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Class XI: Hornbill - The Browning Version

The Browning Version

By Terence Rattigan


This play highlights the attitude of a teenaged student towards his teacher. His
comments are shocking because they are very close to reality. He imitates the voice
of Mr. Crocker-Harris. He calls the man almost inhuman. He is mortally afraid of his
teacher. His promotion depends on the whim or goodwill of his teacher. But he
opens up when the other science teacher encourages him to do so. He hates the
Greek play because he does not like the teachers method of teaching. Mr. Crocker
Harris seems to hate people in order to make them like him.

The description of the teacher is damaging. It reflects upon the hopeless quality of


John Taplow, who is about sixteen years old and in the lower fifth form of an English
public school, appears at the flat of Andrew Crocker-Harris for an end-of-term tutorial
in the hope of being advanced to the upper fifth. Seeing a box of chocolates, he
helps himself to two pieces, eats one, and then, either out of conscience or fear of
being caught, replaces the other.

Shortly thereafter, Frank Hunter arrives, and in the course of the conversation
between the two it becomes clear that Crocker-Harris is retiring because of ill health.
Known for his strict discipline, students dub him the Crock and Himmler of the
lower fifth. Hunter, on the other hand, enjoys easy rapport with students, as can be
seen in Taplows readiness to share confidences with him. While they wait for the
Crock to appear, Hunter instructs Taplow in a proper golf swing. Taplow admits
that, although like most students he had his share of fun at Crocker-Harriss
expense, he does have sympathy for him.

Taplow is in the midst of mimicking the master when Millie Crocker-Harris enters and
overhears the mimicry. She dispatches Taplow on an errand to the druggist for
Crocker-Harriss heart medicine so that she can be alone with Hunter, with whom
she is having an affair.

Crocker-Harris appears, only to find that Taplow is not there. When Taplow returns,
Millie leaves to prepare dinner, and Hunter leaves pupil and master to their work on.

Short Answer Questions

Q. Where did Taplow meet Frank?

Ans. Taplow had been given an extra work to do by Mr. Crocker Harris. He was
waiting for the master in the school. Frank also came there and met Taplow.

Q. What subjects does Taplow want to opt for? Why?

Ans. Taplow feels if his grades are good he would opt for science. He feels science
is more interesting than the study of classics.

Q. What do you learn about Taplow from the initial conversation between him
and. Frank?

Ans. Taplow is a boy of sixteen. He is still in the lower fifth. Mr. Crocker- Harris has
not told him the result so he will have to wait till the next day to learn about his fate.

Q. What is Taplows opinion about the Greek tragedy Agamemnon?

Ans. Taplow calls the Greek tragedy Agamemnon as muck. He is annoyed at the
way it was taught to them, just a lot of Greek words strung together. However he
feels that the plot of the play is good.

Q. What does Frank call bad luck?

Ans. The weather was fine and Taplow wanted to go and play golf but he dared not
defy Crocker-Harris. Frank considers Taplows situation bad luck for him.

Q. Why would Taplow not get any comfort as mentioned by Mr. Frank?

Ans. Mr. Crocker-Harris gave no benefit to his students for being good boys in taking
up extra work. He gave marks as per the performance and not for doing any extra
Which rule did Mr. Crocker Harris follow strictly which many teachers flouted?
The rule was that form results should only be announced by the headmaster on the
last day of the term. No one but Mr. Crocker- Harris paid attention to this rule.

Q. What does Mr. Frank suggest Taplow to do because Mr. Crocker Harris is
ten minutes late?

Ans. Frank asked Taplow not to wait for Mr. Crocker Harris and play golf but Taplow
is really shocked and is afraid that Mr. Crocker Harris may follow him home or do
something else.

Q. Why does Mr. Frank envy Mr. Crocker Harris?

Ans. Mr. Frank envies Mr. Crocker Harris for the effect he has on the boys in the
form. Mr. Crocker Harris does not tell the results before they are officially
announced. And in spite of making students take extra work they still like Mr.
Crocker Harris.

Q. How does Mr. Crocker Harris differ from other masters in his reactions
towards others?

Ans. Mr. Crocker Harris did not get pleasure out of giving pain. He was not a sadist.
In fact he had no feelings. He was all dry like a nut. He seemed to hate the idea of
people liking him.

Q. Who is a sadist? Why is Taplow afraid of Mr. Crocker Harris even though
the latter is not a sadist?

Ans. A sadist is a person who gets pleasure while inflicting pain on others. Taplow
says that he would not be so frightened of Mr. Crocker Harris if he were a sadist. He
would at least show his feelings. Mr. Crocker Harris was indifferent and was like a

Q. Which incident does Taplow narrate to prove the fact that Crocker Harris
does not like being liked?

Ans. Taplow narrates the incident about one day when Mr. Crocker Harris made one
of his classical jokes in the class which no one understood. Taplow laughed out
of politeness. Instead of feeling thankful, Mr. Crocker Harris asked Taplow to explain
the joke to the class. This incident proved that Mr. Crocker Harris did not like being

Q. What is Taplows attitude towards Mr. Crocker Harris?

Ans. Taplow is respectful towards Mr. Crocker Harris and likes him even though he
is afraid of him and dare not cut the extra work even on the last day of the term.

Q. Does Frank seem to encourage Taplows comments on Crocker Harris?

Ans. Frank encourages Taplow to comment on Mr. Crocker Harris by cleverly asking
Taplow several questions. He appreciated Taplows imitation of Mr. Crocker Harris
and also asks him to repeat it.

Q. Who was Millie Crocker Harris? What was she like?

Ans. Millie Crocker Harris was the young wife of Mr. Crocker Harris. She was a thin
woman in her late 30s. She was more smartly dressed than the other school masters

Q. How does Millie Crocker Harris send Taplow away?

Ans. On seeing Taplow, Millie Crocker Harris points out that her husband was at the
Bursars so he could go away for a quarter of an hour. But Taplow does not move.
Millie assures him that she would take the blame. She takes out a prescription and
requests him to bring some medicines from the chemist for her.

Q. How does Taplow react to Millies arrival?

Ans. Taplow is nervous. He is unable to control his emotions and whispers to Frank
if he thinks she has heard their conversation. Taplow feels that if she tells Mr.
Crocker Harris, he would lose his form.

Q. What is the meaning of Cut? Why is Taplow unable to Cut?

Ans. Cut means to run away and play truant from the extra class. Taplow is unable
to play truant because he feels Mr. Crocker Harris would follow him home or do
something more.

Q. What do you gather about Mr. Frank from the play?

Ans. Mr. Frank is a young science teacher. He does not like the subject he teaches.
He also admits that he tells the result to the students before it is officially announced
by the head master. He feels envious of Crocker Harris because Taplow likes him.