martes, 26 de abril de 2011

Sex in Equus

In 2007, one of the greatest playwrights of our time, Peter Shaffer’s most well-known play, Equus, first produced in 1973, was staged in London. It created a craze at the time with young girls around the world rushing to London to see Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliff) naked on stage.

In this 2007 reproduction, Radcliff played the role of Alan, a seventeen-year-old boy who is sent to a psychiatrist because he blinded six horses. Under the psychiatric care of Martin Dysart, Alan slowly reveals his religious obsession with horses which he worships in an attempt to placate his own confused feelings such as his inability to perform sexually with his girlfriend. Alan’s failed sexual encounter with his girlfriend in the stable leads to his attack on the horses, blinding them as he believes they condemn him for his sexual activity.

In this play, Alan’s secret worship ritual of his god resembles sexual intercourse, he chanted as he rides the horse naked in a field in the middle of the night, “Feel me on you! On you! On you! On you! / I want to be in you! / I want to BE you forever and ever! – / Equus, I love you! / Now! – / Bear me away! / Make us One Person! […] AMEN”. During his ritual of worship he encounters a sense of liberation as he is not seen by people. It is a moment that belongs only to him and his god, which represents true intimacy and is the ultimate expression of love.

Alan needs worship at the same time he thirsts for life, a life that is his own. Sexuality in this play represents passion, and it is this passion in life which Alan gained in his worship that differentiates Alan from his psychiatrist Dysart, who is ensnared by society. Dysart realizes the barrenness of his life, but it is only when faced with a passionate worshipper, Alan, that he understands what he is lacking.

Jenny Oliveros Lao - MBA, MA in Literature. Lecturer, School of Management, Leadership and Government, USJ.

Issues of Sexuality

Open displays or discussion of sexuality in modern drama swiftly escalated as the twentieth century progressed, beginning with a virtual silence about such matters to a point where talk about sex has become relatively commonplace and full frontal nudity hardly even shocking. In 1947, the “rape” of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is only inferred, as it takes place offstage, but by 1975 we watch Alan Strang, in Equus , simulate an orgasm while naked onstage, and by the 1980s, playwrights were relatively free to openly discuss homosexuality. Some plays use sex as a means of titillation or to shock their audiences; others explore issues of sexuality with greater sensitivity, striving to expand our understanding and tolerance of both heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The period of burgeoning sexuality that comes with the onset of puberty often seems the most problematic, at times even traumatic. Moral expectations and an entrenched social prudery that has long made us squeamish in matters of sexuality make this a time of suppression as well as discovery. How young people learn to express (or repress) their sexuality and how they view that of others often stays with them into adulthood. Seventeen-year-old Alan Strang, the teenage protagonist of Peter Shaffer’s Equus , presents an extreme case of adolescent sexuality gone awry through the skewered instruction he has received from his parents and his own desire for companionship and spiritual fulfillment. The psychiatrist brought in to examine Alan, after he has mutilated six horses, is both horrified and attracted to the strange sexual religion Alan creates for himself. Shaffer’s play suggests an underlying relationship between sex and religion; both, when most satisfying, have roots in the spiritual and both can have unpleasant consequences, often leading to violence, when restricted.

The events of Equus are related largely through a series of flashbacks by psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who has been trying to discover why a formerly quiet teen gouged out the eyes of a group of horses. Dysart relates his findings, that Alan, in response to his father’s anger and his mother’s religious teachings, formed a personal religion that helped him to deal with his growing sexual feelings, but that unwittingly led to this dreadful crime. It becomes clear that Dysart envies Alan’s passion, even though it manifested itself so destructively, and feels disillusioned with the restrictive world of normalcy he inhabits by contrast.

Despite its combative setting inside a boxing ring, the opening images of a boy tenderly fondling the sculpted head of a horse, which appears to reciprocate his affection, seem at odds with the knowledge we are soon given that this same boy has recently stabbed out the eyes of six horses with a steel spike. The boxing ring setting warns us of the violence to come, but it is more the psychic torment of the boy than the physical pain of the blinded horses that undergirds the drama. This is a crime so heinous that most doctors view him as unworthy of help and want him locked up in jail. Dysart, however, finds himself emotionally drawn to the power of the passion that must have caused such behavior.

