Is it the exploration of themes or the development of characters that is the source of comedy in ‘the history boys’?
The history boys is a play written by Allen Bennett around 2004 and is set in the early 1980s but based around Bennett’s experience of school during the 1950’s. It is about English secondary school students and their teachers, academic competition and the purpose of education, as well as the somewhat chaotic developments of adolescent sexuality and coming of age. It is the development of characters that is the source of comedy within the history boys. Their speech and conversations create laughter from an audience. Unlike the characters themselves, some if not most of the themes presented by Bennett would be considered serious subjects but when discussed and portrayed through certain characters in the play they are mitigated through the characters conversation of that subject.
One of the key themes in the play, sexuality; is demonstrated mainly through the character of hector, who is known amongst the boys as the school paedophile. While this is in no way a concept to be taken lightly or even found to be humorous, the character who overall seems like a good and harmless person, substantially makes his sexual confrontations with the students funny as he is not what many people believe to be the ‘typical paedophile’. He is a surprising character and does not come across as you may initially perceive him. The character of hector shows good examples of how serious subjects are somehow flipped into another light through the personality and the portrayal of the characters; this is why it could be said that without the help of the characters the themes that are explored would not be comical.
Bennett deftly explores a variety of sexual expressions, primarily homophilic, among the teachers and students. There is Hector's frank attraction to the boys, never mind the presence on the scene of his "unexpected" wife. And Irwin's more latent homophilia,...