Why Everything You Believe is Silly


The arbitrary nature of Alan’s value system (and by implication all value systems) which is depicted as a patchwork of ideas picked up from others


Alan’s beliefs run parallel, in their essence, to more conventional types of religion, particularly Christianity. As a result, despite the fact that Alan’s belief system may initially seem bizarre shocking, the similarities to Christianity imply that Shaffer may also be criticizing conventional religions and belief systems. Throughout the play we can also see Alan pick up different arbitrary snippets of the normal world and incorporate these into his own faith, an act that mirrors the way in which we also adopt the beliefs we find in the world around us. Ultimately, the similarities that exist between Alan’s belief system and ours suggests that which system you choose may be little more than a matter of perspective and there is no objectively sensible or correct set of beliefs. Shaffer reinforces this idea throughout the play by presenting a series of different value systems which contrast with one another but each of which seems to be convincing, natural and obvious to its believers, e.g. Franks socialism, the capitalism we see in Alan’s work at the shop, Dysart’s ancient polytheism, the sexual permissiveness of the 1970s represented by Jill. In some ways the play seems to criticise Christianity most strongly, although this may just because it is one of the most dominant and conservative belief systems of the time.







Dysart: “What does he print?”


Alan: “Double your pleasure

Double your fun

With doublemint doublemint

Doublemint gum”

This seemingly random jingle from an ad that Alan reiterates for Dysart when he’s trying to have a conversation with him accomplishes two things: on a basic level, it appears random and illogical and suggesting Alan’s eccentricity. There is perhaps also an aggression here that establishes an initial presentation of Alan as a truculent teenager reluctant to be ‘cured’. However, this line also shows how random snippets of what is representative of our “normal” capitalist, materialistic society, where heavy emphasis is placed on the purchasing of products as a demonstration of success and extension of personality. This is represented by the ad attempting to promote doublemint gum.



Alan: “Who said religion is the opium of the people”

[Alan giggles]

Dysart: “Karl Marx”

Alan: “No”

Dysart: “Then who”

Alan: “None of your beeswax”

“None of your beeswax” is an expression frequently employed by his father to tell people to mind their own business. Not only does Alan give an incorrect answer to the question “Who said religion is the opium of the people” (he seems to think it is his father rather than Karl Marx) it is clear that he has also absorbed the expression ‘beeswax’. As a result of this we get glimpses into the world that Alan has created for himself where he speaks in jingles and accredits famous quotations to people that he knows, an obvious indication of the idea that we build up a world-view based on the influences around us.



Dora: “Actually they thought it must be a god.”

Alan has obviously woven his mother’s stories into his own view of the world. This story is about how cavalry riders in the crusades were initially thought of as gods and, despite the probably apocryphal nature of this story, it is clear that this becomes a central tenet of Alan’s faith in Equus as is seen most clearly when he takes Nugget to the Field of Ha Ha and kneels before him as well as feeds him sugar.



Dora: “We’ve always been a horsey family.”

Again we can see how Alan’s love for horses wasn’t independently developed. It seems to have sprouted from his mother, (who in turn inherited it from her father) and therefore we can see how Alan has been influenced by his mother’s love for the animal.



Frank: They’ve always been thick as thieves. I can’t say I entirely approve- especially when I hear her whispering that Bible to him hour after hour, up there in his room.


In this quotation, Frank tells Dysart about Dora’s influence on their son, Alan. She is clearly heavily involved in teaching Alan of religion. And later in the text we see how Alan incorporates many of his mother’s ideas into his faith in Equus.


Dysart: “But he recovered when he was given the photograph of the horse in its place?”

Dora: “He certainly seemed so. At least, he hung it in exactly the same position, and we had no more of that awful weeping”

The substitution of a picture of a horse for a picture of Jesus in chains by the foot of Alan’s bed seems to imply how the religious fervour that Alan seems to have felt towards Jesus has been redirected to the horse. Although this may seem ridiculous at first, the parallels between how Alan worships Equus, his god, and the way in which Christians pray to Jesus suggests a certain validity to Alan’s belief. Furthermore, it is also meant to show that the objects or the figures in which we invest our religious faith are somewhat arbitrary and, in this light, how can we claim that a figure named Jesus is any less random than a horse-god called Equus.



Alan: “There was sweat on my legs from his neck. The fellow held me tight and let me steer him any way I wanted”

Alan describes this experience as sexy and it becomes clear that this experience has been transformed into something not only sexual but also something that for him is interchangeable with worship. Although it might seem random that Alan has turned it may seem ridiculous to change the experience of riding a horse into something echoing religious ecstasy, there is a plausibility in the fact that this was an obviously significant childhood event and it is feasible that it would have left an indelible mark on Alan’s psyche. Shaffer may also be implying just how intricate and complicated human sexuality is, as sexual satisfaction seems to combined with our lust for exerting power over others. The exploration of this confused and darker side of human nature, along with the exploration of the sexual satisfaction gained from submission, is something that can be seen throughout the play, and this suggests that there are hidden depths to all of our psychologies that we are uncomfortable dealing with and which Shaffer is bringing to light.



