Thematic structures


Psychiatry is a major theme of the play (see Equus > Themes and significant ideas > Psychiatry). The play is structured around the concept of analysis, with much of the action springing from the dialogue between Alan as patient and Dysart as his doctor. It is through this structure that both the characters and the plot unfold. The flashbacks also provide Dysart with insight as to Alan’s psychiatric treatment and help to explain his crime.

The development of character

It is helpful to see the structure of the plot in terms of the development of characters. We see how Dysart’s character develops for the audience as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with his own life and the psychiatric profession. This occurs gradually, as Dysart speaks both to Alan and Hesther, as well as reflecting on his life in monologues.

More on monologues...: Monologues in a play are an occasion for a character (usually the main protagonist) to reflect on what is happening and how s/he is feeling. They are often addressed directly to the audience and reveal details and motivations not immediately apparent in dialogue with others. They are frequently used at moments of crisis in the play, and contribute significantly to the audience’s understanding of a character’s development.     

We do not see Alan’s character change on stage so much as open up, as he discards his defensive techniques. As he talks in response to Dysart’s probing questions and the action moves into flashback, we witness the events and personalities which have shaped the formation of his personality. Whilst Alan himself does not seem alert to the implications of what he relays, both Dysart and the audience are able to draw conclusions about what has really happened. The motif of seeing (and being seen) adds to the idea of revelation.

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