Sunday, 11 September 2016

The History Boys

The History Boys by Alan Bennett

An unruly bunch of bright, funny sixth-form boys in a British boys' school are, as such boys will be, in pursuit of sex, sport, and a place at a good university, generally in that order. In all their efforts, they are helped and hindered, enlightened and bemused, by a maverick English teacher who seeks to broaden their horizons in sometimes undefined ways, and a young history teacher who questions the methods, as well as the aim, of their schooling. In The History Boys, Alan Bennett evokes the special period and place that the sixth form represents in an English boy's life. In doing so, he raises—with gentle wit and pitch-perfect command of character—not only universal questions about the nature of history and how it is taught but also questions about the purpose of education today. {Goodreads Summary}

I think my love of reading plays began at school, when I studied A Streetcar Named Desire for AS English. I enjoyed it so much that I read the whole play in one sitting and quickly followed it with the other two plays in the book, as well as buying a copy of The Cat on the Hot Tin Roof so that I could read three more. My fondness for play scripts continued at University, where I took a module on European theatre and got to read everything from Moliere to Wedekind. And then of course, there's always Shakespeare. 

That's not to say that I don't like going to the theatre and watching plays in the format that the playwright intended. It's just very expensive and I can buy the book at a fraction of the cost to enjoy again and again. 

"But to put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and that it can be explained. And if it can be explained that it can be explained away."

My most recent play is The History Boys, by Allen Bennett. It's been years since I first saw the film adaptation and I've wanted to read the play ever since, but didn't get around to it. When I found out this week that we were going to be studying at work, I ordered a copy on my lunch break and started reading the next day. 

“History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.” 

In a week where educational reforms are making front page news, I don't think my first reading of The History Boys could have been more timely. Bennett picks apart not only what we teach in schools, but how it is taught and what it's value is. Do we learn to pass exams, or to help us in later life. Is poetry a way of scoring points or, as Hector puts it, "poetry is the trailer! Forthcoming attractions!" Bennett doesn't provide the answers, but he leaves you thinking about the questions long after you've finished the play. I'm looking forward to discussing them further over the next few months.

“I don't always understand poetry!'

'You don't always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you will understand it...whenever.”

No comments:

Post a Comment