Educating Rita is an entertaining 20th century play. Its entertaining qualities are achieved from many areas, but the most prominent aspect is the humour that Russell involves in the play.
Russell creates this humour using two main characters, known as Frank and Rita. There are other characters involved and referred to such as Rita's husband, Denny and her new found friend Trish, both of whom play minor, yet important roles. However, it is through Frank and Rita that the theme of humour is really explored.The two characters personalities totally contradict each others. Frank being the solemn sarcastic recluse alcoholic, whilst Rita is a restless soul looking for completeness in the form of an Open University Course in English Literature.
Frank being a teacher at this university has the seemingly impossible task of 'Educating Rita'. This is the storyline for the play which progresses and entertaining comedy is provided from both Frank and Rita.It is evident fro the immediate beginning of the play that the two are very different characters with totally different perspectives of life and contrasting attitudes. Looking at the first scene, it seems that as the play continues their contrasting personalities will result in many arguments and disagreements, however as the play evolves it becomes apparent that Frank and Rita become quite fond of each other and thrive in each others company. It seems that the phrase 'opposites attract' has been brought to life in this play!The types of humour are varied throughout the play providing a wide variety of comedy. It ranges from witty, intellectual humour to vulgar obscene comedy.
This range helps bring out the relationship of the characters as well as add variation to the play to keep the audience captive. Humour springs from their relationship and the attraction of two very different cultures and backgrounds.Humour has been inserted into the play right from the beginning where Frank is on stage and is searching for something in the bookcase. One would immediately think he is searching for a book as he mutters, 'Where the hell..
? Eliot? E E e e.... Dickens'. However, he then surprises the audience by pulling out a pile of books and revealing a bottle of small whisky.
This unexpected action creates humour right from the beginning of the play.An example of one type of humour is sharp and perhaps crude. This kind of humour is effective as it is fast paced and appears spontaneous. An example of this 'slapstick' humour is shown below:Rita: God, I've had enough of this.
It's borin, that's what it is, bloody borin. This Forster, honest to God he doesn't half get on my tits.Frank: Good. You must show me the evidence.Rita: Y'dirty sod.
Frank: True, true ... it's cutting down on the booze that's done it ...
The humour in this is discovered not only in Rita's potentially shocking comment, but also in the dry response given by Frank. Rita's response was humourless and Frank challenged it with a witty comeback. This type of humour thrown in at various intervals in the play keeps it lively and light hearted, (as well as entertaining the audience). This is one of the many verbal batterings that take place between Frank and Rita, however it is clear that they are good natured and unintentional.The face that Rita is such a blunt character and is a really honest person adds humour to the script. It is here that Willy Russell has created humour through the characters personality.
For example when Frank and Rita first meet she is rather blunt and not at all concerned with her first impression that she gives to Frank, the man who is her tutor!Rita: It's that stupid bleedin' handle on the door. You wanna get it fixed. (She enters the room)Frank: (staring, slightly confused) Erm ~ yes, I suppose I always mean to ...
The way in which she behaves, gives the audience an idea of her lack of education as well as glimpses into her background. What makes this humorous is the fact that we witness this behaviour during Frank and Rita's first meeting and the way in which she speaks without encumbrance thus showing her true character is humour to the person she is just meeting (Frank) as well as the audience. The audience would also find this particularly amusing as for many it would be a new experience to witness this kind of meeting. A more conservative meeting would have been expected when a lady who wished to be educated went to an Open University to meet her tutor and her actions did not coincide with these expectations.As well as Rita's bluntness there is also the innocence which can also be interpreted as ignorance due to her lack of education causes her to misinterpret things, for example when she is talking to Frank on their first meeting:Frank: No. Erm ~ assonance.
