The Browning Version

About the Author

Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan was a British dramatist. He was one of England’s most popular mid twentieth century dramatists. He was born on 9 June 1911 in South Kensington, London, United Kingdom. His father was Frank Rattigan CMG, a diplomat. Rattigan was educated at Sandroyd School and Harrow School. He then went to Trinity College, Oxford.

Rattigan was gay with numerous lovers but no long-term partners, a possible exception being his “congenial companion and occasional friend” Michael Franklin.

During the war, Rattigan served in the Royal Air Force as a tail gunner. After the war, Rattigan alternated between comedies and dramas, establishing himself as a major playwright. The most famous of which were The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954).

Rattigan was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of June 1971 for services to the theatre. He had been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in June 1958. He moved back to Britain, where he experienced a minor revival in his reputation before his death. He died in Hamilton, Bermuda, from bone cancer in 1977.

Introduction

 

This play highlights the attitude of a teenaged student towards his teacher. His comments are shocking because they are awfully close to reality. He imitates the voice of Mr. Crocker-Harris. He calls the man almost inhuman. He is mortally afraid of his teacher. His promotion depends on the whim or goodwill of his teacher. But he opens up when the other science teacher encourages him to do so. He hates the Greek play because he does not like the teacher’s method of teaching. Mr. Crocker Harris seems to hate people in order to make them like him. The description of the teacher is damaging. It reflects upon the hopeless quality of teachers.

Characters

1. Mr. Crocker Harris – an extremely strict and disciplined teacher
2. Mr. Mr. Frank – a science teacher
3. Taplow – a student
4. Millie – wife of Mr. Crocker Harris

 Summary

The play presents a conversation between a lower fifth grade science student, Taplow and Frank, a teacher.

A chance meeting between Taplow and Frank

The scene of the play is set in a school. The play opens with a sixteen-year-old boy, Taplow who has come to do extra work for his teacher, Crocker-Harris. He is waiting for his teacher, who has not yet arrived. Another teacher, Frank, finds Taplow waiting in the room and strikes a conversation with him.

Taplow awaiting his result

From the conversation between Frank and Taplow, we are informed that Taplow is waiting for his result to be declared on the following day. He is keen to specialize in science provided he gets a favourable result. The uniqueness of Mr. Crocker-Harris is hinted as he does not tell the results like the other teachers do. He follows the rule of the headmaster declaring the results on the last day of the term.

Taplow’s views on art and science

Their conversation provides us an insight into the mind of Taplow. He lets Frank know how much he dislikes the play ‘Agamemnon’. He is more interested in science. He admits that though the play is not that bad, the way it is taught is terrible- “Just a lot of Greek words strung together and fifty lines if you get them wrong”.

The question of the “extra work”

Taplow is doing extra work as he had missed a class a week ago. Frank remarks that Taplow will certainly get his “remove” for doing the extra work. But Taplow feels the other way. He asserts such sort of rules do not work with Mr. Crocker-Harris, as he is not like other teachers who appreciate the students who do extra work.

Taplow’s views about Crocker-Harris

As per Taplow, Crocker-Harris is a different kind of teacher. He is too strict and ‘hardly human’. Unlike other teachers, he does not tell his students their result before the judgement day. Taplow had asked Harris about his remove and in response Harris told him that he has given Taplow exactly what he deserves- “No less; and certainly no more”.

Frank’s suggestion to Taplow

After calling Taplow for extra work, Crocker himself is late by ten minutes. Frank points that as Crocker is late, Taplow has a chance to leave and play golf. However, Taplow seems shocked at this suggestion and is scared that Mr. Crocker-Harris might follow him home.

Further contemplation on Crocker-Harris’s character

Frank admits envying Mr. Harris for the effect he has on his students. He asks Taplow if Mr. Harris beats them. However, Taplow tells Frank that unlike one or two of the other teachers, Mr. Harris is not a “sadist”. He is not a sort of a person who would beat students and vent his frustration. He is hard like a nut. He is heartless. He possesses no feelings at all.

Taplow’s unusual liking towards Crocker-Harris

Taplow admits that in spite of all this, he still likes Crocker. The boy narrates an incident when he laughed at a classical joke cracked by Harris, though he had not understood it. It was a gesture from Taplow’s side to be polite to him.

Millie Crocker-Harris

At this point, Millie Crocker-Harris enters the room. She was Mr. Crocker-Harris's wife. She suggests Taplow to run away for a quarter of an hour and come back. She advises him to leave as Harris has been at Bursar’s and may take quite a time to get back.

