How does Alan Bennett mix comedy and tragedy

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Alan Bennett mixes comedy and tragedy in the two monologues ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ and ‘Her Big Chance’. In ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ the characters tend to be afflicted by tragic circumstances, broken up by humorous anecdotes that engage the audience’s interest and ‘lighten up’ the play. In ‘Her Big Chance’ there is a comical outer surface which, when considered, actually contains a very tragic undertone. This tragedy isn’t openly stated. To see how Alan Bennett mixes comedy and tragedy, the use of the dramatic monologue, dramatic devices, setting, plot, characterisation and language must first be analysed.

Before discussing further points, what a dramatic monologue is must first be discussed. Dramatic monologues are plays, which consist of one person speaking. The dramatic monologues are broken into sections, these transitions often adding to the tragedy, but not the comedy. In these monologues, certain points like Graham’s mental illness, and Lesley’s poor acting are gradually revealed; they are never openly stated, however obvious the may become. One example of this gradual revelation is when Graham invites Mr Turnbull’s daughter in: ‘I said, ‘You’d better come in. Go to black’.

The pause (‘Go to black. ‘) is what implies that a conversation has occurred. The ensuing dialogue is implied when Graham tells Vera what happened. The nature of the conversation becomes progressively apparent, causing tension to build. This adds to the tragedy of the situation, although it is only tragedy for Vera; Graham is probably pleased with this. The narrative in these monologues is linear, following the actions of the speaking character. Owing to this, the other characters’ points of view and actions are revealed via the speaking character.

For this reason, they may be distorted as the speaking character may be biased. The audience’s imagination is required to give certain effects. One example of this is the image of Lesley writing a postcard for people who couldn’t care less about her, a tragic image; the audience feels sorry for her committing such a futile act without realising the crew don’t actually like her. There are no actions in these monologues, thus various activities are given via descriptions or anecdotes. Anecdotes can also help to add to the comedy.

On example of this is when Graham is talking about someone exposing himself in Sainsbury’s: ‘As Mother said, ‘Tesco, you could understand it! ” This adds bathos, as the rest of the conversation is reasonably serious. It is encouraging the audience to laugh at Vera. This shows observational comedy, as Tesco was seen as a down-market shop when ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ was written, so this allows the audience to relate to the comedy. It also adds to the characterisation of Vera, as the audience can imagine what she is like, to think it understandable for anyone to expose themselves in Tesco.

Dramatic devices can enhance such effects, both tragic and comic. Dramatic devices are used by Alan Bennett to amplify points of comedy and tragedy alike. He mainly uses dramatic devices to emphasise tragedy, in the form of pauses and scene changes. These pauses and scene changes are particularly useful as they encourage the audience to reflect on the meanings of recent events. This causes the audience to think deeper, and realise the tragic implications of what has just been said. The fact that the tragedy is almost created in the audience’s mind means that the tragedy comes across far stronger.

Dramatic pauses such as these are evident in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’: “I thought all that chapter was closed. ‘ Go to black. ‘ This shows passage of time within the monologue, which moves the story on. The quote also suggests that Graham may have a mental illness, but does not openly declare it. The pause allows the audience to consider the tragedy, thus accentuating the tragedy of the fact. In ‘Her Big Chance’, the tragedy is similarly clear, but again not stated: “Then I saw the cat sitting there, watching the trout. ‘ Go to black. The pause adds dramatic effect, and moves the story along.

The repetition of the idea of Lesley’s promiscuous behaviour also adds to the tragic nature of the line. The tragedy is yet again not openly mentioned, but is made quite clear; the audience is aware of the fact that Kenny has a cat and a trout, and the fact that she’s woken up to the sight of them both shows that she must have slept with Kenny. There is another example, in ‘Her Big Chance’, where tragedy is only implied: “… showing her contempt for his way of life… elbow the bikini bottom! ‘ Pause.

