The Browning Version

by Terence Rattigan

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What is 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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What is the significance of the title of the play The Browning Version?

The "Browning version" is the translation made by Robert Browning of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, which the teacher Mr. Crocker-Harris is having his students read in the original Greek. One of the students gives a copy of Browning's version to Mr. Crocker-Harris as a gift upon the latter's leaving the school.

The play (and film) has a parallel plot to the Agamemnon. Mr. Crocker-Harris's wife, like Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, is having an affair with another man. Agamemnon, of course, is the Greek leader who engineered the victory over the Trojans. But when he returns home, his place has essentially been taken by his wife's lover, Aegisthus. Clytemnestra then murders Agamemnon. In a figurative sense, Mr. Crocker-Harris's wife's betrayal is a kind of re-enactment of this murder in modern terms. But the parallel goes much further. Mr. Crocker-Harris is a man whose time is past. He is an old-fashioned, inflexible teacher who bullies the kids in class and delights in showing them up and humiliating them. Like Agamemnon, his glory days, such as they were, are over.

If Terence Rattigan's play parallels the Agamemnon, why is it that the Browning version is specifically referenced? Probably because Browning's translation, while interesting and poetic on its own terms, is not considered highly by most classics specialists. It's old-fashioned and imperfect—like Mr. Crocker-Harris himself. The man has been disliked intensely by his students and the staff, but he is a wistful symbol of a previous age, just as Robert Browning's Victorian poems, as well as his Aeschylus translation, are.

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What is the significance of the title of the play The Browning Version?

Andrew and his young charge, Taplow, are working on a play together.  Andrew has done a translation of the work itself.  Taplow wants to give a gift to the schoolmaster, and goes to get the Robert Browning translation.  The gift affects Andrew deeply - he is moved by the gesture, and begins to believe that he is better liked than he assumed.  When his wife's rude words cast doubt on this, Frank intervenes and tell's Andrew that young Taplow does like him, and that Andrew is a good man.

The title here is referencing self-image.  Andrew's image of himself - like his translation - is weak and substandard.  However, when he receives the book, he begins to see another version of himself and his life.  This version, like the Browingin version of the play, is more sophisticated.  He is reborn and becomes a stronger character, standing up to his wife in the end. 

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