Religion and worship

The importance of religious faith

Religion is seen to have a significant influence on Alan’s childhood. His mother, Dora Strang, appears to be a devout Christian who is well versed in its central religious text, the Bible. She encourages Alan to be equally fervent. However, Alan’s father, Frank, does not approve of Dora’s faith and is suspicious of its impact on his son, which is a source of tension in the home.

For Dora, religion is a positive world into which she can escape the mundane and fractious nature of her marriage. For Alan it is an inspiration and a vital force, yet one which is ultimately destructive.

The transmutation of belief

When Alan was younger, he had an extreme religious image on his wall (Christ being tortured before his crucifixion), which Frank eventually took down. Alan’s consequent emotional distress demonstrated how he had already developed an obsessive attitude to religious belief. After his father’s removal of the image, Alan learns to repress his interest in his mother’s faith and internalise his religious convictions, developing an unhealthy obsession with horses.

The worth of religion

Dysart’s conversations with Alan and the doctor’s own soliloquies suggest that religion can be both a positive and a negative force in people’s lives. ‘Religion’ does not only refer to established faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, but also to any belief in - and worship of - a higher being. Dysart suggests that such a belief, with an object of worship, be it God or Equus, is a transforming and life-affirming experience.


Within the play, worship develops beyond Dora’s Christian foundations into Alan’s idiosyncratic belief in horse/power, symbolised by the name Equus – a worship towards which Dysart himself feels drawn. The play suggests that the capacity for worship of something, or someone, greater than oneself is a positive thing. Worship can take the form of reverence, or rituals, or simply life attitudes.

Alan developed a form of ritual, including language and actions, around the horses with which he came into contact at the stables. These rituals are clearly based on his mother’s Christian faith and on the language of the Old Testament. Although he is covert in his ‘worship’, Alan’s worship of Equus becomes all encompassing, ultimately threatening his autonomy to act in ways he believes displease his ‘god’. Yet, although the outcome is dangerous and tragic, his worship is seen as a life-affirming trait.

A focus for passion

Alan clearly needs something to worship: the passionless relationship embodied by his parents and the empty slogans of commercial television do not satisfy (as, in fact, they do not satisfy either Dora or Frank). The biggest flaw in Frank Strang’s character seems to be his lack of any real passion or focus for worship.

Like Alan, Dysart too feels the need to have something to worship, which explains his deep interest in the world of Ancient Greece. However, Dysart recognises that his reading and travelling are mundane besides Alan’s primitive ritual worship of Equus. Alan’s worship shows genuine passion, even though it proves destructive for himself and those around him, as presaged by his self-flagellation witnessed in Scene 14. As Dysart is caught up in Alan’s beliefs, the final line of the play makes us wonder whether he too will be destroyed:

There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out.
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