In Alan Bennett’s “tragi-comic” play ‘The History Boys’ our main comedic protagonist is introduced to us, the audience, as a rather large jovial character simply known as his nickname Hector (his real name is Douglas). In the beginning our jester hector expels exuberance and joy in his work and towards the boys in his class, but, towards the end due to various circumstances, brought on by Hector himself, his attitude within the fabric of the play completely changes to a depressed shell of what he used to be.
When knowing this, for one to claim that hector can only be a comic character shows that one obviously does not have a full understanding of the text as a whole. From the start it is clear that Hector and the boys do not have the traditional relationship between student and teacher. During the scenes within his classroom, his lessons don’t up hold to regular teaching etiquette. He and his students go off on wild tangents which sometimes lead them in to off curriculum French lessons ‘Oui la prostitute’
In this scene the boys are role playing a French brothel and Hector allows this even though it has nothing to do with getting the boys in to Oxbridge.
As soon as the head master walks in the role play is changed in to field hospital to conceal the pervious absurdity. Having Hector quick change his lesson as abruptly as he did shows the audience that he knows himself that he should not be doing this. Looking at this scene, it gives the audience the impression that Hector is the simply comic figure because of the exuberant atmosphere of his classroom life. During the play Hector uses many forms of comedy within his role. One of the main types he uses is physical comedy: ‘Timms: Wasn’t he a nancy, sir?
Hector: Foul, festering, grubby-minded little trollop! Do not use that word! [Hits him on the head with an exercise book]
Timms: But you use it, sir!
Hector: I do, sir, I know, but I am far gone in age and decrepitude. ‘ Hector punished his boys by smacking them around in this classroom. To the audience Hector hitting them is amusing and just his own way of punishing the boys. But on the other hand it could be hector showing the boys that they are actually doing wrong towards him and his love of the subject he teaches when the boys come out with things like this and to try and shake them out of the habit he strikes them.
To the audience this could seem like another act of pure comedy but when looking in to this action abit further we could state that this is hector seriously trying to teach the boys a lesson about life and how to behave in social situations such as the one they will be put in at Oxbridge proving he is not just a simply comic figure but he cares about the boys futures in university. The character of Hector is portrayed, in my eyes and the eyes of John j. Stinson, as a large caricature (because of the choice of actor and hectors personal actions, thoughts and beliefs), meaning he is definitely a larger than life character whose movements and actions are those of a clown. Having Hector as such a large character from the start means the audience almost automatically gravitates towards him, getting an idea of hectors true sense of his personality and humor tastes meaning the audience finds his over blown movements and actions increasingly funny because we have the deeper connection with him as a character. Looking at hector in this light I would say this portrays hector as the simply comic figure mentioned in the title of my essay because of the way the character is written in the play. During the succession of events in the play the audience being to learn that there may be another side to hector than just the eccentric general studies teacher with a true passion for literature. Hector is brought forward to be an openly gay gentleman, who obviously is very fond of certain members of this class. This information is presented to his co-worker, Irwin, in a conversation with Mrs. Lintotte ‘Mrs. Lintotte: his rather surprising wife’
The fact that Mrs. Lintotte uses the word ‘surprising’ means even his co-workers can’t believe that he has a wife whilst being so openly homosexual. This could be taken as a comedic occurrence within the play because it turns out the gay man has a wife so some audiences may fine this amusing. However on a deeper reading of the text we could infer that hector is so embarrassed about his sexuality he cannot even bring himself to tell his own wife because around the time Bennet wrote this play, homosexuality was still frowned upon in society; so having a homosexual teacher teaching young boys would not have gone down well.
Because of the un-acceptance of his sexuality and possibly being too embarrassed to show it, it shows our protagonist Hector as not just the simply comic figure but an older man with true emotions and feelings. As well as being a caricature and being strongly associated with physical comedy, Hectors character could be strongly linked to the comedic term ‘schadenfreude’. This means that the character –hector- is doomed from the start. Some of the choices this character makes within the play (although comical) negatively impact his professional role as a teacher and a mentor to the Oxbridge boys. Seeing hector act this way could be classed as him just being a comical man showing his humor in different way. However as this technique states it is the comedy of self-demise; meaning Hector is destroying himself as a teacher and as a person. As an audience watching hector do this throughout the whole play you cannot say hector is a simply comic character, he is a man who makes bad choices for himself. Hectors choices lead to him giving a boy a life home on his motorbike after school one say. During this ride hector chooses to feel the boy’s genitals whilst waiting for children to cross the road by a lolly pop lady. Unbeknown to hector the lolly pop woman sees the whole thing and reports it back to the headmaster. ‘Headmaster: it was more appreciative than investigatory’ The headmaster saying this shines many lights on hectors character. One could be that the action being ‘appreciative’ than ‘investigatory’ makes it seem like hector has had many dabbling’s with students genitalia meaning he could have done this many a time before the event was made public. Another light it could paint hector in is a more positive one; hector feeling his student ‘appreciatively’ shows he is still giving his students credit for what they do with him, even though it is not in the most conventional of ways. In my eyes, this is not an act of comediacy, this is an act of love and affection towards the boys in his class, proving he is not just a comedic character.
This is the pivotal point in the play when hector turns from jovial comic character, to depressed uncaring teacher who would rather sit and sulk in front of his class during lesson times. After hector has the discussion with the headmaster about his position in the school hector proceeds to break down in front of his Oxbridge boys: ‘Hector: shut up! Just shut up. All of you. SHUT UP, you mindless fool. What made me piss my life away in the god forsaken place? There’s nothing of me left. Go away. Class dismissed. Go. ‘ After this little outburst from hector the boys are still unsure how to react because of hectors joking nature around the boys; they cannot tell if he is joking or not. ‘There are some giggles and face pulling before they realize he is being serious’ The boy’s giggles show how far hector takes his witty humor; even when he cries the boys still believe that he maybe joking. Seeing the boys laugh at hector shows that he could be the simply comic figure I have been discussing however the break down in front of the class shows that hector dose have some kind of emotion that is not just humor. With this information I do not think hector is simply a comic figure. And this is the last we really see of Hector in the pay. Hectors death is not really quoted in the play; it is more implied. Hector takes Irwin home on the bike in tone scene, and in the next Irwin is in a wheelchair and the boys are paying their tributes to hector. Hectors death could be classed as very ironic within the play because where he carried out the actions that got him sacked was the place that eventually took his life. Even Mrs. Linttot says: ‘Mrs Lintott: The smallest of incidents… the junction of a dizzying range of alternatives… any one of which could have had a different outcome.’ if hector had only made better wiser decisions then maybe the boys would not have lost such an inspiring mentor. Looking at Hectors death in the play we cannot call this occurrence comedic. Hectors death was brought on by himself yes but not to cause joy or laughter. Looking at this I do not agree that hector is only a comic character. Over all within the play I think Hector is much much more than a simply comic character. He is a troubled man with real emotions and a good sense on humour not simply comic.
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