The History Boys, By Alan Bennett

1522 words - 7 pages

‘The History Boys’ can only be ‘merely’ a farce to a certain extent; the use of shocking events juxtaposed with the facetious tone used to create the farcical elements Bennett utilises throughout the play, indicates a underlying polemic message that holds several different implications to the reader.

Bennett uses farcical elements, although not exclusively, in the play. The comedic device of stock characters is exploited to the farcical subgenre, with them being created to provide the material for the inclusion of farce in the play. For example, the French scene in Act One predominantly these elements mixed with an underlying polemic and political message, which is prevalent throughout. Firstly, the audience is separated from the characters with the use of foreign dialogue. This reflects Hector’s need to make sure their lessons are ‘not a part of the system’ . When the headmaster enters the boys’ lesson with Hector, he is forced by Hector to speak French and accept the absurdity of the situation in the classroom. ‘Porquoi Belgique?’ He asks when the boys’ state they are playing the characters of wounded soldiers in Belgium. This choice of lexis by the Headmaster immediately betrays his stock character, revealing that he is the buffoon of the play, as this man, with the most legitimate power in the play, is manipulated into believing lies told be eighteen year old boys and an old general studies teacher of ‘studied eccentricity’ . In addition, this quote also highlights and exaggerates his ignorance and lack of intellect, as the Headmaster ‘was a geographer’ and ‘went to Hull’ . If one had studied Geography degree at university, it would be expected for them to know why wounded soldiers would be in Belgium.

With the Headmaster being mocked by the young boys, this provides the comic material to evoke laughter in the audience using highly improbable and unrealistic situations. Additionally, this development of the Headmaster’s character suggests the inclusion of a polemic political message in the play, which in turn supports the argument that ‘The History Boys’ is not ‘merely’ a face. For instance, the development of the Headmaster’s character leads the audience to interpret his character to be reflection or presentation of someone else in his theoretical position. Margret Thatcher, for example, and her controversial education reforms during her time as prime minister in the 1980s, could be a character that Bennett is suggesting could be reflected in the persona of the Headmaster. Margret Thatcher worked to centralise primary and secondary education away from local authority and privatizing higher education by the introduction of university fees. The fixation that the Headmaster has on pulling the school up ‘the tables’ , implies that the Headmaster, and Margret Thatcher, have no real interest in the children’s individual success, but rather in their own personal achievements, and how they can improve their own lives. The mocking of this...

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