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Act 2: Summary of The History Boys

Scenes 1 – 2

At the beginning of Act 2, the narrative continues from where Act 1 ended. As the act progresses, a flash-forward scene occurs where we find Irwin, several years later, now confined to a wheelchair, working on a history documentary. During a break in filming, he is approached by a man he recognises as one of his former students, though he can’t remember his name.

The man, who is now a journalist, begins asking Irwin questions about his teaching days and asks about Dakin, hinting at a past sexual relationship between them, which Irwin denies. Irwin soon realises that the conversation is being recorded, a scheme to potentially damage his reputation as a renowned historian. It is then revealed that the man is Posner.

While teaching the class on his own for the last time, Hector becomes angered by the boys’ cheery moods, screaming at them to leave the classroom. He then, to everyone’s surprise, bursts into tears. Posner pats him on the shoulder and the boys do their best to lift his mood by playing his favourite drama game.

Scenes 3 – 4

The Headmaster tells Mrs Lintott that he is pleased to soon be rid of Hector as his teaching methods are not “quantifiable”, meaning that he cannot easily measure their success. When the Headmaster leaves, Mrs Lintott complains about everyone patronising her as a female member of staff. She also expresses harsh criticisms of the Headmaster while speaking with Irwin.

During their first joint class, Hector and Irwin strongly disagree on how to approach teaching the Holocaust. Hector argues that formulating opinions on the topic just to impress others is both disrespectful and immoral, especially to those who were victims. In contrast, Irwin suggests a more objective, analytical approach. Although the majority of the boys agree with Irwin, Posner finds the discussion offensive, particularly since he is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

After mock interviews with the boys, Dakin stays back to talk to Irwin, whom he greatly admires. He later reveals to Scripps that he feels a sexual attraction towards the teacher, and desperately wants to please him with his answers in class. Dakin also tells him that Hector has been fired, having gained the information from Fiona. Neither sounds particularly unhappy about this outcome, saying it will be a relief not to be inappropriately touched by him anymore.

Scenes 5 – 7

After a complaint from Posner’s parents about the lesson on the Holocaust, the Headmaster tells Irwin off and orders him to apologise.

Dakin tells Scripps that, although he has begun a sexual relationship with Fiona, he is more attracted to Irwin. We also see Posner suffering from his unrequited love for Dakin.

Hector, Irwin and Mrs Lintott carry out mock interviews with the boys. Mrs Lintott tells them – to their surprise – that one of the interviewers may be a woman. She then gives a passionate speech about the role of women in history and their exclusions from positions of power. Rudge’s interview doesn’t go well as he ignores all advice given by his teachers, choosing instead to be his authentic, no-nonsense self.

Dakin again stays back to spend time with Irwin. He asks his teacher which university college he went to, to which Irwin responds that he went to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. Dakin impresses Irwin with his analytical viewpoints on the events leading up to World War II. Attempting to flirt with Irwin, Dakin uses the war as a sexual metaphor, but Irwin doesn’t respond in kind.

Scenes 8-10

There is a photograph taken with all the boys and staff, except for Hector, who the Headmaster refuses to wait for. Mrs Lintott tells Irwin that she will retire at the end of the year, and Irwin will take her position.

Hector tells Irwin that he has been asked to leave, which Irwin has already been told by Dakin. Hector says that he no longer feels a connection with the students. He also warns Irwin about his relationship with Dakin, saying that this will undermine his authority with his pupils.

Scenes 11-12

The boys have all had their Oxbridge interviews, and they discuss their different experiences. Posner says that he answered questions on the Holocaust in the way that Irwin advised, and the detachment he displayed impressed the examiners.

Then, we learn that all the boys have gained their Oxbridge places. The teachers assume that Rudge hasn’t got in, when in fact he was offered a place during the interview.

Dakin confronts Irwin, revealing that he checked the Corpus alumni register and found that Irwin wasn’t listed as a former student. Irwin concedes, admitting that he actually went to Bristol University, but did complete his teaching diploma at Oxford. Dakin then proposes that they go for a drink together, clearly hinting at his interest in pursuing a sexual relationship with Irwin. Seeing Irwin’s hesitation, he assures him that their potential relationship won’t cast Irwin in the same light as Hector. Ultimately, Irwin agrees to join him for a drink.

Scenes 13-15

Dakin reveals to the boys that he has saved Hector’s job by blackmailing the Headmaster, whom he knows to have been “trying to feel up Fiona.” He prepares to give Hector his reward: taking a lift with him on his motorcycle. However, the Headmaster appears and blocks this from happening, suggesting instead that Irwin goes with Hector.

Scripps then tells the audience that this motorcycle journey ends in an accident that sees Hector die and Irwin confined to a wheelchair. As a result, Irwin and Dakin never have their drink. At Hector’s funeral, the boys speak with affection for their teacher and his love of literature.

Mrs Lintott speaks to the audience and explains that the boys all went on to successful careers, except for Posner, who doesn’t work and lives a solitary life.

Hector returns to the stage for the final words, urging the boys to understand that the essence of education is to “pass it on” to the next generation.

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