The behaviour and attitude of Mrs. Mille Crocker Harris, baffles Taplow. He is not willing to leave for it has been the order of his teacher whom he fears to disobey. Mille assures him that she will take the blame on herself. Proposing an excuse for his absence, she hands Taplow a prescription asking him to take it to a chemist and get it made up for Harris. Convinced Taplow accepts the proposal and leaves Frank and Mrs. Crocker Harris behind.

Textual Questions

Question 1: Comment on the attitude shown by Taplow towards Crocker-Harris.
Answer: Taplow is respectful towards Mr. Crocker-Harris and likes him for his principles. He criticises him for being a feelingless person yet regards him an extraordinary master. He is mortally afraid of him and dare not cut the extra work even on the last day of the term.

Question 2: Does Frank seem to encourage Taplow’s comments on Crocker-Harris?
Answer: Yes, Frank seems to encourage Taplow’s comments on Crocker-Harris. He shows appreciation for Taplow’s imitation of Mr Crocker-Harris and asks him to repeat it. On smother occasion, Frank tells Taplow not to keep a good joke (narrated in the style of Mr Crocker Harris) to himself but to tell it to others.

Question 3: What do you gather about Crocker-Harris from the play?
Answer:  Mr Crocker-Harris appears as a stem master who is a man of principles and stickler to the rules. He believes in fair assessment of his students and is not swayed by emotions, as the man is hardly human. He is not a sadist, but strict in performance of his duties. Even on his last day at school, when he is over-busy in his own affairs, he does not neglect his duty towards his students.

Talking About the Text

Discuss with your partners.
 

Question 1: Talking about teachers among friends.
Answer: Commenting on their teachers is something that most students do. Students are quite intelligent and keen observers. Teachers are their role models and the students judge their performance not only on the basis of their mastery over the subject hut also by their method of teaching, communication skills, interaction with students and their general nature and behaviour. Teachers must not feel offended to learn the nick name their dear students have showered upon them. Teachers may sometimes think that the boys don’t understand anything, but this is wrong. Talking about teachers among friends is a favourite pastime of students. They appreciate their virtues and condemn their shortcomings. Even strict persons win the love and admiration of students if they are men of principles.

Question 2: The manner you adopt when you talk about a teacher to other teachers.
Answer: We should be respectful and polite when we talk about a teacher to other teachers.
Normal courtesy requires that we should add ‘Mr’ ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ before the name of the teacher and use his/her full name. A teacher should never be mentioned by the nick name he/she has been given. In other words, our approach should be quite formal. The dignity of a teacher should not be lowered before another, even if the person being talked about lacks some qualities you like most. Our remarks should never be derogatory or rude. It is bad manners to run down our teachers and specially so if it is done in the presence of other teachers. We are judged by our actions as well as words. The other teachers may form a very low and unfavourable opinion about us on the basis of a lapse on our part. Hence, we must be extra cautions during our interactions with our teachers.

 

Question 3: Reading plays is more interesting than studying science.
Answer: Science is based on the study of some facts, concepts, principles, and their application. It demands cool reasoning and concentration of mind to solve numerical problems and to balance complicated equations. One has to be alert, regular, systematic, and punctual. If we miss one class, we miss the link. On the other hand, reading plays provides us more amusement. Most of the plays contain a beautiful plot and a number of characters with diverse traits. Their actions, reactions and interactions provide a lot of fun and laughter and make the reading of the play quite interesting. Witty dialogues, irony of situations and intricacies of plots make the plays full of humanity and quite absorbing. We never feel bored while reading a play. Every dialogue or action unfolds something new and we eagerly wait for what is to follow next. The study of science proves dull and cold as compared to the interesting reading of plays.

C. Working with Words

A sadist is a person who gets pleasure out of giving pain to others.

Given below are some dictionary definitions of certain kinds of persons. Find out the words that fit these descriptions:

  1. A person who considers it very important that things should be correct or genuine e.g. in the use of language or in the arts: P…

  2. A person who believes that war and violence are wrong and will not fight in a war: P…

  3. A person who believes that nothing really exists: N…

  4. A person who is always hopeful and expects the best in all things: O….

  5. A person who follows generally accepted norms of behaviour: C ….

  6. A person who believes that material possessions are all that matter in life: M…

Answer:

  1. purist

  2. pacifist

  3. nihilist

  4. optimist

  5. conformist

  6. materialist

I. Notice the following words in the text. Guess the meaning from the context.

Answer:

  • remove: a form/class or division (in a school)

  • slackers: persons who are lazy and avoid work

  • muck: dirt/mud: something very unpleasant

  • kept in made to study in classroom after school hours

  • got carried away: got very excited; lost control of feelings

  • cut miss class

  • sadist: a person who gets pleasure out of giving pain to others.