Well, it's a form of rhyme. What's a - what's an example - erm - ? Do you know Yeats?Rita: The wine lodge?Frank: Yeats the poet!Rita: No.This shows her unfamiliarity with English Literature, the course which she is going to be studying! It also gives us another glimpse into her background the fact that she immediately mentions the wine lodge tells us about her life and what is known to her and what she is familiar with. She is clearly more familiar with Yeats the wine lodge rather that Yeats the poet! This miscomprehension often makes her role comical as she often misinterprets things as she does not possess the education to comprehend the more profound meaning of things. Things that she misinterprets, the people in the audience would understand either through common sense if they would find it straightforward, so Rita's mistakes result in entertainment aimed at her misconceptions.In this play Frank and Rita are both well aware of their weaknesses and are not afraid to point them out or criticize themselves or one another.
The way in which they do this is what brings out the humour. They 'put themselves down' frequently using jokes. I think they do this to become more at ease in each other's presence in order to get the other tot reveal their true personality. I think that this shows that even though they are practically strangers and have very little in common; they care for each other more than they realize.
Looking at the text can prove this:Frank: Can I offer you a drink? ... Scotch?Rita: Y'wana be careful with that stuff, it kills y'brain cells.Frank: But you'll have one?Rita: All right. It'll probably have a job findin' my brain.
This section of speech involves Rita 'putting herself down'. This could be because she is in the presence of Frank, and educated man, and she is feeling inferior. This is a subtle kind of humour, which blends into the conversation giving it a larger affect, rather than the flow of conversation being interrupted to insert humour. The fact that this seems like a natural comment which came almost reflexively from Rita makes it sound humorous rather than Rita trying to use this as an attempt to crack a joke in which case the same dialogue would sound foolish and fake.Rather like she is trying too hard to be funny or that she is fishing from a reassurance from Frank, waiting for him to tell her that she does 'have a brain'. This unintentional humour not only has an effect on entertaining the audience, but it also has an effect on Frank It helps him to see the real Rita as well as feel more comfortable around her because of her honesty.
I believe that this was a spontaneous remark from Rita, as she does not seem to be the type who fishes for compliments.Humour can also be discovered by looking at the kind of relationship which Frank and Rita have. It is not like an ordinary teacher-student relationship. I support this theory by extracting textual knowledge from the play where Rita is telling Frank about an incident where she had a row with her husband Denny and he in return burnt her Chekhov books:Rita: ...
all of the Chekhov books you lent me. Denny found out that I was on the pill again ... He burnt all me books.Frank: Oh Christ!Rita: I'm sorry I'll buy y'some moreFrank: I wasn't referring to the books.
Sod the books.Rita: You'd think I was having a bloody affair the way he behaves.Frank: And aren't you? ..
. perhaps your husband thinks you're having an affair with me.Rita: Oh go away. You're me teacher.
Here their relationship is friendlier than the usual, formal teacher-student relationship. The humour that is injected here is the witty remark which Frank makes to Rita's comment. The way in which he remarks lightens the whole scenario which is actually quite serious as Rita and her husband are experiencing serious martial problems. The short sweet remarks made by Frank to Rita show that in their relationship they can joke around and have a honest relationship.
The humour brought to this play by Willy Russell has been through the characters and personalities of both Frank and Rita in different ways. Franks personality takes a complete turn from the beginning of the play when he was a reclusive alcoholic with a sharp tongue, taking a course and following a job he really did not like . . .Frank: .
.. You see I never - I didn't actually want to take this course in the first place. I allowed myself to be talked into it.
I knew it was wrong. Seeing you only confirms my suspicions.. . . to a man who is freer and seizes life more.
Changes are also brought about in Rita's character, as she goes from a blunt, vulgar woman to an educated, intellectual.However, both characters still possess certain qualities, which help them to keep their own identity and does not let the audience forget what they were initially like at the commencement of the play. It is through their journey and reformation of the two characters that Willy Russell used humour. The humour can be described as natural and impromptus, and I think that these skills of making the humour seem natural rather than forced is Russell's key device in making 'Educating Rita' an entertaining and humorous play.