This sample essay on The Browning Version reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.
‘Almost more beautiful than the original’-Andrew’s comment about his own translation of the Agamemnon. This just about sums up The Browning Version- the troubles of a husband struggling with illness and the infidelity of his wife. The Browning Version is the Agamemnon with a twist at the end giving it a very effective anti-climax.
The era the play is set in is important to some of the play’s points and messages. It is set in post-war Britain sometime around the late 1940s.
At this time the country was under rationing and money was very important to the vast majority of the populace. So Taplow’s stealing of the chocolates at the beginning shows the rationing at the time-he feels bad about taking the second chocolate and puts it back. Public schools were very strict at the time and very backward.
They refused to change very much and were very backwards in some cases – for example it is never revealed what Taplow’s first name is; they only called boys by their surnames.
This is evident in Andrew’s conversations – the only person he does not call by their surname is his wife, Millie. Also Millie’s incessant mentioning of her inheritance and her uncle Sir William Bartop is to show that she has money and it is almost a boast. This is her fai? ade to improve her social standing and she uses it to imply that she is better off than your average schoolmaster’s wife.
This is evident when the Head says ‘Your wife’s remarks had lead me to imagine something a little more – extensive’. At this time divorce was frowned upon greatly.
Divorcees were ostracised completely from society- for example divorcees were not allowed in the royal enclosure at Ascot and even the late Princess Margaret was not allowed to marry a RAF war hero because he was a divorcee. That is why Andrew says he does not want to do Millie a second grave wrong and why they do not even discuss splitting up or divorce. The divorce would ruin all of Millie aspirations of social climbing and joining the aristocracy. The Browning Version is named after a translation of the Agamemnon, written by Aeschylus as one third of the Oresteia, by Robert Browning (1812-1889).
This particular book is given to Andrew by Taplow in the play and plays an integral part in the story. The plot itself contains many similarities to the Agamemnon: a cheating wife, the lack of love between the married couple and the “death” of a husband. To make it even worse in Millie’s obvious spite for her husband she tells him all the details of many affairs. Andrew is so worn down by this that he is referred to as ‘dead’ by Millie This is the ‘killing’ of Andrew by his wife as is in the Agamemnon and he says later ‘I fear it [the manuscript of his version of the Agamemnon] is lost like so many other things’.
The ‘so many other things’ refers to the lack of faith in his wife and the lack of love and joy in his marriage. Personally I think that The Browning Version is a version of the Agamemnon with a change of scenery and a twist at the end. Andrew admits that he himself wrote a version of the Agamemnon when he was a teenager in rhyming couplets and says ‘when I had finished it, I remember, I thought it very beautiful – almost more beautiful than the original’. Almost, but not quite – in my opinion Andrew means that you cannot beat the original therefore numbing the success of the ending of The Browning Version.
The characters of The Browning Version are very stereotypical of the times and the setting. Crocker-Harris for example is the characteristic draconian old schoolmaster- by the book to the letter and ruthless. He is built up in the short time of the play to give the impression of a disrespected and unlovable man without feeling, fully deserving of the title ‘the Himmler of the lower fifth’ as bestowed on him by Frobisher. He changes throughout the second half of the play and we as the audience see him to be pleasant, friendly and bullied by his evil wife.
This means that the emotions displayed at the end are all the more surprising and cathartic. His history with Millie is outlined in sketchy little facts linked into the conversations. He has always had a stormy marriage and it has never been fulfilled for either party. Millie hints at all the affairs she has had and she has always told Andrew the sordid details. This has worn Andrew down and he is referred to as ‘dead’, ‘an utter failure’, a ‘Henpecked husband’ and he is thought to be by Taplow to be ‘all shrivelled up inside like a nut’.
Again this makes the ending much more emotional. Andrew believes his life is a subject for farce, but in fact he has misread his life and it is more like a tragedy. He also believes that his life is a common occurrence worldwide. Millie is a social climber and is completely evil. She dashes Andrew feelings about the book with a completely evil comment about it being appeasement so that Taplow can get his remove. She is so mean to him to the point of resentment because he can’t provide her with what she needs and she is a free spirit.
She has to find this kind of love through other channels for example affairs. Frank is typical of young teachers- lively, vigorous and liked by the boys in his care. In the 1994 film version he is made to be American; a rarity in the time period and it makes him even more of a wildcard. But Frank changes over time to regret his actions with Millie and suddenly sees her true colours and recognizes that Andrew is in fact a very admirable person indeed. Taplow the epitome of a schoolboy, a lively character and he recognizes that the ‘Crock’ is not liked.
He notices Andrews’s fai? ade and sees through it and furthermore admires him for what he is worth. There are two film versions of The Browning Version – one made in 1951 by Anthony Asquith, staring Michael Redgrave as Andrew, and a 1994 version directed by Mike Figgis, with Albert Finney in the leading role. Both are very good in their own respects but they both change a good deal in their adaptations. The 1951 version is closer to the original in the plot and setting .
The end is similar to the 1994 version with Andrew making a triumphant speech at prize day after Fletcher and providing the several minutes of applause the head master predicted while winning the respect of the boys. The 1994 version is set in a slightly different time but is similar in many ways to the 1951 version. The endings of these are cathartic and the audience goes away feeling very pleased that Andrew has finally done something to please himself and gained the respect of his pupils.
On the stage it is kept nicely in a one room set and there are no scene changes making it very compact. It manages to cram a lot of information into a very small time without leaving the audience asking background questions about the play. It leaves the audience pleased that the underdog has come out on top but still asking questions in the backs of their minds about what happens next. The ending is calm and simple compared to the other emotional and physical turmoil of the previous conversations making it very successful in not leaving the audience weary of the characters.
The stagecraft is simple and easy to carryout and therefore works to not confuse or change the perspective of the audience. I doubt it’s effectiveness for a group of teenagers in this modern world of loud music and huge climaxes, but I myself then must be an exception. In their opinion, The Browning Version is very dull, slow and boring play indeed but I actually enjoyed reading this play. It is very effective to the ‘Aunt Ednas’ of the audience as Terrence Rattigan himself used to call them. The name Edna conjures the image of middle aged women of a certain upbringing and social standing.
A tragedy is a play ending with a serious action such as death or defeat in a crescendo of sorrow. The Browning Version almost accomplishes this but accomplishes an anti-climax instead, with the audience expecting the cathartic ending of a tragedy. The tragic themes and motives of The Browning Version are occasionally cut with humour; most of the time provided by Taplow, for example are his golfing skills and his impressions of ‘the Crock’. Andrew claims that an anti-climax can be very effective and this is true of The Browning Version in these circumstances.
The way the anti climax is executed and the preamble to it makes it a very successful way of ending the play. The ending is kept under wraps in a very simple and straightforward way with the ambiguity of a telephone call, which is very anonymous. At the very end, the meal is almost the picture of an ideal marriage but with a twist of bitterness in the expression on the face of Millie. As The Browning Version is based on a tragedy it could have ended like one, but it does the reverse and finishes in the way you would least expect if you had no knowledge of the play beforehand.
If it had ended like a tragedy would likely be less successful in it’s message and the ending would not mean so much to the audience in the same way. The ending of The Browning Version is a very strange one compared to the other plays I have read or seen, and I find the ending a pleasant surprise. With all things considered, I think the anti-climax is as effective as Andrew claims it to be. Rattigan’s use of tragedy and anti-climax, and his characters, make the ending of The Browning Version a very good one undeniably.