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Compare the opening scene of Educating Rita to the opening scene of Pygmalion. Discuss the similarities and differences between Shaw's characterisation of Eliza and Higgins, and Willy Russell's characterisation of Frank and Rita

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Compare the opening scene of Educating Rita to the opening scene of Pygmalion. Discuss the similarities and differences between Shaw's characterisation of Eliza and Higgins, and Willy Russell's characterisation of Frank and Rita These plays revolve around the theme of an upper class, well-educated man transforming a lower class woman into someone like himself. One is Pygmalion; a play set in the time when there was a very distinct class system and members of different classes avoided each other as much as possible. Educating Rita is set much more recently, when the classes mingled much more frequently and when the class system was much less distinct. However, the differences between Frank and Rita are still very apparent. Both of these are situations which could prove to be quite comical because of the culture clash. I am going to compare the opening scenes and explore the characterisation of the main characters. In both plays, the teachers are reluctant to teach their pupils. Higgins is reluctant at the beginning of the scene to teach Liza, but towards the end, when he gets more excited about the challenge, he really wants to. This is different to Educating Rita, in which Frank is willing to teach Rita at the beginning of the scene, because he needs the money, but as he learns more and more about her, he becomes more and more reluctant. He realises that Rita wants to be more like him, but he doesn't like what he is. ...read more.


This tells us that Frank perhaps has a drinking problem. Russell then uses the interesting medium of a one-sided telephone conversation between Frank and someone we expect to be his girlfriend or wife. This entertains the audience, as they are wondering what the person on the other end of the line is saying. We become more accustomed to Frank's character. The telephone conversation is also humorous: "Darling, you can incinerate ratatouille and it still wouldn't burn" and "What do you mean, I'm determined to go to the pub? I don't need determination to get me into a pub." If we compare Higgins and Frank, we can see that Frank is less confident in his own position as a member of the upper-middle class. The reasons for this are a combination of his bleak outlook on life, and the fact that times have changed. There was a much less distinct class system at the time when Educating Rita is set. Ideas about equality were much more prevalent. He admires Rita very much because of her spunkiness. He doesn't want to take that away from her and turn her into someone like himself, because he believes that his upper middle-class lifestyle is very shallow, and not worth living. It is only made bearable by a steady flow of whisky. He knows that he is a clever, well-educated man, but he doesn't think that is important: "Everything I know is that I know absolutely nothing." - Act I Scene i. ...read more.


You can see that she is a proud person when she offers to pay for the lessons, instead of getting them free. They are both very mouthy and to different degrees, they both try to gain authority over their teachers. Rita is far more successful in doing this than Eliza; she reverses the student/teacher role completely. Eliza tries to gain a bit of respect from Henry Higgins, but fails because he is far too arrogant to be dominated by a working-class woman. However, she still gets him to agree to educate her, so it isn't a complete failure. In conclusion, there are a few similarities between the scenes: in both, a woman comes into a man's office and asks him to teach her. In both, he is reluctant to do so, and she says that she might change her mind, and in both, the lessons are eventually agreed upon. The main difference is how the teacher views himself and how the student views him. Frank is quite self-critical and sees his middle-class existence as bleak whereas Higgins is very arrogant and content with his upper-class superiority. In both plays, you get the feeling that because the student goes to the teacher, she looks up to him. She knows he can change her for the better. Although both plays revolve around the same theme - a man from a superior class educating a younger woman from a lower one - there are obvious differences between them. At least some of these are due to the different time periods in which the plays are set. 0 1 ...read more.

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