The context for my question is drawn from a movie on teaching history. The question per se, pertains to history. I hope that it was triggered by a movie scene is only seen as a context and not as a diversion.

In the 2006 movie "The History Boys", at the 53rd minute, the following scene occurs. The headmaster is scolding the teacher Hector, for abuse. The teacher seems indifferent to the scolding for the most part. He makes a feeble attempt to defend himself by saying:

"The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act".

Then, he is about to substantiate it by starting to say:

"In the Renaissance......"

The headmaster abruptly cuts him off by saying: "Hell with your renaissance, the literature, Plato, Michael Angelo and Oscar Wilde". (I have slightly edited the exact text of cutting off to avoid unparliamentary words used by the headmaster).

The question is : Say, Hector was allowed to continue his statement that began with "In Renaissance...", what examples of personalities or historical episodes could he have quoted to substantiate the view that teaching as an activity may have an erotic angle to it ? Did the view exist at all ? Were there examples of this at all during the Renaissance period ? If yes, what were they ?


1 Answer 1


Alan Bennett was interviewed about the play The History Boys by the Telegraph. In the interview he was asked explicitly about that phrase. He replied:

The phrase actually comes from George Steiner – I asked his permission to use it – and it comes from his latest book called Lessons of the Masters. Steiner talks about the whole question of sexuality and teaching, and though I'd written the play before I'd read it I was heartened that some of the things – for instance the notion that Irwin's teaching is sexualised by the pupil who actually takes it all on board – wasn't just an idea I'd had, but can occur as part of the nature of teaching.

As far as I can see, Bennett seems to have paraphrased from Steiner, rather than quoting verbatim.

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