Dora Strang, Alan’s mother, has devoted years to reading the Bible to her son and instilling in him the belief that sex must be “spiritual” or it is sinful and that God is always watching with eyes that are everywhere. Central to her belief is the idea of Christ, and the painful death he underwent, a scene of which she has placed on her son’s bedroom wall. We will find that she is partly to blame for her son’s unorthodox sexual development, but the authoritarian treatment by Frank Strang, Alan’s father, is also responsible.

Fiercely controlling, Frank forbids Alan to watch television and mocks his wife’s religious beliefs to the point where he rips down her picture of Christ and, what will later become highly significant, replaces it with a picture of a horse.

Frank blames Alan’s religious upbringing for his crimes and accepts no personal responsibility.
But Alan is largely led by his father’s mockery of Christianity, and a home life of constant tension from which he needs an escape, to create a religion of his own.

Having had Christ’s picture on his wall exchanged for that of a horse, it is unsurprising that the god of the twelve-year-old Alan’s new religion takes the form of a horse. He calls it Equus, and just as his picture of Christ had been in chains, Equus must always wear a chain in his mouth for the “sins of the world.” The riding stable where he works becomes a Temple, from which he takes horses late at night to ride naked and bareback until he reaches an orgasm, which makes him feel as if he is united with his god. Thus he merges sex and religion, and unites both spiritual and sexual longing in a fashion that satisfies his growing need for release, exacerbated by his unhappy home life with constantly bickering parents. Under hypnosis, Alan reenacts his bizarre ritual for Dysart, who feels stimulated by the resulting scene of freedom, unfettered by what he sees as stifling social restraints.

The blinding of the horses grows out of Alan’s increased desire, as he grows older, to experience sex with a girl, and the accompanying guilt that God must be watching his attempt to commit such a sin. Jill Mason, another stable employee, persuades Alan to take her to a sex movie. To the embarrassment of both father and son, Frank attends the same show, which prompts Alan’s association of guilt with sex. Following this, Jill tries to seduce Alan at the stable, but his fear of being watched by God (who in his religion appears as a horse) leads him to impotence. Angry at both her and the possibility that having seen his sinful behavior his God may now abandon him, he threatens Jill with a steel spike and, when she flees, turns on the watching horses in a state of panic and stops them from looking any longer.

Having uncovered Alan’s secret, Dysart knows he can work with the boy and make him “normal,” but there is a part of Dysart that does not want to do this. Alan’s fervor and passion, although dangerous, are at least less predictable, more original and alive than the normalcy Dysart sees as restricting himself and others. Dysart’s childless marriage is mutually convenient but without passion, and he sees Alan’s ability to experience such ferocious passion as enviable.

In archetypal terms, what Shaffer shows us is the difference between the Apollonian and Dionysian approaches to life. Dysart is the embodiment of the Apollonian, with his rational mind and controlled emotions, but balanced against this is the irrational, wild passion exhibited by Alan in his moment of orgiastic freedom riding across the open field. Shaffer asks us to question which is ultimately the more fulfilling.

Pablo Madeo, Rodrigo Laje, Lucas Plesky

Growing and identity


Equus is a shocking play, in the proper sense of the word. It sets out to shock. When Martin Dysart asks Hesther Salomon what Alan Strang has done to need psychiatric treatment and makes a bad joke about dosing ¨some little girl’s Pepsi with Spanish Fly¨, Hesther’s reply. ¨He blinded six horses with a metal spike´ is so unexpected and so disgusting that even audiences hardened to the conventional horrors of war stories and thrillers are likely to feel some sort of jolt. This shock is precisely calculated and the play continues to produce shocks and surprises all the way thought.

