The Portrait Of Religion In Peter Shaffer’s Equus And Albert Camus’s The Stranger

1364 words - 5 pages

Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Peter Shaffer’s “Equus” reveal the degenerative effects of religion on society through a negative portrayal of characters’ relationships with religion. Both introduce religion as a means of releasing welled up human emotions and as an optimistic distraction from the realities of life. However, both criticize religion as being dangerous to one’s mental stability as well as to society as a whole. Camus and Shaffer each communicate this message through their respective characters: the magistrate and Alan Strang.
Shaffer and Camus communicate religion’s function as an outlet for human passion. In The Stranger, Camus, rather than romanticizing the human pull towards religion, devalues the institution by painting it as little more than a vent for emotions to steam out. Camus establishes the character of the magistrate as one easily swayed by religion as he explains that “he was speaking very quickly and passionately, he told me that he believed in God, that it was his conviction that no man was so guilty that God would not forgive him” (Camus 68). Camus’s portrayal of the magistrate in his overflowing passion is in direct contrast to the narrator, Meursault. Whereas Meursault acts calm and collected, the magistrate behaves almost manically in his fervor as he “was waving his crucifix almost directly over my head… he was scaring me a little” (Camus, 68). The magistrate’s pent up emotions billow out in full force, demolishing the cool mask the he must wear in his everyday reality. The play “Equus,” furthers this opinion through the actions of the character Alan Strang. Alan, committed to an asylum for a violent act committed in a religious fervor, depicts the outcome of religious extremism. Alan declares “And Equus the Mighty rose against All! His enemies scatter, his enemies fall! TURN! Trample them, trample them, trample them, trample them, trample them. TURN! TURN!! TURN!!!” (Shaffer 71). The passion that Alan suppresses in his everyday life overflows when he enters into his religious ritual. Just when the audience begins to pity Alan for his resulting social inhibitions, Dysart imagines Alan boldly asking him, “At least I galloped! When did you?” (Shaffer 81). Thus, the primary purpose of modern religion differs little from its pagan origin: in both cases, religion provides a release for powerful human emotions.
Both Camus and Shaffer describe religion as a valuable distraction from the horrors of everyday life. In The Stranger, the magistrate refuses to believe in world without God, because that would entail accepting the meaninglessness of life. Rather than daring to confront such a terrifying concept, the magistrate instead keeps a firm grip on religion as he “said it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turn their backs on him. That was his belief, and if he ever were to doubt it, his life would become meaningless” (Camus 69). The magistrate would rather die than consider any argument against...

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