He clearly uses these comedic conventions such as witty banter, satire and stock characters which emphasizes the plays comedic aspects. However, there are many underlying themes and subjects that go against the main notion of comedy, such as Poser’s homosexuality, Hectors sexual and inappropriate behavior towards the boys and the immoral relationship between Taking and the Headmaster’s secretary. All Of these events in the play can be seen as unconventional, which suggests that the play is not comic.
On the other hand, the final resolution of this piece of theatre may be seen as tranquil as all the boys get accepted into Oxford Leistering and some of them seem to have achieved success, and Hectors death leads to the end of sexual harassment for the boys, which supports the notion that The History Boys is a mimic piece of theatre. This is exemplified through Nicholas Netter’s 2006 film representation of the play where it ends with a nostalgic moment ending on a ‘tranquil’ note, which also suggests that the play and film are comic.
The general notion of The History boys may be seen as ‘troubled’ as Hectors sexual advances towards the ‘history boys’ is almost dismissed and disregarded by the boys, and they even mock it. Bennett expresses the comedic convention of satire through the boys in Act One of the play ; “he hits you if he likes you” – connoting the ‘troubled’ aspects of the play and serenading any seriousness about their situation. This is exemplified as Hector sees no trouble in his actions, believing that “the transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act”, which gives the play a dark tone and shows it to be a black comedy.
As the play progresses through to Act Two and the final resolution, we learn that Hector dies at the end. This suggests that the play ends in tranquility for the boys, supporting the idea that The History Boys is a comic piece of theatre. However, in the play and in the film representation of the play, we never see Hector actually in a funeral. This creates an ambiguous tone and raises the question as to whether ‘tranquility is actually achieved for the boys through to the final resolution, and whether The History Boys is a comedy at all.
Despite the boys attending Oxford, they all seem to end up with seemingly ordinary jobs as “one puts together a chain of dry cleaners and one is a builder”. This ending seems tragic and ‘troubled’ for the boys, ass all their hard work and effort they put in to getting into Oxford may be seen as gone to waste, which introduces the notion that The History Boys is actually a tragicomedy. This is because it contradicts the statement that the end of a comedy is ‘tranquil’, suggesting that the play is not a comedy.
However, the Headmaster may see this ending to be ‘tranquil’ and therefore comic, as the boys still ended up attending Oxford. On the other hand, in Hectors perspective, this resolution may be seen as a comedy, as he supported and emphasizes the importance of education over attending a Russell Group university, and thus would believe that the play does end in ‘tranquility’, as the most important thing Hector would have wanted was for the boys to be educated, without it mattering if they ended up with prestige jobs or qualifications. This supports the idea that the play is seemingly a comedy.
The comedic convention of farce is portrayed through the Headmaster’s speech, a common aspect of comedy. This gives a humorous resolution to the play, possibly distracting the audience from the seemingly ‘troubled’ resolution that followed the death of a ‘tragic hero’. However, if Hector had not died by the plays resolution, the ending may be seen to be ambiguous and questions about the morality of the absence of ‘comic justice’ may arise. Bennett uses the comedic convention of emotive language also through the Headmaster’s speech to create the desired ‘tranquil’ resolution.
He describes Hectors teaching as a ‘bank of literature’ and through these metaphors we can see that Bennett was trying to keep the comic element of the play alive even to the tragic end. The Headmaster seems to recognize that Hector “never bothered about what he was teaching the boys for”, which emphasizes that Hector didn’t care about the importance of exams, but about his love for knowledge and education, which is seen as his final achievement. This gives the play on the whole a ‘tranquil’ resolution and therefore comic title.
On the other hand, some may clearly see the underlying comedic sarcasm and irony of the Headmaster’s speech, and see that he actually did not care for Hector at all, and is glad that he is gone. This underlying bitterness highlights the prominent theme of ‘appearance versus reality’ throughout the play. This gives the resolution of the play an ambiguous, troubled’ aspect, suggesting that the play is not comic. Bennett ironically uses Hectors bike as a prop for his pedophilia behavior awards the boys – “on three occasions now she has seen a motorbike… Ay on pillion… A man… Fiddling” – which further introduces the element of dark and black comedy within the play. This can also be perceived as one of the ‘troubled’ aspects of the play, and it is seen as ironic as Hector eventually died on the bike when he gets into an accident with Irwin. Through this, one may conclude that ‘tranquility’ has been achieved after Hectors death on the motorbike, and that The History Boys is in fact a comedy as the boys do not eve to suffer the sexual harassment that they did previous to the accident.