Plato And Equus Essay, Research Paper
Plato once said that man is a being in search of meaning. In Peter Shaffer s disturbing play, Equus, psychologist Martin Dysart and his patient, Alan Strang, are searching for meaning. Alan Strang has chosen the path of nonrationalism to give him this meaning. He worships Equus a God that he has taken from parts of Christianity and has assumed its form of that of a horse. Martin Dysart at first glance is a man of reason. He is a overworked psychiatrist who helps people become healthy and rational again. Dysart feels he is missing a sense of meaning in his life and sees that his young patient, Strang, has that sense of meaning and is ambivalent as to whether he should take that from Alan by curing him. Plato, the preeminent rationalist would find fault with both characters. Plato would be even more disappointed with Dysart. According to Plato rationality is the only way to understand the world. Dysart is an educated man, he spent years studying to become what he is today, a psychiatrist, and has thereby remembered more of the innate knowledge that is within all of us. While Strang has given himself over to nonrationalism and Dysart should know better than to do the same.
Alan Strang s behavior is bizarre to say the least. One does not have to be a Platonist to find his actions puzzling. When Alan Strang worships Equus he takes out one of the horses from the stable where he works and rides naked on it and experiences sexual climax. He then kneels down in supplication to his God. According to Plato, Strang is far from the ideal condition of the human soul. Plato stated that the ideal human soul is rational. He or she makes sense. Reason is sufficient to carry us through even the most difficult of times.
Plato s metaphysics is dualism. While this world is constantly changing it is not really Real. The Real is the world of the forms. Strang has taken the notion of The Good and perverted it. He is obsessed with horses. While his concern is the god-hood that is in all horses, this view is not the Platonic ideal. It is far from it. The god-hoodness of the horses is one that exists in this world, not in the world of the forms. Plato would find Strang s behavior unhealthy and wrong but he wouldn t necessarily blame him. The education that he received at home was not sufficient. The education that Strang would have needed to remember was not available to him. In the end it is up to Dysart to correct this wrong. All of the emotions that Strang has been feeling are only of the body. They bring down the soul and Strang would be better off without these emotions. Dysart is obligated to make Strang healthy again. Strang can t truly find meaning and become healthy unless he is made rational; possibly for the first time in his young life.
It is Martin Dysart that Plato would be most disappointed with. Dysart is an educated man. In his spare time he even studies ancient Greek culture. While he is overworked and under appreciated at his job (who isn t when they work in social work) he does a good job. He has helped numerous patients who wouldn t have normally become healthy again. Yet despite all of this he is fascinated and even jealous of this strange boy Strang for he has something Dysart is missing, meaning. While it is not normal or healthy Strang does have meaning. Dysart had been missing passion in his life for so long that he has been forced to turn to Strang s example for a sense of meaning. Plato would argue that Dysart is in this position because he has turned his back on rationalism.
To Plato rationalism is necessary to be truly happy and it is sufficient to explain the world. It is also a view that can carry us through difficult times, such as rough spots in one s marriage. Dysart is flirting with letting his appetites take over. His lust for emotions and even lust itself are threatening to consume him. As a psychiatrist in his training he must have covered Plato s concepts of The Forms and The Good. He should know better. What Strang has is not a sense of meaning rather it is madness. Dysart just needs to return to rationalism and things will be just fine again.
Dysart would argue back that Plato s ideas are limiting and not the truth. While rationalism is a good thing (he is trained in psychiatry after all), it is not sufficient. There are times where rationalism is not a sufficient answer for life s problems such as a death in the family, or when a girlfriend breaks up with you for no apparent reason. Humans are emotional creatures. Sometimes those emotions cannot be consoled by mere reason. Plato s quest for The Good in his world of The Forms does little for us on earth. Dysart would argue that it is the here and now that is important. Dysart has seen enough human suffering in this world to know this. While Dysart would not follow Strang s exact path towards meaning he is intrigued enough to want to learn what he can from it.
Our world is often difficult and not easily understood. Plato made a clear argument for reason. In his view reason is not only sufficient to explain the world, it is all that is necessary. Alan Strang has gone down the path of nonrationalism with his worship of Equus. While he gets some of Plato s concept of The Forms, the idea of god-hood in all horses, he obviously is not healthy and in The Truth. Martin Dysart, his psychiatrist, is at a crossroads. Does Dysart follow Strang down the path of nonrationalism to find the meaning that he feels he is lacking or does he go back to rationalism? The play itself does not answer that question for us rather it leaves it up to our imagination. Plato would argue that both Strang and Dysart need to come back to rationalism to become healthy and happy once again.