Equus Study Guide

Equus, written in 1973, is one of Peter Shaffer's most celebrated plays. It tells the story of a boy who has a strange, religious fascination with horses. He is treated by a psychiatrist who, in turn, realizes some things about himself during these sessions. The play and its revivals have been nominated and won numerous awards, notably the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play.

Shaffer says that he got the inspiration for this work after he heard of a crime in which a teenager blinded six horses with a spike near Suffolk, England. Shaffer was extremely intrigued as to why someone would do such a thing. Equus examines this incident, and Shaffer attempts to craft a fictional narrative explaining the motivation behind the act. The psychiatrist attempts to uncover details from his 17-year-old patient's life until finally, at the end of the play, all is revealed. 

Equus premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London and ran from 1973 to 1975. It later moved to Broadway and became a hit, running for over a thousand performances. The show was revived in Baltimore in 1979, then in the West End in 2007—this West End revival was transferred to Broadway and ran until 2009. The revival was notable for featuring Daniel Radcliffe from Harry Potter fame as the central character, Alan. In 2014, the show was also revived for a short run in Houston, Texas. 

In 1977 a movie adaptation of Equus was released; Peter Shaffer adapted it to the screen himself, which starring actors Richard Burton and Peter Firth in the leading roles. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, and it won two Golden Globes. 

Equus details themes of religious and ritual sacrifice, sexuality, personal satisfaction, and the expectations of society.