  • shriveled up: squeezed up

Short Answer Type Questions

Q1. Where did Taplow meet Frank?

Ans. Taplow had been asked to do some extra work by Mr. Crocker Harris. He was waiting for the master in the school. Frank also came there and met Taplow.

Q2. What subjects does Taplow want to opt for? Why?

Ans. Taplow feels if his grades are good, he would opt for science. He feels science is more interesting than the study of classics.

Q3. What does Mr. Frank suggest Taplow to do because Mr. Crocker Harris is ten minutes late?

Ans. Frank asked Taplow not to wait for Mr. Crocker Harris and play golf but Taplow is really shocked and is afraid that Mr. Crocker Harris may follow him home or do something else.

Q4. Why does Mr. Frank envy Mr. Crocker Harris?

Ans. Mr. Frank envies Mr. Crocker Harris for the effect he has on the boys in the class. Mr. Crocker Harris does not tell the results before they are officially announced. And in spite of making students take extra work they still like Mr. Crocker Harris.

Q5. How does Mr. Crocker Harris differ from other masters in his reactions towards others?

Ans. Mr. Crocker Harris did not get pleasure out of giving pain. He was not a sadist. In fact, he had no feelings. He was all dry like a nut. He seemed to hate the idea of people liking him.

 

Q6. Who is a sadist? Why is Taplow afraid of Mr. Crocker Harris even though the latter is not a sadist?

Ans. A sadist is a person who gets pleasure while inflicting pain on others. Taplow says that he would not be so frightened of Mr. Crocker Harris if he were a sadist. He would at least show his feelings. Mr. Crocker Harris was indifferent and was like a nut.

 

Q7. Which incident does Taplow narrate to prove the fact that Crocker Harris does not like ‘being liked’?

Ans. Taplow narrates the incident about one day when Mr. Crocker Harris made one of his classical jokes in the class which no one understood. Taplow laughed out of politeness. Instead of feeling thankful, Mr. Crocker Harris asked Taplow to explain the joke to the class. This incident proved that Mr. Crocker Harris did not like ‘being liked’.

Q8. What is Taplow’s attitude towards Mr. Crocker Harris?

Ans. Taplow is respectful towards Mr. Crocker Harris and likes him even though he is afraid of him and dare not cut the extra work even on the last day of the term.

Q9. Does Frank seem to encourage Taplow’s comments on Crocker Harris?

Ans. Frank encourages Taplow to comment on Mr. Crocker Harris by cleverly asking Taplow several questions. He appreciated Taplow’s imitation of Mr. Crocker Harris and also asks him to repeat it.

Q9 (B). Who was Millie Crocker Harris? What was she like?

Ans. Millie Crocker Harris was the young wife of Mr. Crocker Harris. She was a thin woman in her late 30s. She was more smartly dressed than the other school masters’ wives.

Q10. How does Millie Crocker Harris send Taplow away?

Ans. On seeing Taplow, Millie Crocker Harris points out that her husband was at the Bursar’s so he could go away for a quarter of an hour. But Taplow does not move. Millie assures him that she would take the blame. She takes out a prescription and requests him to bring some medicines from the chemist for her.

Q11. How does Taplow react to Millie’s arrival?

Ans. Taplow is nervous. He is unable to control his emotions and whispers to Frank if he thinks she has heard their conversation. Taplow feels that if she tells Mr. Crocker Harris, he would lose his form.

Q12. What do you gather about Mr. Frank from the play?

Ans. Mr. Frank is a young science teacher. He does not like the subject he teaches. He also admits that he tells the result to the students before it is officially announced by the headmaster. He feels envious of Crocker Harris because Taplow likes him.

Long Answer Type Questions

Q1. What do you gather about Crocker-Harris from the play?

