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Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
~ Mr. Keating's famous quote

John Charles Keating is the main protagonist of Dead Poets Society. A former student of an all-boys school known as Welton Academy, as well as a brilliant Rhodes scholar, Keating is a charismatic, energetic English teacher who inspires the students to rebel against their families and other teachers by stepping out of their shells and traditions of the school and encouraging them to reach out towards their own dreams and desires through the art of poetry, as well as demonstrating their liberty, freedom of speech, and non-conformity.

The boys see Mr. Keating more as a friend than their teacher. He is the first person the students will turn to for advice because of his way with words, and was the one who introduced the Dead Poets Society to the group. Although he is a teacher, he cares more about his students in a way that no other teacher does at Welton Academy. He is always the student's role model and the person who will always be there for the people he cares about no matter what.

He was portrayed by the late Robin Williams, who also portrayed Mork, Popeye, Peter Banning, Daniel Hillard, Alan Parrish, Jack PowellPhillip Brainard, Lance Clayton, Genie, Ramón, and Lovelace.

History

Mr. Keating was first introduced by Headmaster Nolan to the entire school as the new English instructor following the retirement of Mr. Portius last term, while also mentioned to have been teaching in Chester School of London for the past several years.

While most of the teachers do traditional conformity and orthodox teaching methods at class, Keating however is one exception: He first whistled the 1812 Overture and took the students to the school's displays cases containing photos and artifacts of the school's sports achievements. He tells them that they all have the potential to become independent individuals, and they are responsible for what their futures will hold. He also tells the boys they may call him "Oh Captain, my Captain" if they dare, and at the same time tells the boys "Carpe Diem", which is Latin for "seize the day".

The next day, Keating starts the class with a traditional teaching approach by having Neil read the introduction to their poetry textbook. Keating finds the mathematical criticism and ideals from J. Evans Pritchard ridiculous and instructs his pupils to rip out the essay. When some students (including the soon to be traitor Richard Cameron) hesitate, he tells them "It's not the Bible; You're not gonna go to hell for this. This is a battle, a war." The Latin teacher McAllister arrived to notice the students ripping out the essays until he found that Keating was still teaching, and decides to be excuse and leave them be.

Keating later had his lunch break with McAllister, whom the latter told him of his interesting class which gave a big risk of making the students becoming artists when in fact they aren't. Keating corrected McAllister that the students he gave are becoming freethinkers. After lunch, he was later encountered outside the school by his students, who showed him the annual old Welton yearbook and asked about Dead Poets Society, to which Keating told the DPS was a secret club dedicated to taking the meaning out of life, reciting poetry though an Indian cave and philosophically drawing life lessons to enhance their lives and appreciation of literature. This lead Neil and the boys start up the DPS once again.

As Keating continues teaching more non-conformist methods, the boys (thanks to Keating's teachings) participated in several of their own accords, such as Knox Overstreet trying to win the heart of Christine Noel which he finally succeeded, and Neil Perry getting the role of Puck in the school play of A Midsummer Nights Dream which serves as a defiance from the wishes of his father: Thomas Perry, who wanted Neil to become a doctor by force.

When Charlie Dalton publicity pulled a joke about making Welton co-educational by demanding girls to be admitted, Keating's unorthodox teachings caught the attention of Mr. Nolan, who first told Keating he used to be an English teacher long before promoting to Headmaster and before Portius' retirement. Nolan then warned Keating to teach the students the conformity of Tradition and Discipline, so they would be ready to enroll for College.

Mr. Keating was soon visited by Neil in his office, who told him about his father after he unexpectedly visits Neil and forcing him to quit the school play. To this, Mr. Keating suggests that Neil tell his father how the boy truly feels, unaware that Neil lied to Mr. Keating and tells him that his father allowed him to continue with the play. Keating later on watched Neil's successful performance in the school play as he and his students praise him until Thomas came in retaliation to pick up his son home by force, as well as threatening Keating to stay away from him.

Because of Thomas' decision to forcefully send Neil to Military School as a final straw that completely destroyed Neil's happiness. The news of Neil's suicide not only saddened his classmates, but to Keating as well, as he found out that Neil and the boys had secretly started the DPS again and that Neil had lied to him the whole time after he discovered what was written in Neil's textbook.

Keating's time as a teacher began to end when he was falsely accused and blamed by Mr. Perry and Richard Cameron for “corrupting” his students, and drove Neil to commit suicide for defying his father's orders. As well as revealing the DPS members and it's secrets to Mr. Nolan to the point that the boys were force to sign the confession that will dismiss and barred Keating from ever teaching again, even though all what Mr. Keating did wasn't his fault and he was already aware that he was completely innocent the whole time.

Keating is fired soon after and interrupts the class to collect his belongings, as he sees Mr. Nolan temporary teaching traditional English for the time being. As he was about to leave the school, Todd shouts that all of them were forced to sign the letter that resulted in his dismissal and that Neil's death wasn't his fault. Keating already knows everything that happened as Nolan demanded Keating to leave the campus immediately while ordering Todd to sit down and be silence, threatening him and the other students with expulsion if they made one more outburst in his class.

Keating then realized all hope isn't lost when he finally sees the DPS members (sans Cameron) gather enough courage to defy conformity and by extension Mr. Nolan and Welton Academy itself by doing exactly what Keating had done: Standing on top of their desks and calling out to Keating "O Captain! My Captain!". Realizing that his work has succeeded and survive though the hearts of his loyal students, Keating is visibly touched as he thanks the boys and happily leaves the school for good.

Quotes

Thank you, boys. Thank you.
~ Mr. Keating's last words at the end of the film

Trivia

  • What attracted Robin Williams to the role of John Keating more than anything else was that John Keating was the type of teacher he, in his school days, always wished he had. Williams also considered this movie one of his favorite films he did, and Peter Weir the best director he had ever worked with.
  • When the boys show Professor Keating his old senior yearbook picture, it is, in reality, Robin Williams's high school senior picture when he was a student at Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, north of San Francisco.
  • After Robin Williams' death in 2014, the famous line "O Captain! My Captain!" was used by many media outlets in his obituaries.
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