Equus: Existential Authenticity in Character, Setting, and Dialogue
In Equus, by Peter Shaffer, authenticity is a main topic throughout the play and production in all setting, character and between dialogues. In existentialism; for one to live an authentic life, the individual has to choose the distinction between the right and the wrong and must not make excuses in the outcome of their actions. Not only this, but in relation to John Fowles’s interview, an existential hero is considered one of “the Few” who are described to be “the good, the intelligent, the independent”, unlike “the Many” who are considered to be “the ignorant, stupid, and the easily molded”.
In Equus, it is described to be a memory play held in the mind of Martin Dysart, after the incident with a boy named Alan Strang. Due to this, authenticity is shown in the aspect of setting. In the book, Peter Shaffer describes that, “A square of wood set on a circle of wood. The square resembles a railed boxing ring.” By stating this, it lets the audience perceive that the boxing ring is a place of conflict— specifically Dysart’s personal and internal conflict. This also shows how the setting of the play is considered the world of metaphor and symbol. As many of the props and setting are considered as something that shows intentional meaning, such as Dysart’s location of conflict, the setting relates to the character and the conflicts of making a choice; whether if it is right or wrong.
Not only props and physical settings, the lights and the general mood of the theater shows the different viewpoint of the inauthentic versus the authentic aspect of individuals. For instance, in the second scene of Act One, it shows how the lights turned “warmer.” This generally brings back the perception that the color of the stage or the lights were once a colder and bolder shade. Colors, are also shown as motifs throughout the play and the dimness or the brightness creates the mood and develops an impact to the setting of the play. Specifically for this scene it represent clearly and makes the audience realize that they were now in a different setting, in Dysart’s memories and mind— a place of direct conflict.
Similar to that of the setting, the characters, including animals such as horses are shown to be prominent in the area of authenticity and inauthenticity. In the book, Shaffer shows that the horses are living in an authentic life; or simply in good faith. The horses throughout the book are shown to be fighting for their own foes and enemies; “The Hosts of Jodhpur. The Hosts of Bowler and Gymkhana. All those who show him off for their vanity” alongside with Alan Strang in the first Act and Scene 21. Not only this but the horse, Nugget does not resist in a sense where it does not make excuses when battling its enemies away.
Unlike Nugget and the other Equus, Alan throughout the book is also shown clearly as an inauthentic character. Other than that of the scene when the two characters battle their enemies, which shows the idea that they are both facing their own fears, dread, and anxiety, it shows how different they are from an existential coward. An existential coward, or the Many as stated by John Fowles, from the book The Collector, they are shown to be those who are the “stupid, the ignorant, and the easily molded.” This aspect relates to the fact that Alan was not easily molded and different from the society’s hands when he had arrived to the “torture chamber” or Dysart’s office. Although the author, Peter Shaffer portrays Alan in such a matter where he is unsympathetic in the eyes of the audience, as he does not listen to Dysart nor anyone, as shown in Act one, scene four. However, he is developed to become sympathetic or pitiful to the audience in the middle of Act Two, when people get to understand more of Alan Strang’s past, where he was ostracized by his own parents and were blamed for such misfortunes. The feeling of sympathy and the idea that the audience is obligated to feel sympathy does not regain the fact that he is a full authentic character, as pity does not show any authenticity, nor it is such a positive definition to portray such a character.
Unlike Nugget, and other Equus in which are living in an authentic life, it is shown clearly that Dysart is living an inauthentic life; a life of “The Many” and existential cowardice. This is clearly shown in his character and dialogue to the audience, specifically in Act 2 Scene 35, when he states, “Essentially I cannot know what I do— yet I do essential things. Irreversible, terminal things. I stand in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads.” This characterization of Dysart’s opinion and personal thoughts are shown that he was damaging young children to become a plastic. A plastic, overall in the play is defined and described as someone who returns to normalcy with no passion through Dysart’s treatment; similar to the dream that Dysart had when he sacrificed young children. Despite the fact that Dysart had a respected occupation as a psychiatrist in a provincial town, Dysart’s character is shown to be living in an inauthentic life, as he is continuing to live in such state— curing children and adjusting them to “normalcy”. Similar to the aspect of the Many, Dysarts is presented as such a person who had a profession related to the Many. As a psychiatrist in a provincial area, his main job was to change children to become fit and adjusted perfectly to the ideals of the society.
Similar to the description that the Many were people who were “the easily molded,” it shows how his job easily molded people and was the main source of the molding. Due to the fact that his profession and occupation had related to such ideals, it shows clearly how Dysart was one of the many characters described to be an existential coward, who managed to live life in an inauthentic way. By turning people into a state of normalcy and originality, shows the loss of individualism that people had started with.
By using such creating such opposing descriptions for an occupation, it shows how the place of conflict becomes fully developed. For instance, Dysart’s occupation was respected in the town, and it was highly respected, as it had brought individuals and troubled children back to what the society thought was acceptable. However, in existential terms, his positions are shown to be something that destroys the own, personal ideals and shapes the children and any other different people to plastic and someone with no passion. From this, Dysart is able to think about what he does and decides to live in such a life, thus becoming an full existential coward.
Overall, the general aspect of pain and the general modernization was one of a greater way of depicting an authentic and inauthentic life. By showing the modern world such as adding details with the idea of psychiatry— Dysart’s occupation, the specific characterizations, settings, and using lights as different motifs as warranting that authenticity plays a higher role in the book, it shows and allows the audience to pay close attention to deeper meaning in dialogues made by individual character, and notice the place and reason for conflict in the setting; Dysart’s mind and memories.
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In Equus, by Peter Shaffer, authenticity is a main topic throughout the play and production in all setting, character and between dialogues. In existentialism; for one to live an authentic […]