion in their lives as Alan does when he worships Equus. This sparks an internal conflict in Dysart, as he recognizes that while Alan is deeply troubled, Equus has allowed him to lead a life of unparalleled passion, and .curing・ him would result in the removal of this worship.



:He pulls Alan from the horseman・s shoulders. The boy shrieks, and falls to the ground;


The violence of this quotation demonstrates the relationship Alan has with his father, Frank, whereby Frank is rather insensitive towards Alan. This is seen in the rest of the passage where Frank is more determined to stop the horseman then protect his son. Violence thus shows the budding tensions in the parent child relationship.



:;He took a piece of string out of his pocket. Made up into a noose. And put it into his mouth. (Alan bridles himself with invisible string, and pulls it back) And then with his other hand he picked up a coat hanger. A wooden coat hanger, and- and-: :Began to beat himself?; (Alan in mime, begins to thrash himself, increasing the strokes in speed and viciousness);


In this scene Alan whips himself demonstrating the extremity of his devotion to Equus while at the same time reminding us of the religious practice of self-flagellation. This may suggest that Alan feels he must punish himself for his sins (perhaps like the flagellants previously did) or that he is attempting to come closer to his god by imitating the way that horses are treated by humans.


The obvious sadomasochistic overtones of this scene are also used to explore the ideas of domination and sexuality that appear to have become an integral with Alan・s worship of Equus. This idea in turn raises questions about the degree to which we can see evidence of these drives (the sex drive and the drive to dominate or submit) in more mainstream religions


Finally the brute violence of the act suggests the violence with which belief structures clash in this play and the correspondingly destructive effects these clashes can have.



Alan: Ah!

Dysart: What is it?

Alan: Hurts!

Dysart: Hurts?

Alan: Knives in his skin! Little knives - all inside my legs.

These lines reinforce the masochistic nature of Alan・s acts of devotion Equus. The monosyllabic responses create a bluntness and pace that emphases the pain that he must feel, at the same time it also sounds somewhat exciting and exhilarating, mirroring Alan・s own feelings at this moment. This is further reinforced by the improper grammar in the final line, which creates the sense that Alan is completely dedicated to the moment and the dialogue represents his stream of consciousness.



:Don・t you dare give me that stare young man ! [She slaps his face]

Here we are shown a different side of Dora・s character. Previously she has been characterized as nurturing, indulgent and very motherly towards Alan however here we understand the difficulty that Dora has with Alan・s behaviour and her wish to dissociate herself from him. This may suggest the vehemence with which someone who is normal seeks to distance themselves from the abnormal. However, the violence of her assertion that she and Frank are not to blame for Alan・s blinding of the horses is ironic as it underscores the fact that, actually, completely unintentionally and more or less without fault, Frank and Dora and the series of unpredictable actions and coincidences that have made up their lives together have been totally and completely responsible for shaping Alan into the person that he has become.



Dysart: And you will fail! Forever and ever you will fail! You will see ME - and you will FAIL! [The boy turns round, hugging himself in pain..]

Although there is no physical violence in this line, the violent and ruthless tone in Dysart・s line (speaking for Equus) results in actual physical pain for Alan. This indicates the depth to which Equus has affected Alan, and just how harrowing this revelation is for him. As Alan relives his most traumatic experience, the violence with which Dysart speaks as Equus allows the audience to see exactly how Alan felt at that moment and the extent of his pain and worship. It is violence like this that ultimately leaves us uncertain about whether or not Dysart is right in his decision to .fix・ Alan at the end of the play. Yes, clearly Alan is capable of great passion V he gallops and we never do V but that comes at a cost: Equus is .a jealous god・ who demands total commitment, a commitment that comes at the expense of every other human relationship Alan has ever formed K and we see this in its most extreme form in his relationship with Jill.



[He stabs out Nugget・s eyes. The horse stamps in agony . . . Alan yelling in hysteria as he collapses on the ground - stabbing at his own eyes with the invisible pick.]

Alan: KILL ME!

One of the most violent moments in the play, Alan blinds both the horses and attempts to blind himself. The intensity of the moment is heightened by the portrayal of equally severe emotional and physical pain. Throughout this section of the play, the horses are making stamping noises and surrounding Alan, attempting to trample him. Thus, violence is shown from both the horses and from Alan, which would create a horrifying dramatic climax to the play which again makes clear the downsides of dramatic devotion.




Key Moment:

A key moment in which the motif of violence is shown is when Alan blinds the horses towards the end of Act Two. It is one of the most intense moments of the play, as it is ultimately the reason that Alan has ended up in Dysart・s care. Firstly, this moment demonstrates the irrevocable link between worship and pain, as Alan・s worship of Equus is what has resulted in this incredibly violent scene. Additionally, the extremity of these actions is demonstrative of how passionately and deeply Alan worships Equus, as the physical pain and violence that he inflicts on the horses mirrors his own pain when he believes that Equus has seen him with Jill and mocks him for it. Finally, the violence here allows Shaffer to reveal the darker side of Alan・s intense devotion V yes, he has created a vibrant, intense, individualistic belief system K but it is all consuming and effectively undermines his ability to engage in any other form of devotion or intimacy. Ultimately this leaves us with the question of whether or not it is better to believe passionately but strangely or to conform and leave a comfortable but uninspiring life.