Compare and contrast the role of Alfieri and Dysart in ‘A View from the Bridge’ and ‘Equus’.


In A View from the Bridge (View), Arthur Miller uses narrator Alfieri and his marginal, metaphorical “View from the Bridge” as a vehicle through which themes and conflicts of the play, such as the necessary forgoing of passion in place of safety and order, can clearly be conveyed to the audience. Similarly, Shaffer uses the narrator of Equus, a psychiatrist named Dysart, to frame and expose the primary issue of the play - the arbitrariness in the establishment of societal norms and standards. However, while Alfieri remains uninvolved and is given little active power to affect conflicts and events in View, Shaffer constantly uses Dysart as a foil for the extreme Alan Strang in order to evoke self-reflection in audiences regarding their own conventional values.


In View, Miller uses a retrospective, third-person omniscient perspective to expose the events of the play in Alfieri’s narration, thereby framing the audience’s perspective and the scope of the play’s thematic exploration within that of Alfieri’s portrayed values. In the opening of the play, Miller uses Alfieri’s monologue and the breaking of the proscenium to establish an immediate relationship between the audience and him as he foreshadows coming events by rather explicitly outlining the conflicting values systems at work. In his monologue, Alfieri clearly differentiates between the passion and rawness of “Sicily”, “the green scent of the sea,” and “Caesar’s year” with his safe, trivial and “petty troubles of the poor” in New York. His preference for “settling for half” and “[liking] it better” which is subverted somewhat by the description of his practice as “entirely unromantic”, as well as the idea of people being “justly shot by unjust men”, outlines the problematic contradictions inherent in the coexisting value systems of Red Hook. Thus, Miller effectively frames the thematic scope of the play in this opening monologue through Alfieri’s portrayed values, which he uses as a vehicle through which the major conflict between passion and safety is explicitly conveyed to the audience.


Similarly, in the opening of Equus, Shaffer uses Dysart’s monologue as a means of portraying themes of the play, namely the possible meaninglessness of modern psychiatry and the fundamentally subjective nature of convention and normality. Like Alfieri, Dysart breaks the proscenium and addresses the audience, immediately forging a more intimate relationship with the audience. Stating that his constant questioning of the workings of the psyche is of no use to an “overworked psychiatrist”, and are “in fact, subversive”, foreshadows Dysart’s struggles with the meaning of his profession, and the idea of being “reined up in old language and old assumptions”, an “average head ... held at the wrong angle” emphasizes the purely circumstantial way through which conventions are established. Moreover, the fact that Miller opens the play with Dysart narrating Alan’s parallel action as he “embraces” Nugget places the audience’s perspective within Dysart’s retrospective, which implies that the narrative takes place within Dysart’s mind, allowing audiences to immediately relate to the character who will frame the thematic scope of the play. However, Dysart’s opening monologue is considerably more confusing and disorienting than Alfieri’s, as his speech is less structured; it is ambiguous in tone as he questions “what is grief to a horse?”, and jumps from subject to subject, interwoven with Alan’s stroking the horse downstage and then exiting. Dysart’s confusing but simultaneously introspective narration which very much reflects his thinking process serves as the foundation for a rather cerebral and psychological approach to the exposition of the plays main themes. It is this psychological involvement and unconventionally ambiguous, enigmatic tone that Miller gives Dysart that incites immediate audience investment in Equus.


Conversely, in View, though Alfieri evidently holds strong, thematically significant opinions on the major events that unfold as exemplified in his opening monologue, he is portrayed to be relatively more detached from the narrative and is ultimately left powerless as he “watched [the murder] run its bloody course”. Miller uses Alfieri’s largely marginal perspective and position to emphasize the inevitability of Eddie Carbone’s fate. Through applying Greek tragic conventions and creating Alfieri’s role as a pseudo-chorus, Miller is better able to prove the feasibility of tragedy occurring in the common man. The explicitness portrayed in Alfieri’s opening monologue as well as the fact that it is revealed by him that Eddie Carbone “was” and is no longer, is reminiscent of the prologues of Greek tragedy, in which fatalities would be revealed so that the rest of the play would be plagued with a sense of inevitability and tragedy. Furthermore, the fact that Alfieri is able to slip in and out of the narrative space of View, interacting at once with Eddie Carbone in his office and then turning again towards the proscenium to address the audience further echoes the similarly marginal presence of Greek choruses, enriching the subtle implication that Eddie, though a mere longshoreman, is capable of living out classic notions of tragedy.


