The Browning Version is a play written by Terence Rattigan. It is built around a public school, and one of the main themes in the play is how Englishness and national identity in England change over time. To show this change in Englishness Rattigan builds the play around Andrew Crocker-Harris, he represents “the old” pre-war Englishness that was fading away during the time when the play was written. In contrast to Andrew, the younger, Frank Hunter stands for what is to come, and what can be seen as “the new” post-war Englishness.
The play was written in 1948 and as scholars have argued the change in Englishness was as fierce as ever during this period. One factor that influenced the change in national identity was the change in political power, from The Conservatives to The Labour Party. The fact that England lost its position as the world’s most powerful empire after the Second World War also influenced the rapid change in Englishness.
The unpopular Mr Crocker-Harris is a Latin and Greek master, both Latin and Greek were languages with decreased importance during this period. Emerging languages whit higher status was for instance French and Spanish. The author gives the reader the feeling that Mr. Crocker-Harris is conservative and unchangeable by giving him these old fashion features. Something that might be traced back to the Englishness that dominated in the pre-war era, a stubborn person that was unwilling to see the new things coming. In contrast, Hunter stands for the new, he is a science teacher and everyone seems to like him.
He is an open-minded person and Taplow’s, a pupil at the school, highest wish is to start science instead of language class. This might be seen a metaphor for the old, Latin, and Greek, to give way for the new, science, and other languages.
It seems like no one really likes Andrew, he is called “The Crock” and “Himmler of the Lower Fifth” by his pupils, he is also considered not to have any heart or feelings. He is even forced out of the school by the headmaster to give way for a new language teacher that is supposed to teach new languages instead of Latin and Greek. Neither his wife seems to like him, she has an affair with the younger Frank Hunter, a metaphor which might show a shift from the old to the new, a shift in the importance from language to science.
In conclusion, Rattigan’s play The Browning Version tackles the change in Englishness and England’s national identity. He does so by giving Mr Crocker-Harris features that were interrelated with the Englishness before the Second World War and before The Labour Party won the election and laid the ground for the welfare state. The most prominent of all these features is the shift in the importance of the Latin and Greek languages. Other features that Andrew possesses that are connected with the old Englishness are his way of being strict and authoritarian and his reluctance to accept new things coming. In contrast, Hunter stands for what is new and gives a picture of what is to come.