EQUUS: Madness, Passion and the Price of Normality

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“Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created,” wrote Peter Shaffer in Equus, the marvelous play about a young man who commits an incomprehensible crime. Once arrested, the young man is assigned a psychiatrist to try and make sense of the heinous crime. Uncovering the psychology of the distressed young man leads the psychiatrist to realize that to “cure” him is akin to a kind of lobotomy of his psyche: “He'll be delivered from madness. What then? He'll feel himself acceptable! What then? Do you think feelings like his can be simply re-attached, like plasters? Stuck on to other objects we select? Look at him! ... My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband - a caring citizen - a worshipper of abstract and unifying God. My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost!” The play uses the heinous crime and subsequent psychological analysis of the young man as a springboard for a meditation on “normality” and “socialization”, asking uncomfortable questions about the soul-killing effects of compliance and conformity: “The Normal is the good smile in a child's eyes: - alright. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.” If you’ve never seen or read the play, I recommend it. The final line has the psychiatrist resign himself to the fact that to “fix” this boy, he has amputated a part of his psyche. This realization leaves him alone in the dark, uttering these words: “There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out.”
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