Moreover, the relative stasis of Alfieri’s positioning onstage, fixed by the set piece of his desk and legal office setting to the side of the stage, emphasizes the detachment and marginalization of the legal world in the “gullet of New York” - but more importantly it visually realizes the uncompromisable nature of the line between the two conflicting worlds, and thus the inevitability of both Eddie’s crime and Alfieri’s helplessness. This is best exemplified in the moment when Eddie walks away furious after another futile attempt to summon the legal help of Alfieri. He walks towards the glowing blue phone booth that lights his inevitable path, though Alfieri is able only to yell after and warn him. As Alfieri crosses the stage, the “light [abruptly] goes out on Alfieri” before he is able to interfere. Thus, through the use of set to indirectly characterize Alfieri as fixed in a helpless, marginalized position, Miller conveys the irreconcilable nature of the codified legal system and the unspoken code of honour in Red Hook.


In contrast, while Miller uses Alfieri as a Greek chorus, somewhat of a thematic and narrative guide, Shaffer uses Dysart more of a mirror for the intended audience’s mentality and values. Dysart is portrayed to possess conventional and established societal values and is characterized to be an authority in determining such things through his profession as a psychiatrist. Thus, while the rest of the play is portrayed in a highly unconventional, disorienting and at many points distressing manner, Shaffer uses Dysart as the one constant character and standard of comparison audiences identify with throughout the constantly shifting notions of normality and acceptability. In his monologues that punctuate the narrative at key plot points, Dysart outlines in his speech the same intended struggles and thought processes that are evoked in audiences, such as what psychiatry is “fundamentally” doing - fixing and mending, or “carving individuality” from patients.


Thus, while the character of Alfieri sheds insight into the themes and conflicts at hand using his marginal, more objective “View from the Bridge”, Shaffer involves narrator Dysart in the plot, and gives him active power to affect the narrative to such an extent that he is able to invite audiences to partake in the same visceral and psychological self-reflection as is portrayed throughout the play in Dysart. The use of the non-representational but at the same time symbolic set that resembles a “dissecting theatre” places all interaction under the scrutiny of the audience, regardless of Dysart’s stereotypically marginal role of the narrator. For example, in the opening of Act 2, after Alan had fully revealed his ritual with Equus, Shaffer opens Act 2 in almost the same way he had opened the play - with Dysart on the downstage bench, Alan and Nugget center stage, and Dysart saying, “with one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces.”. However, instead of Dysart remaining static in his bench and therefore in an authoritative position as he speaks, he exchanges positions with Alan, who crosses downstage to sit on the bench as Dysart assumes center stage. This explicit show of the exchanging of staging onstage symbolizes the parallel nature of their identities and value systems. Dysart acts as a foil for Alan, both of them each coming from their respective worlds of “extremity” and “normality”. Through staging, Shaffer places Dysart and therefore the conventional values of his time under the scrutiny of the “dissecting theatre”, thereby evoking a similar introspection in audiences as displayed by Dysart.


In conclusion, both Miller and Shaffer use their narrators’ relatively marginal presences as a means through which major themes and conflicts can be realized by the audience. However, Alfieri assumes a more detached role like that of a Greek chorus, in order convey the possibility of tragedy in Eddie Carbone, a common man, as well as the fundamentally irreconcilable relationship between codified law and unspoken codes of honour in the setting of Red Hook. Conversely, in Shaffer’s play, Dysart assumes a more involved role in the narrative, thereby allowing full audience investment in the issues presented in the play, such as the meaning of normality and the arbitrary nature of the establishment of social norms.



Knowledge & Understanding

There is an excellent knowledge of the two plays here with some really interesting ideas discussed and explored. The only possible area for improvement is that it should be borne in mind that the role of a character does not always have to relate back to the themes of the plays and it is also perfectly valid to talk about how Alfieri, for example, is also used to create moments of tension that are engaging and dramatic.


Response to the Question

There is a clear series of comparisons throughout the essay and some nice and subtle differences are picked out between the two texts. However, in order to score more highly here the candidate needs to offer some evaluations of which play is more powerful, effective, dramatic or moving ... etc.


Literary Conventions

There are great references to the text and there are moments when the candidate does a good job of talking about the play as a play, for example in the comments about the position of Alfieri’s desk on stage. This just needs to be done a little more often.


Organisation & Development

Organisationally this is very clear with ideas developed in depth and detail and a clear sense of progression to the argument.



The language is great at points but some sentences can be a little long and hard to follow. There are also some phrases like ‘frame the thematic scope of the play’ that, although they sound very nice, would be better off being replaced by something that is a little more precise.




21/22 = 6/7