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Equus | Study Guide

Peter Shaffer

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Course Hero. "Equus Study Guide." October 11, 2019. Accessed March 31, 2023.


Course Hero, "Equus Study Guide," October 11, 2019, accessed March 31, 2023,

Equus | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Equus is a play in 35 scenes, all of which take place without a set change. It tells the story of a psychiatrist treating a teenager who has blinded six horses in the stable where he works. The play is set in the present at a psychiatric hospital. The bare-bones set, which resembles a simple boxing ring, serves as the psychiatrist's office in the present as well as the stable and other flashback locations. The actors remain at the back of the stage, stepping into the central area only when the story calls for their involvement.

Act 1

Psychiatrist Martin Dysart reflects on his encounter with a troubled young patient named Alan Strang. The teenaged Alan, who worked up until recently as a stable hand, was brought to Dysart's clinic at the recommendation of local magistrate Hesther Salomon. Salomon is desperately trying to save the boy from a lifelong prison sentence. Alan's crime was blinding six horses with a sharp metal hoof pick. In early sessions with Dysart, Alan is uncommunicative, singing commercial jingles rather than answering questions. Eventually, however, Alan opens up about his family life, gradually offering Dysart insight into what drove him to commit this violent act. Dysart, meanwhile, grows ambivalent about the value and meaning of his career.

Alan's parents, Frank and Dora Strang, are introduced. Frank, a printer by trade, is an atheist with a honest personality; Dora is a devout Christian who puts on high-class airs. Slowly, it becomes clear that Dora's religiosity and fondness for horses have metamorphosed, in her son, into an obsession with the animals. In a session with Dysart, Alan shares his earliest memory of riding a horse—on a beach at six years of age. Dora visits the clinic and describes two pictures that hung in Alan's bedroom. The first depicted the Passion of Christ; Alan later replaced it with a photograph of a horse. In a tape recording Alan opens up about the sensation of power and "sexiness" he felt during his first horseback ride.

From here Alan's first days at the stables are retrospectively dramatized—as is his budding relationship with fellow stable hand Jill Mason, a woman of about 20. In the present Alan puts Dysart on the defensive by asking about his marriage, which later scenes reveal to be loveless and dry. Under hypnosis Alan describes his ritual of sneaking back into the stables at night to go riding naked in an act of worship to the god Equus. Exultantly Alan acts out a horseback ride of increasing speed and violence, culminating in a cry of "Amen!" before the stage goes black.

Act 2

The second act, like the first, opens with a monologue by Dysart. His nurse rushes in to tell him that Dora has come to visit Alan and that the two are now quarreling loudly. Dysart tells Dora not to visit again, lest she interrupt Alan's treatment. On her way out, Dora confides that she believes that Alan is possessed by the devil. Hesther visits later, and Dysart reveals his unwillingness to deprive Alan of his idiosyncratic act of worship by trying to make him "normal." Hesther laughs, but Dysart retains his doubts.

Back in the clinic, Dysart tricks Alan into taking a "truth drug" (actually a placebo). After swallowing it, Alan speaks even more candidly about his work at the stable and his relationship with Jill. In a flashback Alan closes up the stable with Jill and goes out with her to see a pornographic film. Their date is interrupted when Frank comes into the theater and confronts his son, pretending he was there on business. Alan, jarred by this epiphany about his father's secret life, decides to walk Jill home. Jill insists they stop at the stables, and Alan very reluctantly goes along. They lie down in the hay together, but their attempt at lovemaking is cut short when Alan feels the horses are watching him. His frightening behavior drives Jill away, leaving him alone with the horses. Tormented by their gaze, he takes a hoof pick and stabs out their eyes. A final scene shows Dysart anguished by the thought that in "curing" Alan, he will also rob him of something vital, even divine.

Equus Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Alan Strang, six, has a thrilling experience riding a horse.

Rising Action

2 Alan's mother encourages her son's fascination with horses.

3 At 12 Alan receives a print of a horse as a gift.

4 Gradually, Alan's fascination becomes a religious fixation.

5 A teenaged Alan finds weekend work at a stable.

6 Alan goes on ritual midnight rides to worship the god Equus.

7 Alan takes coworker Jill Mason on an awkward date.

8 Back at the stables, Alan and Jill attempt to have sex.


9 Convinced Equus is watching, Alan blinds the horses.

Falling Action

10 As an alternative to jail, Alan becomes Dysart's patient.

11 Gradually, Alan divulges the background to his violent act.


12 Dysart worries about the ethical costs of treating Alan.

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