The Browning Version

by Terence Rattigan
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What the relevance of the title The Browning Version within the story?

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The Browning Version constitutes, in many respects, a partial adaptation of Aeschylus's tragedy Agamemnon. The significance of the title is that it is the translation of the play by Robert Browning that is the one used throughout Rattigan's drama. Agamemnon sets the overall themes for its modern variant, while at the same time being an important object of interest within the action itself. Over the course of the play, Crocker-Harris increasingly comes to identify with Aeschlyus's tragic hero. His gloomy reflections upon aspects of his failed past and uncertain future are precipitated by a gift of Browning's version of Agamemnon by one of his pupils, Taplow, the only member of the school body who seems to have any regard for a man nicknamed "The Crock."

Crocker-Harris isn't literally murdered by his wife as was the unfortunate Agamemnon. But there's no doubt that Millie has committed a figurative act of murder upon her husband's soul in cheating on him with another master. Millie may lack the sheer ruthless cunning of Clytemnestra, but she has undoubtedly played a leading role in his downfall. It is largely thanks to her that Crocker-Harris has lost all taste for beauty in life. His growing enervation and despair are paralleled in the words of Aeschylus, as of course translated by Browning:

“And, through desire of one across the main, / A ghost will seem within the house to reign. / And hateful to the husband is the grace / Of well-shaped statues; for — in place of eyes / Those blanks—all Aphrodite dies.”

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The significance of the title The Browning Version is substantial in this story.

As this is a story exploring questions about personal choice as it relates to identity, personality and profession, the notion of an “original” and “alternate” version of a translation created by the Browning, the protagonist, is highly significant.


This Browning Version demonstrates the idea that Browning was once a very different person. Circumstances changed him, and perhaps dictated his life as much as his personality. This is, of course, a fact of the story which emerges in opposition to the impression that Browning’s character makes on everyone.


His students believe that he acts as he does because it is part of his natural character, but the story leads us to the realization that this is not true. He acts the way he does because of the history of his character, not the nature of his personality.


Seen in this context, the Browning Version becomes symbolic of the central question of the play – Is it too late for Browning to recover the lost version of himself or is there still time to assert his natural character?


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