Alan Bennett’s The History Boys opens with a framing device set several years after the primary action of the play. Irwin, confined to a wheelchair, is lecturing about politics. In the midst of it, he is reminded of school and flashes back to his days as a teacher. The scene shifts to Hector’s classroom where he teaches General Studies, a title he acknowledge was adopted because of the Headmaster’s inability to quantify what his lessons entail. His classroom consists of eight boys: Crowther, Akthar, Dakin, Lockwood, Posner, Rudge, Scripps, and Timms. The boys discuss their upcoming exams and the character of Hector’s classroom is established: raucous, playful, unstructured, and filled with quotes from literature, popular culture of the past, and music. Bennett also establishes the structure of the play, in which scenes shift rapidly and characters often spontaneously narrate action to the audience.
Elsewhere, the Headmaster confides in Lintott that he has his doubts about the boys’ readiness for their exams. He then brings in Irwin for an interview. He explains that the boys need additional training in order to get them accepted to higher-ranking schools. Later, in Hector’s class, the boys act out an extended scene in French. In it, Dakin portrays a man visiting his prostitute, played by Posner. In a bit of bad timing, the Headmaster enters with Irwin just as Dakin has dropped his pants. After playing along in a somewhat befuddled matter, the Headmaster introduces Irwin as the boys’ new history coach. He asks if some of the General Studies lessons may be given to Irwin, but Hector refuses.
In Irwin’s class, the new instructor returns their papers with highly critical remarks. He notes the boys’ diligence, but rebukes them for a lack of originality and creativity. After class, the cocky, headstrong Dakin brags to the religiously-minded Scripps that he is fooling around with the Headmaster’s secretary. Posner’s crush on Dakin also emerges more prominently in this scene. As Lintott and Hector discuss their students’ prospects, Irwin’s next lesson furthers his aims of reshaping their thinking. He tells them that truth is less important than having an original perspective on history. Rudge, a thick-headed working class kid whom all believe has few prospects, fails to understand Irwin’s approach.
In Hector’s next class, the boys attempt to act out a scene with the goal of stumping Hector. In the middle of the class, someone tries to get in but Hector had...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
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