Enjoying Equus: Jouissance in Shaffer's Play

By Wolfe, Graham | PSYART, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Enjoying Equus: Jouissance in Shaffer's Play


Wolfe, Graham, PSYART


abstract

This article takes a new look at Peter Shaffer's Equus, which, as its recent remounting in London and New York would attest, remains as popular today as it was in the 1970s. Through an examination of the Lacanian objet a and its relation to subjectivity, I seek to explore the dynamics of this play and its commentary on the fate of sublimity and Enjoyment in contemporary times. Looking closely at the encounter that Equus stages between jouissance and paternal-symbolic authority, and drawing upon Zizek's analysis of such concepts as the contemporary superego and the "subject supposed to Enjoy," the article argues that Shaffer's play encourages us to re-evaluate its own psychiatrist's diagnosis of the discontent afflicting a "post-Sacred" universe. In doing so, it attempts to re-conceive the nature of our enduring attraction to this play as well as the enjoyment derived from it in live performance.

You can access the original PDF version of the article using this link.

In the middle of Peter Shaffer's Equus, the psychiatrist Dysart discusses his vacation plans. Distraught with the sterility and "worshipless" nature of contemporary existence, he speaks of his desire to take a receptive partner to Greece, for the purpose of standing "in front of certain shrines and sacred streams" (62), where he plans to deliver the following lecture:

Look! Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods. And not just the old dead ones ... but living Geniuses of Place and Person! And not just Greece but modern England! Spirits of certain trees, certain curves of brick wall, certain chip shops, if you like, and slate roofs-just as of certain frowns in people and slouches ... I'd say to them-Worship as many as you can see-and more will appear! (62)

Such a speech may sound inspiring from one's theatre seat, but we can easily imagine how stressful it would be to go on this vacation with Dysart. His would-be companion is enjoined to find something sacred and mind-blowing in every crevice of life, to absorb from every mundane feature something spiritual and magical. Dysart proposes this vacation as offering Passion, Life, God, against the tragic aridity of a despiritualized world; yet we might suspect that an arid world would itself come as something of a vacation from this demand for total Worship, and from the guilt of having failed (inevitably) to honour a small fraction of these "thousand" Gods. (What precisely might an appropriate Worship of these Gods entail?)

Of course, we might also ask why Dysart would need to travel to Greece if such divinity is omnipresent in his own English backyard. Is he not secretly grateful that the requirements of his job make it impossible for him to find time for such demanding forays into the divine heart of Life?

This reference to a "thousand local Gods" stands in revealing contrast to the phrase with which the psychiatrist opens both of the play's acts: "With one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces" (17, 75). Dysart refers here to his teenaged patient Alan Strang, who has constructed for himself a mythic fantasy-world of transcendent passions, ruled by a horse-god named "Equus" in whose honour he conducts ecstatic night-time rituals. While Dysart sees in the intensity and primitive passion of Alan's Worship something tragically missing from his all-too concrete, secular reality, we might ask: would not the condensation of one's Worship in a particular, nameable object come as a tremendous relief from the incredible pressure of having to honour "a thousand local Gods"? Would not a single God, safely contained in the dark space behind the eye of a horse (kept locked away in its owner's stall, accessible for worship only once every three weeks) come as a real holiday from the urgent, ever-increasing demands of Dysart's god, a divinity that spills out, proliferating exponentially?

Gene A. Plunka argues-and the bulk of critical opinion affirms-that what Shaffer's play dramatizes is Alan's desperate resistance to a contemporary world "replete with oppression" (156), a valiant clinging to sublimity and ecstasy in an era that seeks to squelch it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Enjoying Equus: Jouissance in Shaffer's Play
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.