Growing and identity

The play begins with the introduction of the young boy who blinded these horses he was familiar with .
The plot's painful journey into the tortured mind of Alan Strang and the equally conflict-filled mind of child psychiatrist Martin Dysart creates an evening of introspection.Alan grows up with a secret from his overly conservative religious mom and his atheistic dad, that he is in love with a horse.
He had been fascinated by horses since he rode a white horse with a marvelous horseman. After that, horses seemed omniscient and almighty beings to him. Alan's love for horses developed into a religious fervor as if they were all-powerful gods. He felt love and trust, fascination and ecstasy only with horses, so he thinks that to betray a horse is the most fearful sin in the world.
He meets a girl named Jill by chance, and gets to work at a stable on her recommendation, and they become sweethearts.
Buy when he goes to an adult movie with her, he meets his father, a symbol of absolute authority. He is shocked. Jill tempts him into a stable with her, and he is terrified after he has sex with her, because he thinks that horses were glaring at him with their bloodshot eyes.
Horses are no longer god-like beings, but beings which restrain his instincts. He stabs out the eyes of all the horses in the stable, to express his rebellion against god, father, mother and all authorities who see and judge everything he does.

Why does Alan have a problem forging his identity?

After this traumatic event, Alan seems not to recognize his own identity. He suffers from his oppressive parents and turns all his madness into his obssesion for horses. The consequence of this is the mental disorder which takes him into de psychiatric hospital.
As Alan has always benn dependant form his parents, he never got the chance to mature. So when he has sex with Jill, this is very new to him. In consequence he shocks. And due to his confusión he thinks the horses would get angry with him. The boy could not find with himself nor his identity.

Juan Manuel Arce & Joaquin Henault

Insanity in Equus

Insanity in Equus

One of the main themes of the play Equus is insanity. It all starts when Dr. Martin Dysart, after being convinced to do so, decides to talk to Alan Strang, in order to know why he blinded six horses in one night. The problem is that he can’t, because the only thing that Alan does is sing. Why does he do this? Is he insane? What’s the reason for this insanity?

The insanity of Alan started when he was very young. His parents were in part the cause of this insanity. His father because he held him back in so many ways and never let him watch television or even have one in the house. His mother because she brought so much religious influence down on him at an early age, he could never really distinguish between a healthy worship and a destructive one. This statement suggests that Dora’s excessive bible teachings have been poured down Alan’s throat since he was young. Dora’s husband believes that because of the intense ways that Alan was subjected to
bible stories the way he acts is all the bibles as well as Dora’s fault. Dora does not care if Alan goes to school; she is not bothered by the fact that Alan does not know how to write his name, how he is not familiar with mathematics or science and how he has no friends. All that Dora cares about is how her son responds to her stories of God and of the bible.

Alan is left confined, within, his parents, his own mind, and the doctors and nurses that are treating him. Because his father essentially rejects Alan, his mother becomes the dominant figure for him to look up to and seek guidance from in his life. In fact, his lack of a relationship with his father strengthens the Oedipal tie between Alan and his mother, and gives her more power over him. Alan visits his field of "Ha Ha" as a means of feeling both a transcendental or spiritual and a sexual form of oneness with Equus, which is in turn with God, and in turn with his mother. Just as Prince is faithful only to his master, Alan feels he must be faithful to Equus, which is why his having sex with Jill would have been an act of such unmitigated heresy for him. For Alan, doing so would have been a betrayal of Equus, God, and his mother. In actuality, this act represents Alan’s growing up and his becoming independent and autonomous. Mrs. Strang obviously does not want Alan to grow up, whether she admits it or not. When Alan sensed Equus watching him with Jill, it was a symbol of the constant maternal authority looming over him. By blinding the horses, Alan was inherently trying to free himself from the grip of his mother. He was fighting for his own development, independence, and his right to grow up.

Memories and Reminiscence

¨Alan reveals to Dysart that he had first encountered a horse at age six, on the beach. A rider approached him, and took him up on the horse. Alan was visibly excited, but his parents found him and his father pulled him violently off the horse. The horse rider scoffed at the father and rode off¨.
This is when we first realize that Alan was mentally disturbed and that this event had had a strong impact on his life.
Dysart treats Alan by getting him to recall his childhood memories and those of the parents because he is convinced that Alan´s problems have their roots in his family.

