Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
Drawing on his own background and experiences, Terence Rattigan wrote about people and themes he knew. His father was a diplomat whose glamorous life included many affairs, and his beautiful mother came from generations of barristers. The worlds of diplomacy and law are the sources of the characters and situations of many of his plays, as is Rattigan’s own public-school background. As the son of parents who traveled and lived abroad, Rattigan writes often of child-parent relationships. For Crocker-Harris, the playwright drew on his memories of a former classics master who, like his fictional counterpart, taught the classics as an exercise in translation.
From his first successful play, French Without Tears (pr. 1936), until his last play, Cause Celebre (pr. 1977), Rattigan continued to write about sons and parents and about the devastating effects of emotional repression, the “vice-Anglais,” as he once described this peculiarly English social illness.
The father-son relationship, however, is only one of various emotional conflicts Rattigan explores in his dramas. His characters’ marital situations involve more complex emotional dilemmas. When Crocker-Harris surprises Hunter with his confession of having known of Millie’s infidelities, he confronts twenty years of marital frustration, admitting that the sexual love Millie required he was unable to give and that its absence had driven out the caring that he considered...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
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Success and Failure
Throughout The Browning Version, the ideas of success and failure are used to define characters. Andrew Crocker-Harris is considered a failure by everyone, including himself. Andrew’s intelligence as a classics scholar is never questioned. Yet because he is unpopular, and perceived as a strict schoolmaster and a bad jokester, he is regarded as a failure.
His marriage is also a failure. Andrew has not met Millie’s expectations on any front. This failure is emphasized by her flagrant affairs with other men, including her current lover, Frank Hunter. Thus, Andrew’s failings have usurped his wife as well.
In The Browning Version, success is equated with popularity and sports. Frank Hunter is a successful schoolmaster because he relates better to the boys and teaches a less demanding subject than the classics. He lets John Taplow mock Andrew without penalty. Hunter also gives Taplow golf tips.
Similarly, one of Andrew’s biggest humiliations is when the school’s headmaster asks him to speak first at the ceremony the next day, instead of last. The headmaster wants that honor to go to another teacher who is leaving...
(The entire section is 625 words.)