Comedy in Educating Rita
Aristotle said that comedy is an imitation of inferior people’. How far do you think that this applies to the character of Rata in the play ‘Educating Rata? Educating Rata Is a play that uses the colloquialism of the mall protagonist, Rata, to create the comedy element for the audience when she Is being tutored by Frank, an untypical university lecturer who works In the setting of sass’s northern England. In interpreting the characteristics of Rata, it can be identified that comedy is indeed an imitation of inferior people as highlighted by Aristotle who seemed to signify the inferior of society as those who weren’t of royal or noble birth.
Including Rata, the two main protagonists of this play could be classed as inferior because of them not belonging where they should. As Frank is a middle class university lecturer, he should be considered a financially comfortable and sophisticated man due to his social class. Educated people of his social class were typically expected to visit the theatre and enjoy sports. They were also expected to watch the BBC, the comment ‘It’s all BBC with you Isn’t It? ‘ portrays Rite’s Idea of Franks class and the typical actively f his class.
As Frank has a problem with alcoholism, he Sins the normal middle-class lecturer; he Is Instead used to expose the deterioration he sees within the education system of England at this time. Russell uses Franks alcoholism to bring out the comedy in the first act of the play. Franks alcoholism is humorous to the audience because of it being so unexpected due to his class and career. In Act One, Frank recites famous classical authors before finding his alcohol, Where the hell..?
Eliot? No. ‘E’. ‘E’. Dickens. ‘ This portrays his apparent loathing for the education system by sing the literature on his bookshelf to hide his alcohol, but also shows the depth of his alcohol problem because of him having to conceal it. He does this by the mocking of classical literary works and he also mocks the students within the education system when discussing the window in his room, Frank says ‘l sometimes get an urge to throw something out of It… A student usually.
This portrays his distaste for his career and this problem separates him from the rest of his social class, It therefore classes him as someone who Is Inferior. He could also be considered Inferior because f his aversion to the education system and this causes him to again be different from a normal academic figure from sass’s England. Rite’s character has more than one dimension to the contemporary audience. Although the majority of the audience watching this play would have been middle class, they would admire Rata due to her level of determination to gain an education.
This admiration could come from her being a female and the rise of feminism in the sass’s, the popularity of plays such as ‘Top Girls’ by Carry Churchill which had many feminist ideals within it could be linked to aspects of Rite’s character. Throughout the first act of the play the comedy elements come from Rite’s misinterpretations. This enhances her working class mind- set to the audience and gives them more of an analysis of the comedy within Rata, due to her Interpretations and how they differ from Frank.
One of these misinterpretations Is when Frank shows her a picture on the wall that she observes by saying, ‘look at those its’, whereas Frank believes it to be beautiful piece of need for a choice within working class life. She is desperate to escape from the normal class of her social group and doesn’t feel like she belongs there. She goes against her husband to gain what she wants and consequently takes power over her own life, ‘he can burn all me books but he can’t burn what’s up here’ shows this to the audience.
This choice she will gain separates her from what Aristotle considered inferior. As Rata progresses to better herself, she also progresses to become more like Frank and middle class, but by the end probably doesn’t belong there either, ‘I’m a freak signifies her opinion of herself. Rata will never belong in either class, as she is too educated for her own class but her lack of an ascribed status creates a difference between her and the middle class.
This creates empathy from the audience as she has no real identity; she is inferior in both classes and will never be considered superior. The determination of Rata to progress beyond her own class now changes the mockery once used by the audience towards her character into awe and admiration. Rite’s lack of real identity is also signified as she changes her name to match that of an author before we meet her in Act One. She is borrowing someone else’s identity because her own identity is so confused by her not knowing where she belongs.
Her choice of author to correct her working class name, ‘Rata Mae Brown’ also creates comedy and a mockery of her class because of this author not being renowned at all in terms of literary status. This again signifies her lack of belonging within the middle class. In Act Two, Frank himself mocks her for her lack of known identity, What is it now then? Virginia? Or Charlotte? Or Jane? Or Emily? This represents the breakdown of their relationship due to Rite’s new status. This significance of Rata having no identity could imply Rata is inferior in her own head, ‘I’m a freak, but is still not inferior to the audience.
Elder Olson said that ‘comedy resides not in events but in the view taken of them’. This suggests that comedy isn’t created through the events that occur but in the audience’s perception of these events. This applies when Rata quits smoking, possibly to improve her health, whilst bettering her education. This shows us how serious her intent is on bettering her life and her determination for this and this makes us view her as being superior in terms of strength and determination.
However, in Act Two, after she has gained an insight into academic education through summer school, Rata takes up smoking again, but due to her rise in self-confidence and class, it now seems like a sophisticated element of middle class life. Smoking no longer seems a habit of the working class, ‘She is wrapped in a large winter coat. She lights a cigarette’. Rite’s change in clothing and the cigarette portray the change in her. The audience’s perception of Rata has now changed and signifies her superiority to her former self.
This indicates to me that she is not an inferior character in this play. As this play is set in the sass’s, the issues presented were more acceptable than they are to a modern day audience. One of these issues is the controlling relationship between Rata and her husband, Denny. Although we never actually meet Denny, the audience can infer his personality wrought Rite’s description. While Rata wants to gain an education, Denny wants to settle down and start a family, ‘l told him I’d only have a baby when I had choice’.
To Rata, this ‘choice’ is all that matters, and with Denny controlling her, this choice is more limited than ever before. This type of relationship was not uncommon in the role, especially in working class British society. This means that an audience of that time would find this more socially acceptable, but looking at it from a current perspective, this would be considered wrong due to society being perceived as more equal now. This is also similar with the issue of Franks alcoholism, as this was more accepted then, now it is considered a social problem within society.
The issues presented by Rata show her not to be an inferior character as she removes herself from her controlling marriage and her determination to gain a ‘choice’ culminates in success. Using a different viewpoint, I believe Rata completely goes against Aristotle theory of comedy being an imitation of inferior people. The characterization of Rata is not that of someone that is inferior, but is in fact someone who is elevated above the inferior but is not yet considered superior. Her willpower to improve herself does not follow that of someone who would be classed as inferior.
The fact she is ‘on the pill again’ when her husband wants to settle down and start a family shows how independent and strong she is as a woman and she does not allow herself to be controlled. I think an audience at the time the play was written would have admired her need to take control of her own life, even though they would be largely middle class. At the time of the play being written, Margaret Thatcher had Just come into power and she spoke of attaining more than you were expected to achieve. I think Hess ideals of Margaret Thatcher may have inspired Wily Russell when creating the protagonist, Rata.
Through analyzing Aristotle theory, I can deduct that the character of Rata is not inferior. In fact I think the determination shown by Rata in the play, leads me to believe that she would be considered superior to a contemporary audience as she elevates herself not only above her own class but also above the middle class through her necessity to better herself. She does not succumb to the traits classically portrayed by the middle class and therefore I feel that claiming her as inferior is not doing Rite’s emotion and character Justice.