Ans. Crocker-Harris is a very strict and disciplined teacher. It is his last day at school. He is leaving the school for good. Yet he gives extra work to Taplow who is one of his students. Taplow has missed a day during the week. Crocker wants him to make it up. So, he gives him extra work. He tells Taplow that he would come and see his work. Thus, we see how strict Crocker is. His students are afraid of him, but they don’t dislike him. Their fear is tinged with respect, not with hatred. He never does any favour or disfavour to a student. He gives what one deserves. He never does anything that goes against the rules of the school. We can say he is an ideal teacher.

Q2. Comment on the attitude shown by Taplow towards Crocker-Harris.

Ans. Taplow is a student of Crocker-Harris. Crocker is a very strict and disciplined teacher. But he has his own principles. He is true to his duty. It is the last day of the term. Crocker is going to leave the school for good. Yet he gives Taplow some extra work to do. He does so because Taplow had missed a day during the week for being ill. Most teachers tell the students about their result before the headmaster declares it. But Crocker never does that. He is a man of principles. Taplow is a little boy. But he understands all this. He has all respect for his teacher. He is afraid of him, but he does not dislike him. He loves to go and play but doesn’t dare to leave without Crocker’s permission. His fear is tinged with respect not hatred.

Q3. Does Frank seem to encourage Taplow’s comments on Crocker-Harris?

Ans. Both Frank and Crocker-Harris are teachers in Taplow’s school. Crocker is a very strict and disciplined teacher. He has his own principles. He never does any favour or disfavour to his students. He gives what one deserves. Students are scared of him, but they don’t dislike him. They have deep respect for him. Frank feels jealous of Crocker. So, he encourages Taplow to say things against Crocker and mock at him. But Taplow does nothing of the kind. His act of imitating Crocker is no sign of disrespect. It is simply an act of mimicry. It is only by way of humour that he does so. There is no disrespect in it. But the way Frank encourages Taplow to do it is not like a teacher. In trying to degrade Crocker-Harris, he degrades himself only.

 

Q4. Give a brief character-sketch of Taplow.

Ans. Taplow is a student of Mr. Crocker-Harris. He has to stay behind even on the last day of the school. Mr. Crocker-Harris has given him extra work to do because he had been ill for a day during the week and missed the class. It is already very late. Mr. Crocker-Harris has not come yet. But Taplow is afraid of Crocker. He dare not leave the class until Crocker comes. Although he is afraid of Crocker, he doesn’t dislike him. He laughs at Crocker’s poor joke only out of respect. We can say that Taplow is a very obedient student.

 

Q5. Give a brief character-sketch of Millie.

Ans. Millie is Mr. Crocker-Harris’s wife. She is a thin woman and is in her late thirties. She dresses herself in smart clothes. She sees Taplow imitating her husband’s voice. But she takes it lightly. She finds Taplow waiting for her husband. She can understand very well that Taplow likes to go and play like other boys. She tells him that her husband is at the Bursars. It could take him a lot of time there. Thus, she indirectly hints to Taplow that he could go and play. Even then Taplow dare not go. Then she sends Taplow to a chemist to get some medicine. Her chief purpose is not to get the medicine. She only wants to help the poor boy enjoy his freedom for some time at least. Thus, we can say that Millie is a loving and intelligent woman of helping attitude.

 

Q6. Compare and contrast the characters of Mr. Crocker-Harris and Frank.

Ans. Crocker-Harris and Frank are both teachers in Taplow’s school. But they are poles apart in their characters. Crocker is a very strict teacher. He is a man of discipline. He has his own principles. He is true to his duty. He never does any favour or disfavour to his students. On the other hand, Frank is not true to his duty. He teaches science. He himself does not like the subject he teaches, but he calls his students slackers. He is jealous of Crocker. He encourages Taplow to say things against Crocker and mock at him. It does not behave a teacher to encourage a student against another teacher. In trying to degrade Crocker-Harris he degrades himself only.

 

Q7. Taplow is shown to be a sincere and dedicated student. How far do you agree to it?

Ans. Taplow is a boy of sixteen. He is pure at heart. He is a boy with no whims and fancy of his own. It is his frank nature which make us appreciate him all the more. It is great to watch that even after absenting himself from school for a day, he is ready to wait the next day to meet his teacher. His patience is all the more most attractive feature. Taplow paints before us a picture of a boy with divine nature. In spite of having many good qualities Taplow is also good at flattery. He is waiting for the teacher because he wants extra marks for the test. Still in spite of follies he behaves in a simple, innocent manner. In fact, he has not been touched by modernism and has a pure, serene heart.

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