Act One Scene Seven

Synopsis of Scene 7

Dysart meets Mrs Strang, Alan’s mother, who tells him some things about Alan and their family life. On another part of the stage, we see a younger Alan, talking about horses. Dora Strang explains some of the history of Alan’s interest in horses, which interests Dysart from a psychological point of view, particularly the mythological and biblical aspects.

Mr Strang enters and joins in the conversation, though he seems more defensive than his wife. When Mrs Strang goes to make tea, Frank Strang tells Dysart that his wife is too religious, and that this may have had an adverse effect on Alan. Dysart asks the Strangs about Alan’s knowledge of - and approach to – sex. At this point Dora begins to cry and Frank tries to comfort her.

Commentary on Scene 7

Fundacion de SantiagoHe doesn’t set much store by Sundays: Already a divide in opinion between Mr and Mrs Strang is indicated: she is religious and treats Sunday as a day of rest (following the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:9-10)), while her husband works as he would on any other day.

Christian cavalry … one person: Alan was interested in this idea, which prefigures his wish to become one with the horse he rides. Dora refers to the Catholic faith of the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors, an oblique reference to Shaffer’s previous dramatic hit, The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

a god: It later becomes clear that Alan sees the horse as a kind of god or deity. Later in the play it becomes clear that he sees ‘Equus’ as a god.

Book of Job: The passage in Job shows God’s power as it appears in animals. The quotations from the Bible are taken from Job 39: 19-25:

19Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? 20Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. 21He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. 22He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. 23The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. 24He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. 25He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! And he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.      KJB

all dressed up: Although Mrs Strang is trying to be helpful, this image of the horse being ridden by a man in formal dress is a long way from Alan’s more primitive and free image of the horse as a creature that should not be tamed by humans.

My wife has romantic ideas: It becomes clear in this scene that there is some conflict between Frank and Dora Strang, which may have impacted on Alan’s behaviour.

she married beneath her: Frank harks back to the stratified social hierarchy of pre-war Britain when labouring classes (Frank is a printer) were felt to be ‘lower’ than the educated middle classes (Dora had been a teacher).

A boy spends … admitting it: Frank is clearly prejudiced against his wife’s faith, and believes it to be the root cause of Alan’s psychological problems.

an innocent man tortured … ribs: The references are to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, a central narrative in all four of the gospels (e.g. John 19:1-7, John 19:16-18, John:28-34). Frank is suggesting that the violent images which appear in the Bible may have adversely affected Alan.

I told him … a higher love still: Dora has tried to explain sex to Alan, but her explanations linked sex and religion in her son’s mind.

Investigating scene 7...

  • What do we discover about Alan’s family background in this scene?
  • How important is it that Dysart understands Alan’s childhood?
  • How does Shaffer give us clues about why Alan behaved as he did?
    • How is religion significant here?
  • After reading this scene, how responsible do you think each of his parents is for his psychological problems?
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