Equus Literary Elements





Setting and Context

1970s, psychiatric hospital in Southern England

Narrator and Point of View

The play is narrated from a retrospective point of view by Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist. It alternates between dialogue in the present and flashbacks to moments throughout Alan's story.

Tone and Mood

This play has a mood very similar to a mystery story, as clues continue to be uncovered that point to Alan's instability and explain why he committed the crime. However, Dysart's many long narrative monologues are much more solemn and serious, as he laments his own career dissatisfaction and the morality behind making Alan 'normal.'

Protagonist and Antagonist

Martin Dysart is the primary protagonist, but the story itself is about Alan Strang, a seventeen-year-old boy. Alan is also the antagonist, since he committed a crime and the play is about attempting to discern the causes behind it.

Major Conflict

Alan Strang has committed a terrible crime: he blinded six horses with a spike. The primary conflict in this play revolves around determining the reason behind this crime and correcting whatever error Alan's mind would cause him to do this.


The play's climax comes when Dysart uses the placebo truth pill on Alan, who reveals every detail of what happened the night he committed the crime.


Since story is told by a narrator speaking about events retroactively, there is a sense of foreshadowing permeating throughout. A few smaller instances of foreshadowing include Dysart's discussion with Hesther about how a placebo might work on Alan, which foreshadows the next scene's actual use of a placebo truth pill, and Alan's dismay upon realizing that Jill was leading him to the stables, which foreshadows the fiasco that is to come.




Dysart makes multiple allusions to figures of Greek mythology when speaking about his love for ancient Greece, including the gods Zeus and Dionysus. There are also many allusions to Biblical scenes and figures, including passages from the Book of Job and the Book of Revelations.


Imagery is discussed in detail in its own section of this study guide.






In this play, horses are personified to the point of divinity. Alan's horses frequently speak to him, answering his questions, and they have humanlike emotions such as jealousy and grief as well.

Use of Dramatic Devices

This play makes use of many different dramatic devices, particularly soliloquies, which are spoken by one character alone to the audience. Dysart, as the retrospective narrator, uses both long soliloquies and smaller asides in the middle of a scene to clue the audience in to his feelings about what is going on.