In this quote, there is a prime example of bathos, used in both plays; the sophisticated language is followed by a complete transition in style to the far more colloquial ‘elbow the bikini bottom’, creating a humorous effect. This contrast in language also shows that Nigel was speaking falsely, and out of character, to engage Lesley’s interest. While at first her gullibility and naivety seem funny, the pause creates tragedy as it encourages the audience to consider the tragic implications, of the way she is being taken advantage of. This is one of the methods Alan Bennett uses to create tragedy and comedy.

In setting the scene however, he uses predominantly tragedy. The settings of both these plays both tend to be dull and are far more tragic than they are comical. They are never cheerful, as shown by adjectives such as ‘small’ and ‘bleak’ used to describe the characters’ rooms. This gives the idea that their lives are boring, or restricted. One example of this is in the opening of ‘A Chip in the Sugar’: ‘Graham is a mild, middle aged man… small room… single bed… nothing much else. ‘ This is the first time Graham is described, and gives quite a tragic impression of him.

While his room could imply he is a fun-loving bachelor who spends most of his time out of the house, the fact that he is a ‘mild, middle-aged man’ overrules this possibility. The room description implies a lonely, empty life signified by the lonely, empty room. It raises the idea that his life is barren and very limited. In ‘Her Big Chance’ there is a much less descriptive initial scene setting: ‘Lesley is in her early thirties. She is in her flat. Morning. ‘ By comparison, this opening contains much less characterisation than the opening of ‘A Chip in the Sugar’.

This could mean that her room has much less bearing on the story than Graham’s room. It is a basic and simple opening, like a blank canvass, which leaves scope for Lesley’s description to give information to the audience. This means that her opening, ‘I shot a man last week. ‘ is more captivating to the audience because of it is the only information given to them. Later on in ‘Her Big Chance’, Lesley is in a situation implied by the setting: ‘Come up Lesley who is now made up and her hair done, sitting in a small bleak room in her dressing gown.

This implies that she has got the part, although the audience knows that I isn’t a popular part, due to Simon’s previous phone conversation. The fact that the room is small and bleak is the first piece of information divulged by Alan Bennett that points towards the production being a poor, low-budget film. This therefore creates a tragic effect, although settings aren’t always tragic. In ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ there is a comic setting, in which the setting is described by Graham, and not shown to the audience: ‘Now if there’s one thing Mother and me are agreed on it’s that red is a common colour.

And the whole place is done out in red. Lampshades red. Waitresses in red. Plates red, and on the tables those plastic sauce things got up to look like tomatoes. Also red. ‘ This is humorous, as Graham is clearly very opposed to the colour red, probably because he wants to fault Mr Turnbull. The repetition adds to the comedy, as it is for the audience to laugh at Graham who is being so pedantic, and criticising things like red plates. The short sentences emphasise this repetition, as it shows that Graham is getting quite worked up about the red setting.

Settings like this help to get the plot moving, and add to the structure of the monologues. These monologues have carefully considered structures, which help to enhance the tragedy and comedy. Both of the plays have tragic plots. In ‘A Chip in the Sugar’, Graham’s mother first deserts him for Mr Turnbull, which creates tragedy for Graham. The when she splits up with Mr Turnbull, there is tragedy for her. In ‘Her Big Chance’, Lesley is a tragically incompetent actress who is excited about getting a part in a film.

The audience soon learns that not only is the film dreadful, but the part she plays in it is simply aesthetic, and she has only one small line. In ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ the tragic aspects are gradually built up to create an image in the audience’s mind and allow for speculation. It is structured so that the audience is never sure of anything right up until the end. One example of this is Vera’s commonplace line ‘Take one of your tablets. ‘ This brings about gradual insight into Graham’s mental state, as he must need to take tablets for something, and the implication is that they calm him down; the circumstances in which she says it.

