There are several themes that have been developed in the play Equus, most importantly the theme of religion and worship. Peter Shaffer doesn’t stop to develop this theme from the beginning to the end of the play. Moreover, he makes use of different devices to build the theme beginning from symbols, imagery as well as metaphors and similes. The play mostly focuses on a seventeen-year-old boy who is religiously obsessed with horses.
The first device that Shaffer makes use of to develop the theme of religion and worship is the use of metaphors and similes. These are phrases or words that have been used to exhibit comparison. Dysart’s dream about sacrificing children is a metaphor for his uncertainty about his religion. During his practice, he feels that he is sacrificing the children’s passion more than he is helping them. He is envious of Alan’s passion for religion and thinks that he might be driving him from his passion more in an attempt to save him. Another metaphor used is the phrase “horse and rider shall become one beast.” (Shaffer). The phrase has been used to illustrate the connection that exists between a person and their God as well as their religion. Alan experiences this when he rides the nugget. He removes his clothes and the chains on the nugget such that they become one. The deep connection is established further when he experiences sexual ecstasy during the ride. The connection appears as they become one as expressed in the phrase. Moreover the phrase”He lives one hour every three weeks- howling in the mist.” It is also a metaphor. In an actual sense, Alan is always alive but the only time that he feels truly alive is when he rides on the nugget. During this time, he is truly free and alive. To him, only the worship makes him free and alive. Dysart uses this metaphor to illustrate that only worship makes Alan feel alive. The last metaphor used to advance worship is “White eyes- never closed! Eyes like a flame.” (Shaffer). Moments before Alan takes the horse’s eyes; he compares the eyes of Equus to burning flames. They are capable of consuming jus like fire, and they are very powerful. He could not escape from them at any moment. Alan believes that Equus could see through him and he had to take the eyes away to escape from his god.
The second device that Shaffer uses to develop this theme is the use of symbols and motifs. It is the use of an object or image to represent some abstract idea. To begin with, Equus is a symbol of Jesus to Alan. When is hypnotized, Alan, says that Equus wears chains just like Jesus wore chains for the human kind? The second symbol is the picture of the white horse hanging in Alan’s room. It was used to replace the picture of Jesus who is a religious God. To Alan, the picture represents a religious figure. He even chants before it just as one would do before a god. The eyes have been used as motifs in the play. Alan is seen to spend most of the time staring into the horse’s eyes. He uses the eyes to make a connection with Equus. In the end, it becomes too much, and he decides to take the eyes out to stop Equus from seeing him. The chains are also used as for indicating a lack of religious freedom. Every night, he unchains the nugget and rides it setting it free and thereby enabling him to worship. Just as Jesus was chained for the sins of human, the nugget had been chained by the sins of human beings. The stable is a symbol of the place of worship for Alan, just like a church or any other place of worship in religious practices. It is a holy place that where his god Equus dwelled and he could not contaminate by sleeping inside it with Jill.
Furthermore, Shaffer also uses imagery as a device to develop the theme of religion. These are deep words that are used to describe something creating a mental image. To begin with, Dysart’s description of his dream is full of imagery. During his sacrifice, he says ”I fit in the knife and slice elegantly down the navel.” (Shaffer). The scene is a religious sacrifice to the gods, and the words create a vivid image to the audience. Moreover, Alan also describes the horses to Dysart using imagery. He says” The way their necks twist, and sweat shines in the folds” (Shaffer). These words create an image to Dysart for the admiration that Alan has toward the horses. The words also illustrate the passion that Alan carries for his religion. Dysart also uses imagery when describing Greece. He says” I am in some Doric temple- cloud tearing through pillars- eagles bearing prophecies out of the sky.” (Shaffer). He uses these words to illustrate the admiration that he bears for religion. He wishes he could find someone who would share this experience with him. Since his wife could not share this experience with him, it causes dissatisfaction in his relationship. These words create a picture of the Greece’s place of worship.
In conclusion, these devices have been used to further develop the theme of worship and religion. Metaphors have used to compare different things activities to religious activities. Symbols have also been used to represent religious beings, for instance, the picture of a horse to God. Lastly, images have been used to paint deep connection that people bear with religion. These devices that also been used to show the impacts of religion on people’s lives.
Shaffer, Peter. Equus, New York, Scribner, 2005.