The History Boys

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Headmaster Character Analysis

The Headmaster of the grammar school where the action of the play takes place, his real name is Felix Armstrong. He is very concerned with sending the boys to Oxford and Cambridge in order to raise the school’s profile. He dislikes Hector’s scattered teaching style, and hires Irwin to make the boys more competitive university applicants. He also sexually harasses his secretary, Fiona—and Dakin uses this fact as leverage against him after the Headmaster tries to force Hector to leave the school.

Headmaster Quotes in The History Boys

The The History Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Headmaster or refer to Headmaster. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Purpose of Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of The History Boys published in 2006.
Act 1 Quotes

HECTOR: The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act. In the Renaissance…
HEADMASTER: Fuck the Renaissance. And fuck literature and Plato and Michaelangelo and Oscar Wilde and all the other shrunken violets you people line up. This is a school and it isn’t normal.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Headmaster (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Headmaster of the school speaks to Hector about his alleged sexual misconduct with his students. The Headmaster has learned that Hector rides on a motorcycle with his students, and sometimes gropes them. Furthermore, he now also believes that Hector molests his students during his classes--hence the locked door.

Hector begins to justify his sexual behavior to the Headmaster by citing the supposed proximity between education and eroticism. But the Headmaster will have no part of it: he dismisses Hector along with the long tradition of homoerotic intellectual figures (including Plato, who in his dialogue the Symposium claimed that true enlightenment is only possible with homosexual sex), claiming that Hector's attachment to his students isn't "normal."

Who's right here? It's possible to sympathize with Hector even as we recognize that he's abused his power and molested minors. Hector, presumably a closeted homosexual, has no outlets for his sexual desires--thus, he satisfies his urges by groping his students on the motorcycle. Hector genuinely cares about his children, yet he also uses them for his own pleasure. (There's a long tradition of gay English schoolteachers, including Auden and Ruskin.) At the same time, the boys are still boys, and so they can't really consent to this, even if they seem to go along with it, and the molestation could (and will) affect them for the rest of their lives. Hector's behavior is thus both extremely immoral and deeply sympathetic.


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Act 2 Quotes

Shall I tell you what is wrong with Hector as a teacher? It isn’t that he doesn’t produce results. He does. But they are unpredictable and unquantifiable and in the current educational climate that is no use.

Related Characters: Headmaster (speaker), Hector, Mrs. Lintott
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising scene, the Headmaster reveals that his "problem" with Hector doesn't really have anything to do with Hector's acts of molestation--supposedly, the reason the Headmaster wanted Hector to resign. On the contrary, the Headmaster has long been unsatisfied with Hector's approach to education. Hector educates his students in poetry and art, but doesn't prepare them to succeed in tests or university applications. In the current education environment--where everything is about numbers and concrete results--there's no place for an old-fashioned liberal arts teacher like Hector. He's got to go; and the Headmaster is happy that he had a specific reason (the molestations) to ask Hector to resign. The Headmaster, one could say, is a barometer for the educational environment in England at the time--he understands that the times are changing, and students need to be better-prepared for tests, even if they have to sacrifice some of their love for the arts in the process.

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