Educating Rita' shows how a comedy can raise serious issues. Discuss
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'Educating Rita' shows how a comedy can raise serious issues. Discuss 'Educating Rita' was voted best comedy of the year when performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980 and by 1983 it had risen to be the fourth most popular play on the British stage. Russell uses humour as a tool to engage and entertain his audience whilst at the same time dealing with serious topics. Without the humour, the play would be less accessible and would probably have reached a much more limited and elitist audience. The play is naturalistic with a fixed and simple staging, which firmly reflects the real world. The entire play is set in one study room in a red brick university. The room is Frank's environment - cluttered with books representing both the world of knowledge and the disordered state of Frank's mind and life. It is a far cry from the world to which Rita is used, but one to which she aspires in her quest to 'find herself'. By contrast Frank is disillusioned with his life as an academic and the audience quickly gathers the impression that Frank would escape from his world if only he could. This theme is handled hilariously from the opening of the play. Rita's bungled attempt to enter the room, fumbling with the door handle and cursing, is a metaphor for the apparent barriers between Rita's working class environment and the middle class, educated world that she is trying to break into. "The poor sod on the other side on the outside won't be able to get in. An' you won't be able to get out" (Act one, scene one) The mismatch between Rita's language and academic setting provides a great source of humour throughout the play.
All of Frank's academic training has taught him to approach literature in a balanced and objective way and this is the learning he passes on to his students. When Rita first comes into his life she is full of wild enthusiasm and passion but her language is untutored. She describes Lady Macbeth as a "cow" and assonance as getting the rhyme wrong. She is not just seeking learning but also social advancement and strives to rid herself of her regional class accent. The contrast between her raw language and caustic wit and Frank's more refined use of the Queen's English gives the play much of its humour. As she grows a little in confidence and develops her skills the from coursework.info n the accent goes and to Frank's dismay, along with it much of her charm. Act one, scene seven is a crucial scene in Rita's development. Having been unable to pluck up the confidence or courage to cross over the threshold to Frank's dinner party, she comes to Frank to justify herself. Rita explains that one of her main concerns was that she might have brought the wrong type of wine. Here again, Russell undercuts the seriousness of his humour. "It wouldn't have mattered if you'd walked in with a bottle of Spanish plonk," says Frank. "It was Spanish" comes the reply. The invitation to dinner is partly a symbolic act. To attend the function would signify acceptance in Frank's social circle, and yet Rita knows that she is not ready for the transition. She fails to do it at this stage because she knows in her heart that she does not possess the language, the knowledge or the style of the middle-class academics to which she aspires.
Even the minor characters whom we never meet, including Rita's mum, her husband Denny and friends Trish and Tiger have their own personal off-stage tragedies. In that sense this is a very serious play with a lot to say and without humour it would be very dark and difficult for the audience to accept. In many ways the humour comes naturally out of the situation. Rita's attempts to recreate herself have a natural element of absurdity as she tries to compete in the academic world without the right background or knowledge. She is bound to make mistakes and it is better that we, the audience laugh with her than at her. We recognise that all of us make mistakes when we are learning and something new and we know to laugh at ourselves is the best response. Frank's tragedy is equally familiar. He represents those who once had high hopes of a brilliant career but eventually have to come to terms with their mediocrity. Although the play is hilarious the seriousness is never lost. The humour is mainly at a verbal level and slapstick situation comedy is avoided. The humour helps the author to bring out an essentially optimistic flavour despite all the tragedy. Rita completes her transition and ends the play as a well-rounded individual feeling herself to be in full control of her destiny. She has learned a key lesson on the way that she does not have to change her personality and be like other people to become more mature. As Rita rises, Frank falls as the drama unfolds. The play ends with his carrer at its lowest point after students complain about his drunkenness. However, even for Frank there is the hope of a new start and renewal with his sabbatical to Australia a country which for him symbolises new beginnings.
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