Agustina Miranda and Manuela Cagide

Religion in Equus

Religion is one of the most important aspects in Peter Shaffer’s „Equus“. The family relations are mainly influenced and disturbed by very different points of view concerning religion and divinity.
Alan’s mother is very religious and reads out of the bible every night to him. She can even quote the passage of Job to Dysart.
On the other hand is Alan’s dad, who hates religion. “Religion is the opium of the people” (p.28): this is his main attitude to religion.

Short Summary

Alan’s behaviour can be seen as a religious one in many ways. Flooded with Bible stories by his mother he seems to be pious. The boy had a picture of the “Lord in chains” hanging in his bedroom which he prayed to. He insisted on buying it with his pocket money and put it at a place where he could always see it. His father, who didn’t appreciate his boy “always mooning over religious pictures” (p.34) took down the picture of Jesus and exchanged it for the picture of a horse looking over a gate. Alan cried for days (though he’s normally not a crier, his mother adds) but then hung the new picture in exactly the same position. Alan now starts praying to this horse picture, for example talking about the horse’s genealogy (in a way which is normally known from the Bible) in the middle of the night. “Behold – I give you Equus, my only begotten son” (p.51) are some of his words while he starts beating himself with a wooden coat hanger. He imitates the horse’s bridle while putting a string in his mouth.

Alan’s Religion

Another point of view or: The panic-making side of Alan's God.
Another point of Alan's strange religious attitude appears in Scene 34: Now "Equus" as Alan calls his God is not anymore a peaceful God which is a kind of adventure-game for Alan but a new God: He is terrifying Alan. This is most evident when Dysart is listening to Alan at the beginning of the scene. Alan is scared as Equus is accusing him for his crime. And later we get to know that Alan's panic is not just the idea of a mad young boy but also very realistic: Horses come and try to kill Alan. The amazing thing about this is that Alan defends himself just at the beginning, when only three horses ruled by Nugget have arrived. But when the other three horses, described as "dreadful creatures out of a nightmare" join the group, he suddenly stops any kind of defense. It looks as if he'd enjoy the punishment by the horses. But maybe this is a sign for a different kind of religious attitude: The real God Equus is not the domestic horse but the original horse. This would explain that Alan stops defending himself when the three wild horses arrive. As another possibility this scene could show that Alan has hierarchical type of gods. The domestic horses are the lower class of gods which are more a kind of demigods like the Greek heroes in former times. The real gods are the wild creatures. So from Alan's perspective we could say that the defense against the lower-class-gods is legal and possible. But against the wild horses as the "real" gods - or, another solution, the incarnation of "Equus" - any kind of defense is not just impossible but also unjustifiable. This may open a connection between the religious and the psychical aspect of the drama: Maybe this scene opens a new point of view on Alan: Although his parents, especially his dad, are kind of strict he needs a strict God too.

Mrs Dalton's religion

Mrs Dora Strang is a very interesting person. As Alan’s mum she has a big influence on him and therefore her problems can get to be Alan’s, too.
Peter Shaffer designs very clearly the attitude of Mrs Strang concerning religion. She is very religious and every evening she reads passages out of the bible to Alan, although her husband Mr Strang doesn’t want this.
Dora is even able to quote them from memory, for example the story of Job. But she is also easily disturbed by difficult questions which touch religious aspects, like in the talk with Dysart at home.
In an extreme situation her only solution is a religious one: She blames the devil for Alan’s crime, which is very typical of the powerlessness of religious people to question their own mistakes.
Religion is maybe the only fixed point in her life, which gives her self-confidence. She flees maybe from reality into religion.

