Could Rita’s character, in Educating Rita, be interpreted as a comedy clown or jester figure?
When Rita first enters at the beginning of the play, we see a woman come in clumsily and loudly. In the screenplay for the film, completely written by Willy Russell, she walks in wobbling on high heels in bright, eighties -style clothing. This links Rita immediately to ‘Jesters in medieval times… [who often wore] brightly coloured clothes and eccentric hats in a motley pattern and their modern counterparts usually mimic this costume.’1 This with her strong Northern accent and vulgar language in stating, 'I am comin' in aren't I? It's that stupid bleeding handle on the door. Y' wanna get it fixed’, instantly makes her a stereotypical view of the people Rita, at this point in the play, represents. She performs slapstick associated with fools especially at the beginning, not knowing how truly insightful she already is; she is a caricature of a person and can be seen as a jester-like or clownish figure. However, even then she shows innate knowledge and a unique view of the world. After being unable to attend Frank's dinner party she tells him that she did not wish to play the role of 'court jester'.
In Shakespearean plays, jesters are often considered to be wise and insightful. Court jesters were the only people allowed to break the traditions and rules set by each social class; they were allowed to insult authorities, people in authority over them and even the monarch. Important traits of a jester were that they were observant, honest, witty and good with language ‘in medieval times jesters entertained with a wide variety of skills: principal ones included songs, music, and storytelling’2. Rita shows these traits from the very first scene of the play. 'I hate drugs, they just cover everything up. I hate them.' Jesters were some of the few people in the medieval world who saw the world through comic or ironic eyes which is arguably darker than the way perceived by other people ‘Much of the entertainment was performed in a comic style and many jesters made contemporary jokes in word or song about people or events well known to their audiences’3. Rita is shown to have a clearer insight into her place in society than those around her. Her husband, Denny, is used to emphasise her ability to see through the veil, and used to show how society tries to hold people like her back (for instance when he burns her books). But the Open University course she takes shows us that society is opening up. She asks Frank; 'what's it like to be free?' after she ponders on what certain people think of as acceptable behaviour. This links arguably to the large social and cultural gap between the rich and the poor in the 1980s. It also shows us that she feels trapped and unfulfilled in her life by her job and by her social status, her marriage and her family. In the film, she does not even look physically free as her clothes are all tight fitting and in public places such as the pub scene, she is trapped by her family on the chair.
Fools in Literature can be used to link plots and are often mobile between social classes and places. Feste, the jester in Twelfth Night, could travel between the court of Duke Orsino and the court of Countess Olivia almost without people noticing and conversed with both servants and the nobility alike. Rita, similarly, can go to the pub and to the university. Conflictingly, there are points in the play where Rita seems unwelcome and uncomfortable in both the academic world and the working class world. This is highlighted through her not wanting to get pregnant; she feels it would stop her education which she is lucky to be getting and Denny does not like it. The jester would normally, in this situation, be outwards and entertaining but here Rita stays quiet, for instance in the scene where she talks to her…