Suffering for - and saving from - ‘sin’

Equus and Jesus

Alan’s religious upbringing means that he combines his adulation of Equus with what he knows of the self-giving love of Jesus. And just as Christians believe that Jesus had to suffer as a way of demonstrating his love for humanity, so he believed Equus is in chains ‘For the sins of the world.’ (Sc 19) But, by submitting to the chain, Equus is able to ‘save’ Alan and ‘bear [him] away’, just as Christians believe that Jesus takes away the sins of those who put their faith in him.

According to the gospels, Christ’s moment of greatest physical torment was being nailed to a cross in order to be crucified. Alan’s action in blinding the horses with a sharp metal hoof-pick echoes the hammering of the nails into agonised flesh. The guilt he feels after his destructive deed leads him to try and appease Equus by blinding himself too. However, unlike Jesus in Christian belief, Alan’s own suffering does not take away the sin of what has happened.

Failed ‘saviour’

Dysart’s profession means that society looks to him to restore tormented souls like Alan – to be a latter day ‘saviour’. He certainly suffers in his efforts to save Alan from his pain. Yet, unlike the biblical representation of Jesus, Dysart is full of self-doubt, very aware of the limitations of his craft and of the immensity of the problems. He ends the play as a man who cannot even save himself, let alone bring fullness of life to his patients. His chains achieve nothing, just leave him incapable of jumping ‘clean-hooved onto a whole new track of being’. (Sc 1)

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