How does Bennett make effective use of dramatic methods to raise pertinent issues in the History Boys? BY LuliL How does Bennett make effective use of dramatic methods, in pages 34-41, to raise pertinent issues in the History Boys? Alan Bennett uses a number of methods throughout the play in order to raise pertinent issues and fully convey his concerns, and I believe many of these are present within this extract; varying from his common language and structure techniques to the ever running themes of conflicting pedagogical philosophies, sinister pederast undertones and the drive for acceptance t Oxbridge.
The conflict between Hector and Irwin’s educational philosophies is highlighted within this extract, as their differing pedagogical practices are decidedly contrasting. Hector educates with the purpose of developing his students into “more rounded human beings” and believes in “knowledge, and the pursuit of it for its own sake”. The adjective ’rounded’ is clearly conveyed through the boys prevailing use of literary references and poets such as ‘Auden’ and ‘Pascal’ along with their displays of a broad understanding and knowledge of the theatrical arts.
He is presented as an anachronous character conveyed through the metaphor “he locks the doors against the future” and “the forces of progress”, and as one who throughout the play, almost purports to despise the pursuit of educational success. His cultural knowledge is perceived as no longer “useful” amongst the boys in regards to “preparing (them) for examination”, an aim sought out by Irwin, a counterpoint to Hector.
This suggests one of the key pertinent issues of the play; is there a place and time for culture in todays changing and politicised educational system? However, Posner and Scripps’ performance of the brief encounter, along with Timms’ claim that poetry “sometimes just flows out” all prove Hector’s pedagogical approach to be effective in achieving what he aims to bring across, and this sense of culture and the power of literature (a crucial theme to the play) still resonates within the boys and the audience as an aftermath of Hector’s own knowledge.
Moreover, Hector, possibly further reflecting Bennett’s concerns and pertinent issues of the play, evidently deplores the utilitarian pproach to learning epitomised by Irwin, which is specifically palpable within this passage when he imperatively suggests that the boys “must” use their cultural knowledge and “stuff hidden up your (their) sleeves” in order to attain higher grades. Bennett uses the indeterminate and colloquial “stuff’ to dramatically express Irwin’s disregard for poetry and culture, a pertinent issue, which he denominates as ‘gobbets’ further on in the play.
His implication that the boys use their ‘nobler’ knowledge in an exam is however reproached, as they, “take the piss” and almost atirically state “we couldn’t do that, sir” “it would be a betrayal of trust”, thus displaying their own awareness of the oxymoron that “education and culture” are portrayed as within the play, doubtlessly alluding to Hector’s influence and methods, and highlighting the difference between Hector and Irwin’s pedagogical practices.
Irwin, an antithesis to Hector, appears to have a strategic approach to study, unorthodox manner, demonstrated through the rhetorically infused sentences “if you want to learn about Stalin… Hollywood… Mrs Thatcher, study Henry VIII” and the metaphorical notion that “a question has a front door and a back door”. Yet again, as previously at the start of the play, Irwin is presented as an iconoclast, who interestingly rears towards wielding the boys take on hugely controversial figures such as Stalin, a historical dictator “generally agreed to be a monster, and rightly so. He imperatively encourages them to “dissent” with the motion, thus implying that they discard their morale and redeem a “monster”, or degrade thousands of deaths, imply in order to achieve higher grades and label history as “entertainment and a performance”, further demeaning Hector’s beliefs and pedagogical methods whilst reinforcing the idea as a pertinent issue of the play as a whole. His didactic tone appears almost ironic whilst discussing a murderous dictator, and this, along with his lack of empathy displayed within this extract, evokes an uncomfortable and sinister atmosphere amongst the audience.
Bennett also demonstrates language as a dramatic method of bewilderment, a technique previously explored by Irwin as a tool sed to obfuscate. Dakin’s quaint referral to Auden, (“Do you like Auden, sir? “), a poet famed for having unconventional relationships with his male pupils, his doubtful questioning of “Do you think he’s more like you or Mr Hector, sir? ” along with Irwin’s foreboding inquiry “Why does he lock the door? ” all aid Bennett in dramatically reinforcing the sinister and pederast pertinent undertone which shadows Hector’s character throughout the play. Similarly, Dakin’s statement, “He snogged his pupils.
Auden, sir, not Mr Hector”, made even more ambiguous by the broken syntax evokes dire ambience amongst the audience whilst holding apprehensive connotations. It is fascinating that Dakin is the only one to mention and question Irwin on Auden, being the one whom appears most intrigued by his character, yearning for his attention and approval, which Irwin is wary to display as exhibited in his lack of verbal emotion towards the students and history itself. This dramatically highlights two clear concerns and pertinent issues which run throughout the play: homosexuality and unrequited love.
This extract also presents Bennett’s typical ramatic methods and literary techniques. His application of stichomythia in the dialogue between Irwin and the boys throughout the extract appears almost ardent, and the audience experience an atmosphere similar to that which occurs in Hector’s lessons; light and comfortable. On page 35, Scripps is seen breaking the fourth wall’, a method used by Bennett to add supplementary detail on Irwin, alternating between tenses, and to force the audience to ponder and question his key concerns and the plays pertinent issues.
Despite Bennett’s decision to steer clear from expletive and xcessively colloquial language, which are otherwise frequently used, humour is one of his techniques often used, and demonstrated within this extract. Irwin appears genuinely impressed by the boys display of poetry and literary references, a common method used by Bennett, yet in return they appear to mildly mock Irwin’s lack of cultural knowledge when he doesn’t recognise poetry by ‘Stevie Smith’‘. This minimal ridicule of authoritative fgures is introduced by the boys and Hector in the Maison de Passe scene (pg. 12-17) when addressing the Headmaster.
The consistent epetition of ‘sir’ within this particular extract and the use of rhetorical questions all dramatic methods used throughout the History Boys to create a humorous and uplifting ambience, a contrast to the often portentous and challenging pertinent themes which occur within the play. Overall, I believe that this extract is a perfect exhibit of Bennett’s effective use of dramatic methods such as language, structure and form, which aid him in reaching the audience and revealing the many relevant issues along with his personal concerns reflected in the play as a whole.