Mr Dalton's "religion"

Further Aspects
Connections between Christianity and Alan's religion
An interesting aspect is the similarity between Christianity and Alan’s religion.
1. First of all it starts with the fact that both pictures – one picture of Jesus and one of a horse – hang or hung above Alan’s bed in the same position.
2. Both are glorified by Alan and they are the Center of his life (p.31)
3. The play is often set in the stables which are in the Christian religion the hallowed place of tradition.
4. Alan even uses the extracts of a passage of Job for his religion: he names the field in front of the stable “the place of Ha!-Ha!” (p.70)
5. He links also “Equus, the begotten son” (p.51) to Jesus, who was in chains as well as horses all over the world are today. Mention, that both are in chains (or in the “Chinkle-chankle” (p.69)) for the “sins of the world” (p.66).
These are only a few examples for the connections between Christianity and Alan’s religion, but I think the most important in the drama. It is clear that Peter Shaffer intended these parallels. Alan’s religion is like an imitation of the Christianity, but reduced to a very few important aspects.
This way Peter Shaffer criticizes the absolute dogma of religion, which often destroys the life of people in the name of solution. People fixate themselves on illusions or on facts that are not provable and often get angry. They are often not very sophisticated and search for confirmation and religion offers this confirmation (“They’re admiring us!” p.73).
All these facts combine in Alan: 1) he only hears stories from the bible, 2) hears of glorified horses (p.31), 3) sees great horses and imagines himself he can talk to them, 4) is the only child in the family (expectations of his mum, expectations of his dad), 5) he is therefore often the reason for family conflicts. Alan flees into his own little world of horses and the religion around the horses, where he can handle things like he wants.

Melanie Mata Genovesi and Camila Perez

Equus - Family

To what extent is Alan´s family responsible for his worship of horses?

Alan sees his father as a personification of prohibition: He interrupts Alan´s first experience with horses, he forbids him from watching TV, he does not let him bring his girlfriend home, he pulls off the poster of Jesus from Alan´s bedroom without previous warning and worst of all, Frank takes him out of the porn – cinema. That´s when Alan realizes that his father is not such a hard worker, that he spends his free time watching pornographic films instead of going home while his wife is waiting for him. In addition, he´s resentful towards his dad because he´s obliged to work at the shop.

His mother works with her religious influence over Alan with disastrous effects, always reminding him that “God sees you, Alan. God´s got eyes everywhere.” This statement is the trigger for Alan´s worship of horses, as Frank says in the following passage: “…it´s the Bible that´s responsible for all this […] A boy spends night after night having this stuff read into him: an innocent man tortured to death…”.

Alan Strang lives in two very different worlds: On the one hand, he lives his parents´ world, the one which is influenced by religion (due to his mum) and prohibition (due to his dad), in which all his desires are repressed. Nobody has ever treated him like a normal person, except from Jill, the girl he meets at the shop. That is the first person who really takes him seriously, and that shows Alan´s relationship with his family.
On the other hand, he lives a world of satisfaction and joy when he´s with horses, free to feel and express himself as he wants. It is such the devotion he has for horses, that he blinds them after having sex with Jill.

To conclude, we could say that Alan´s family is highly responsible for his worship of horses, repressing his thoughts and beliefs through a strange mixture of religion and social mandates.

Nicolás Tarocco and Santiago Sartori Prósperi

Equus - Staging

The most important thing about the horses in Equus is that they are only representative. They are a creature of Alan's imagination. In Shaffer's notes he takes particular care to say that the horses in Equus should in no way be real. He says that anything that can suggest the familiarity of a real animal, or worse still, a pantomime horse, should be thoroughly avoided. This is because they are merely representing the horses in Alan's flashbacks.
The entire set is a conflict of ideas and Dysart is almost against Alan in the boxing ring. It represents reason versus passion; medicine versus worship; and modern versus ancient. The whole set can mirror that of an Ancient Greek theatre. In the Greek times there was a circular "orchestra" in the middle of the theatre, in front of the stage. In this area the altar would stand, which is what the Greeks would worship to, and the actors would act. Equus is essentially about worship, and so it is appropriate that the set was put on a circle.
The benches also show that every actor is involved in Strang's and Dysart's spiritual journey. They can also represent the many eyes of Equus, making Alan realise that he is never out of his god's sight. The actors in a Greek theatrical performance would also always be in view just like the benches seen in Equus. Incidentally the Greek word for theatre; "theatron" literally translates to "seeing-place" which his what Alan is so afraid of- being seen by Equus.

Florencia and Rosario.