Written in 2004, Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’, explores a number of themes surrounding the sexual and intellectual developments of a group of potential scholars, as well as their unusual relationships with their teachers Hector and Irwin. Alan also gives numerous, controversial perspectives on history, teaching and the importance of status, over that of life enhancing literature.Indeed, the theme of sexuality and sexual self discovery play’s a key role in the play through not just the teacher’s actions, but also the adolescent boys. ‘The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act’, although this portrays Hector as using literature, as an ‘elastoplast’ to cover up the awkward truth, the motif of sexual tension in the classroom builds as the play progresses, proving Hector’s theory as correct. Indeed, my chosen extract epitomises this discomfort, showing the effects of Hector’s ‘fiddling’ on how, as a result, his pupils react to him emotionally, ‘I was the nearest. I ought to have been the one to reach out and touch him. But I just watched…’ The use of internal monologue is reflective of the situation, even though the boys do not know that Hector has been dismissed as a result of his ‘… fiddling’, they are still powerless to help or comfort him; they always believed that ‘art wins in the end’ and therefore do not know how to react when it proves to be quite the opposite.On the other hand, although Bennett has chosen an extremely controversial motif to place at the forefront of his play, that was unspoken of during the 1980’s when the play has been set, he has used wit and humour to create an entertaining and light-hearted mood, ‘A grope is a grope. Its not an Annunciation. You… twerp.’Furthermore, this scene, regarding Hectors punishment uses role play and presents dramatic irony; the boys quote ‘… Promise you’ll stay with me’. This composes a solemn tone upon the scene as the boy’s somewhat commemorate Hector with their acting. Indeed, role play is a recurring style, used by Bennett to highlight the boys intellectual abilities and how Hector’s ‘transmission of knowledge’ has shaped his pupils; providing them with an ‘antidote’ to all life’s problems. However, the learning of poetry off by heart is used by Bennett, most prominently to show the fore comings of Hector’s unveiling as Posner quotes a poem by Thomas Hardy, poignantly containing the adjective ‘uncoffined’ providing an ambiguous foreshadowing over Hector’s future career.Furthermore, as the title suggests, a key theme in Bennett’s play is both the curricular subject, History, as well as how it plays a spontaneous role in the plays events. Indeed, the theory that History is ‘just one fucking thing after another’ emphasises the role that chance and fate play in history, and effectively demonstrate how one small event can affect history extensively. Indeed, Hector’s homosexual acts with his pupils were revealed, merely by the chance that Mrs Armstrong was not just working ‘one afternoon a week at the charity shop’.Moreover, the final scenes of the play epitomise the idea of chance and minor events resulting in momentous occasions, ‘And here history rattled over the points…’, ‘going round the corner he moved out instead of in’. This trivial, slight change in position caused the death and disablement of the two protagonists of the play.Additionally, teaching is a prominent theme highlighted by Bennett, with the methods of the two protagonists, Hector and Irwin contrasting greatly. The use of noun ‘apotheosis’, as well as linking two scenes together, has been effectively positioned in context; it defines a moment of highest fulfilment in Irwin’s scene whereas in reference to Hector it defines the complete antithesis; Hector is in a ‘sombre and distracted mood’. This contrast in characters exemplifies how both male teachers, although having their sexualities in common, are very conflicting in their approach, attitudes and styles of teaching.Furthermore, the antithesis of ‘Yin and yang’ metaphorically represents the conflicting methods of Irwin and Hector and suggests that the approach Hector takes works well and harmoniously with the boys. Furthermore, the analogy ‘The rapier cut and thrust’ has been effectively used to demonstrate that although Hector does not follow a ‘schedule’, his style of teaching is very particular, signifying a certain expertise and thorough understanding of his line of work. On the other hand, Irwin teaches by way of ‘formula’; ‘Find a proposition, invert it, then look around for proofs.’ This ‘journalistic’ style encourages the boys to approach essays by ‘turning facts on their head’ and Irwin’s regular use of rhetorical questions encourages the boys to understand that controversy and ‘contradiction’ are key and must be adopted before approaching an ‘Oxbridge’ standard essay.Lastly, Bennett’s play presents the motif of ‘the game’; if played correctly the boys win a ticket of admission to an Oxbridge university however if the ‘rules’ are not followed and the ‘lies’ not told, then they will have to settle for ‘less lustrous institutions’. The boys, initially struggle with Irwin’s style of ‘turning facts on their head’ as they have been so settled with Mrs Lintott simply supplying the ‘facts’ however they eventually acknowledge that it is ‘like a game’.However, it is not simply the ‘game’ to achieve a scholarship that is explored by Bennett, this extended metaphor throughout the play is seen in other forms, firstly gambling, ‘Pay up, pay up and play the game’ as well as the suditude of Hector’s covert dealings, ‘who can I give a lift home?’.In conclusion, Alan Bennett uses numerous styles and techniques to create an enthralling, witty, and reflective play that is able to explore many controversial topics and leave the audience with a poignant message in its final scenes; Irwin’s survival, suggests that leaning ‘the opposite way to everybody else’, although morally incorrect and somewhat selfish will prove more beneficial than simply holding the ability to recite poetry; a certain irony surrounds Hector’s view that poetry has the medicinal quality to protect and form ‘death-beds’.


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