Alan: I wish I was a cowboy. They’re free. They just swing up and then it’s miles of grass...I bet all cowboys are orphans! ...I bet they are!

Here we see how watching Westerns on TV have influenced Alan into believing that cowboys are free. The fact that Alan doesn’t really distinguish between the reality and the televisual fantasy created in Saturday afternoon shows further underlines the way in which Alan’s value system is a combination of elements taken without much consideration from the world around him.



No one ever says to cowboys ‘Receive my meaning’! They wouldn’t dare! Or ‘God’ all the time (mimicking his mother.) ‘God sees you Alan. God’s got eyes everywhere-’


We can see that Alan has clearly internalised this teaching from his mother as this is what explains  his blinding of the six horses, because he is ashamed and worried that they witnessed him about to have sex with Jill.



Alan: “And Legwus begat Neckwus. And Neckwus begat Fleckwus the king of spit. And Fleckwus spoke out of his chinkle-chankle”


The way in which Alan’s ‘prayer’ echoes the lists of genealogies that we find in the Old Testament emphasises how Alan’s faith in Equus is heavily influenced by Dora’s Christianity. Not only does this ridicule some elements of Christianity but the childish words in the list also reiterates Alan’s immaturity, forcing us to bear in mind that, after all, in many ways he is still a child.



He took a piece of string out of his pocket.  Made up into a noose.  And put it in his mouth.  And then with his other hand he picked up a coat hanger.  A wooden coat hanger, and - and –


Alan in mime, begins to thrash himself, increasing the strokes in speed and viciousness.


The act of self-flagellation is undertaken in several religions and here we see how Alan has borrowed and been influenced by this practice, and incorporated it into his own religion.



He showed me nothing! He’s a mean bugger! Ride - or fall! That’s Straw Law... He was born in the straw, and this is his law.


The way in which the last sentence is often sung in productions makes it seem hymnal and once again draws a parallel between the Christian faith and Alan’s faith in Equus reinforcing the similarity between the two religions and the way in which Alan’s religion (superficially so different) has a lot in common with more ‘normal’ faiths.



Alan: Give sugar

Dysart: “A lump of sugar?”

[Alan returns to nugget]

Alan: His last supper

The scene clearly echoes the Last Supper in the Bible and the act of taking communion in church. The obvious parallel may increase the shock value of Alan’s actions but it also shows that his beliefs are not random, there is a doctrine and a structure that makes sense … and if a seemingly absurd idea like horse-worship can be given a sensible structure then what’s to say that our religion, other faiths which have a similar structure, are any more rational.


In addition the echo between the name Equus and Jesus and the implied inter-changeability of Nugget and Christ may be meant to suggest how arbitrary certain elements of Christianity are. In some ways Jesus’ last supper could just as easily have featured horses and lumps of sugar.



My foes and His... The Hosts of Hoover.  The Hosts of Philco.  The Hosts of Pifco.  The house of Remington and all its tribe!

Using brand names as his enemies, and in particular the brand names that were shouted at him in scene 15, shows how Alan has also incorporated his own experiences into the construction of his faith. The arbitrariness of these brands may also suggest the pettiness of his hatred, as they are merely arbitrary names.



Feel me on you! I want to be in you! Now! - Bear me away! Make us One Person!

The reference to making us ‘one person’ not only calls to mind certain elements of Christian doctrine but also echoes the childhood stories that Dora’s told Alan about the horses in the crusades being mistaken for centaurs. In addition, however, the sexual nature of this scene perhaps also reflects the way in which Alan’s faith in Equus is built up out of his own desires as well as the various influences to which he has been exposed.



Dysart: “Why?... Why me?... Why-ultimately-me?.. Do you really imagine you can account for me?”

This is Equus’ challenge to Dysart and it implies that Equus is just as worthy of worship as a figure like Jesus. This suggests that Dysart cannot see the justification in killing off this god to make Alan believe in another. Hence the sense of doubt in the question “Do you really imagine you can account for me?”


Alan’s belief system may appear arbitrary but once Dysart has dissected it and realised that it is structured in the same way as any other valid system, he is forced to call into question those other belief systems and our of ideas of normality.



“DYSART: .... A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. ... Suddenly one strikes.”

Here, Shaffer outlines the purely circumstantial ways in which value systems and beliefs are built. All “phenomena” are “equal in their power to enslave” - it is only a question of which ones. Shaffer implies that Alan’s religion, though unorthodox and disturbing, is parallel to ours as all value systems are created in the same way. The personification used in describing how “one strikes” highlights the aggressive, almost predatory way in which we are influenced by outside factors, and the helplessness of those subject to these influences.



Alan: “All around me they were looking. All the men - staring up like they were in church”

The attitude of the men in the cinema while watching the scene from the skinflick suggests that our worship of the flesh and sexuality can easily be elevated to the level of the religious. Thus it is perhaps not so strange that Alan finds a sexual appeal in horses. An idea reinforced by Jill’s admission that young girls also find horses sexy.


This scene also explores the way in which our sexual desires seem to be intimately tied up with attitudes to submission as these men are prostrating themselves before an image of reverence in the same way that a congregation prostrates themselves in church.