There is also withheld information apparent; Graham never actually says what he needs the tablets for. As ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ reaches its climax, his illness is made clearer and eventually obvious, creating an effect of escalating tragedy. An example of this tragedy being made clearer towards the end of ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ is the line ‘I’ve a feeling somebody’s looking at the house, only I can’t see anybody. ‘ This shows that Graham’s mental illness is probably paranoia, as he needs tablets and is obsessed with the fact that someone’s watching the house.

This quote also brings about the fact that Graham is concerned about his illness, as he doesn’t trust his senses. Another effect the line has is to make the audience wonder if there really is somebody looking at the house. This uncertainty causes the audience to be put in Graham’s situation, allowing them to empathise with him. The feeling of empathy is a good way of showing strong tragedy. In ‘Her Big Chance’ the plot looks to be leading in the direction of the film being poor, although it is also structured so that the audience is unsure.

This uncertainty is practically dismissed when Scott says to Lesley: ‘The film’s coming out in West Germany initially, then Turkey possibly. ‘ This line shows that the film is aimed at the lower end of the market, as it is being released in such obscure countries; a major film would be released in places like America and Great Britain. The fact that it is only possibly coming out in Turkey emphasises the fact that the film is truly awful. While the situation may at first be funny, the tragic fact that her dreams have really been shattered is clearly evident.

What makes it worse is that she won’t accept that she should be disappointed, and still thinks herself a good, professional actress. This quote also shows some facts about her character, that she is unrealistically optimistic, and can’t face the truth. Characterisation is another method that Alan Bennett uses to combine comedy and tragedy. He uses the various characters’ differences to show both comedy and tragedy. First he builds up an image of the character, allowing the audience to empathise with them; this makes the tragedy far more personal, hence effective.

It also allows the audience to understand the iniquitous characters that make life harder for the speaking characters. An example of characterisation in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ is after Graham asks his mother if she has bought sun tan lotion: ‘She said ‘What sun tan lotion? ” This comes as no surprise to the audience, as they are led to believe that Vera has a poor memory throughout the monologue. The quote shows not only Vera’s bad memory, but also how absent-minded and easily distracted she is. This can, however, be interpreted to have a more tragic, darker meaning.

It can be seen that Vera never really intended to get any sun tan lotion, but wanted to spend time with Mr Turnbull instead of Graham. In ‘Her Big Chance’, the cast and crew never want to spend time with Lesley, except for the male characters with whom she sleeps; Terry, Kenny and Gunther, who don’t actually want to spend quality time with her, they simply want to sleep with her. The fact that the rest don’t want to spend time with her is a tragic undertone shown in the line ‘Turns out all the rest of them had gone to supper at the restaurant run by the fat girl who did the water skiing.

This is a mix of comedy and tragedy, both in different ways. There is the surface of comedy from the bathos, created by ‘fat girl’. This is funny because of the girl has suddenly become fat because she’s hosting the cast. This encourages the audience to laugh at Lesley, for saying such a thing. There is tragedy underneath however, as it shows that Lesley is an outcast; she is never invited to go along to anything the rest of the cast and crew do.

The way she is bitter towards the ‘fat girl’ gives us some insight into Lesley’s character; it shows she is unkind towards people she is jealous of, or dislikes. This puts her across as a dislikeable character. Towards the end of ‘Her Big Chance’, Lesley is shown as disliked by Scott in the line ‘You win some you lose some. ‘ As afore-stated, it shows that Scott probably doesn’t like Lesley, a tragic notion. Scott’s colloquial slang, on the other hand, adds a humorous touch to the line, a layer of comic ‘icing’ on the otherwise tragic ‘cake’ of the idea.

His negative attitude towards the film implies he’s ‘lost one’ by working on this film. This emphasises the truly appalling nature of the film. Scott is characterised with his negative, pessimistic attitude and his language. Language is used by Alan Bennett to deliver both comedy and tragedy, but not simultaneously. This is done with the speaking characters’ repetition and vocabularies. The repetition is used to create a tragic effect, whereas the vocabulary tends to be comic. Comic language is a layer used to partially disguise the tragedy beneath.

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