The significance of communication

Equus is about communication in many ways: Dysart’s method of treating Alan involves probing dialogue and so the language involved is very important. At the same time, the limitations of language are highlighted by two things:

  • The fact that Alan’s most forceful utterance, ‘Ek!’, is not even a word
  • The necessity - and dramatic power – of re-enacting key scenes so that we can fully grasp their significance.

Set in contemporary Britain, the play uses modern, easily comprehensible language. However, some specialised semantic fields are employed.

Styles of language


In the scenes between Dysart and Hesther, the language of psychiatry comes to the fore, with terms such as:

  • ‘schizophrenic’
  • ‘catatonia’
  • ‘advanced neurotics’
  • ‘displacement’
  • ‘abreact’. 

Often they are used with humour, as if defensively - Dysart’s way of coping with the rigours of his work.

These linguistic references are part of Dysart’s diagnosis and treatment of Alan. However, usually when he is talking to Alan directly he uses simple terms to describe what he is doing, so that Alan will understand.


Alan’s language includes a lot of references to brands of goods, mostly from the electrical shop where he used to work. Whilst these would be recognisable to a 1970s audience (‘Pifco’, ‘Remington’, ‘Hoover’) the barrage of rhyming names (‘Rodex’, ‘Croydex’, ‘Volex’) takes the world of advertising to absurd lengths. He also sings advertising jungles, from advertisements which he has seen on television. These are employed defensively, when he would rather not answer a question. Their use highlights the theme of failed communication within the Strang family.


Horses are important in the play and so some of the dialogue incorporates words which refer to the care of horses, for example:

  • ‘strapping’
  • ‘hoof-pick’
  • ‘dandy’
  • ‘body brush’
  • ‘curry-comb’. 

Many of these are explained by Jill when Alan is learning to care for horses at the stables. This specialist language is not very complicated, but it gives Alan a sense of belonging at the stables when he learns to use the correct terminology.

Characteristic slang and idiom

Frank Strang in particular is associated with out of date slang (‘old chum’ and ‘swiz’ were associated with the 1920s rather than the 1970s) which indicates his inability to really relate to his son. Frank also uses distinctive terms that evade direct accusation:

  • His ‘none of your beeswax’ is a jocular attempt to stop people probing 
  • ‘if you receive my meaning’ is an evasive way of trying to insinuate meaning without actually verbalising it.

Alan’s sarcastic appropriation of these phrases punctures his father’s attempts at educated pomposity.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.