- Act One Scene One
- Act One Scene Two
- Act One Scene Three
- Act One Scene Four
- Act One Scene Five
- Act One Scene Six
- Act One Scene Seven
- Act One Scene Eight
- Act One Scene Nine
- Act One Scene Ten
- Act One Scene Eleven
- Act One Scene Twelve
- Act One Scene Thirteen
- Act One Scene Fourteen
- Act One Scene Fifteen
- Act One Scene Sixteen
- Act One Scene Seventeen
- Act One Scene Eighteen
- Act One Scene Nineteen
- Act One Scene Twenty
- Act One Scene Twenty-one
- Act Two Scene Twenty-two
- Act Two Scene Twenty-three
- Act Two Scene Twenty-four
- Act Two Scene Twenty-five
- Act Two Scene Twenty-six
- Act Two Scene Twenty-seven
- Act Two Scene Twenty-eight
- Act Two Scene Twenty-nine
- Act Two Scene Thirty
- Act Two Scene Thirty-one
- Act Two Scene Thirty-two
- Act Two Scene Thirty-three
- Act Two Scene Thirty-four
- Act Two Scene Thirty-five
Eyes and seeing
The staging devised by John Dexter for the original National Theatre production of Equus in 1973 immediately confronts the audience with the significance of sight:
The very shape of the set echoes that of an eye (albeit with a square iris) with an inner square that rolls around within a circle edged by curved benches
The staging appears transparent, with nothing hidden behind stage flats etc.
The presence of the entire cast onstage throughout the drama means that they observe everything and, according to Shaffer’s Introduction/Setting, act as ‘witnesses’ who are expected to comment on what they see, like a ‘Chorus’
Although most of the audience is within the auditorium, there is also a number who sit on ‘tiers of seats’ upstage from the action – in other words, what happens onstage is open to view from both sides, by people who can also watch each other observing the action. Dysart asks both sets of viewers to assess what takes place.
Eyes and power
The play contains many images of eyes which have a compelling effect on the viewer. For example, in Alan’s first encounter with a horse, on the beach, Frank points out the horse’s eyes. From that point onwards, Alan cannot resist looking at horses:
Both Jill and Dalton notice the boy who ‘keeps staring in’ to the stableyard (Sc 15).
The mesmeric power of the horses’ eyes has been fostered by the dramatic picture of a horse on Alan’s wall, which:
Dora: .. comes out all eyes.
Dysart: Staring straight at you? (Sc 11)
Dysart recognises for himself how this has affected Alan:
He alone comprehends how Alan can feel that the power of Equus’ gaze is inescapable:
Dysart: What does [Equus] say to you?
Alan: ‘I see you.’ (Sc 19)
Eyes and attraction
It is interesting that the chief (initial) focus for Jill’s attraction to Alan, and his to her, is the other person’s eyes:
Alan:(to Dysart) She was always looking. ..
Jill: You’ve got super eyes.
Alan:(to Dysart) Anyway, she was the one who had them.
For Jill, eyes are ‘sexy’ but for Alan, female eyes clearly remind him of those of Equus, which ‘shine. They can see in the dark..’ (Sc 21). Earlier, he has attributed to those eyes the vivid power of the risen Jesus, as depicted in Revelation: ‘His eyes were as flames of fire’ (Sc 13).
Tragically, the power of an equine gaze outweighs Alan’s ‘normal’ desire for Jill. As he tries to kiss his date, Alan ‘couldn’t ... see her. .. Only Him.’ (Sc 33).
Sight and understanding
The idea of watching is significant because, through doing so, characters hope to achieve understanding. Alan is being ‘watched’ by the nurse and Dysart in order to help them treat his malaise. Both Hesther and Dysart assess children who may have been traumatised by looking at their eyes:
Dysart extends this assessment to adults who he feels have lost their innocence and joy to the demands of mundane normality:
Part of Dysart’s frustration with his wife Margaret is that she doesn’t ‘see’ the richness of ancient Greek culture or engage with nature for herself with anything other than pragmatic utilitarianism. By not sharing her husband’s view she fails to understand him.
Sight and judgement
This mirrors the process that Dysart and others are applying to Alan – trying to see him from every angle so as to attribute motive and/or blame. Both Frank and Dora have clearly studied their son keenly, though both also sought to evade the other’s observation. Alan’s mimicking of them indicates that he has observed them in return – and found them wanting.
This is in part what is behind Alan’s accusing stare, which Dysart notes in Scene 6:
Dysart has already admitted to feelings of inadequacy regarding his profession, conveyed in a dream that emphasises sight imagery:
He realises that, to some extent, Alan sees (and sees through) him, just as Alan himself believes that he is seen - and judged - by Equus.
The climax of the play is of course Alan’s attempt to evade the judgement of Equus by removing the horses’ capacity for vision. He brutally puts into practice Dora’s proverb:
Yet, given that Alan believes that Equus is capable of seeing through material barriers (such as the stable door) and of knowing his soul (‘I see you. I see you. Always! Everywhere! Forever! Sc 34) it is not surprising that Alan retains his conviction that Equus continues to watch and judge him. So powerful is this conviction that Alan attempts to blind himself in terrible nightmares, and Dysart too is affected:
This is an example of apocalyptic literature, full of colourful imagery and symbolism. It contains seven letters to churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) who are commended for their zeal or criticised for lack of it. The overall message is that kingdom of God will triumph in the battle against evil and the book ends with a beautiful description of the Heavenly Jerusalem as the symbol of God's presence among humankind in a new heaven and earth.
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