Educating Rita


Willy Russell

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Educating Rita: Act One, Scene Five Summary & Analysis

While Frank eats lunch, Rita bursts into his office. Out  of breath, she tells him she only has a few minutes because she left a client at the hairdresser’s. She explains that she went to a production of Macbeth last night, and that she simply had to come tell him about it. “I thought it was gonna be dead borin’ but it wasn’t—it was brilliant. I’m gonna do an essay on it,” she says. After raving about Shakespeare, Rita says she must hurry back to the shop or else “there’ll be another tragedy,” since her customer’s “lo’ lights” won’t turn out right if she doesn’t hastily return. Hearing this, Frank explains that this isn’t the same kind of tragedy as the kind that characterizes Macbeth as a tragic play.
Perhaps Frank’s best quality as a teacher is his ability to turn his conversations with Rita into learning experiences. Although he doesn’t do much in the way of conventional teaching, he does always find a way to give Rita a valuable piece of information. In this case, he seizes the opportunity to teach her about the formal definition of the word “tragedy” when applied to literature and performance. What’s more, it’s worth noting that he does this in a way that still feels immediate to Rita, as he lets the lesson arise alongside her excitement about and engagement with Macbeth.
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Frank explains that the protagonists of a tragedy go “blindly on and on” without knowing that they’re “spinning one more piece of thread which will eventually make up the network of [their] own tragedy.” He then asks Rita to come to lunch with him, but she tells him again that she has to return to her client. As such, he asks her to come over that night for a dinner party he and Julia are hosting. “An’ y’ want me to come?” Rita asks, and Frank assures her that he does, telling her to invite Denny. “What’s wrong?” he asks, sensing a tension. “What shall I wear?” she asks, and then the stage lights go dark.
Frank teaches Rita about tragedy—a genre in which the protagonist hurdles toward his or her own “tragedy” because of a “tragic flaw” inherent in his or her personality. After this small pedagogical moment, Frank once again transcends the standard boundaries between mentors and pupils by asking Rita to come to a dinner party. Thankfully, he says that Denny should also come, and this helps the invitation remain friendly rather than romantic. Regardless, Rita can’t help but think about what she’ll wear, clearly feeling like she’ll be out of place as a young working-class woman at a prestigious dinner party.
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