Richard Curtis and Ben Elton

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Task: How do Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, the writers of ‘Goodbyeee…' use satire in order to criticise the conduct of the first world war/make serious social and political points?

Richard Curtis and Ben Elton's use of satire in ‘Blackadder goes forth' has resulted in a hilarious parody of the Great War. With characters ranging from the ‘bumbling idiot' to the ‘egomaniac', it is an intelligently thought out episode as it does not mock the men who sacrificed their lives in battle. It mocks the flaws in the decisions made by the military hierarchy. It is like the audience is understanding history and uncovering the truth of our ancestors, by finding out what the trenches were really like but doing this through satirical humour. The jokes grab our attention but at the same time they touch us emotionally as you feel deeply sorry for the men who lost their lives

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Captain Blackadder, who is played by Rowan Atkinson, is a middle class British officer who claims to have joined the army in 1888 when ‘if you saw someone in a skirt, you shot him and nicked his country'. He joined the 19th/45th East African Rifles; a fictional regiment of the British colonial army when Britain was fighting colonial wars in the ‘Scramble for Africa'. Captain Blackadder was hailed as the ‘hero of Mboto Gorge' in 1892. He transferred to a local regiment when war broke out against Germany. Blackadder is very disparaging about the decisions and choices taken by his superior ranks, he uses these mistakes as the focus of his sarcasm. He is also pessimistic about their chances of survival, and rightfully so, as the average life expectancy of a soldier on the front line was three weeks. His self awareness has a very poignant and moving affect on us as the viewers. Blackadder has accepted the situation.

Blackadders' humour is very dry and subtle. Rowan Atkinson is the perfect actor for the character of Captain Blackadder as he keeps a very straight face. This is deadpan humour. He bases his jokes and witty comments on the mishaps of others and he tends to be very cynical. Blackadder criticises Captain Darling who played by Tim McInnerney as being a ‘desk jockey'. Darling is in effect, Blackadders arch nemesis! He is the same rank as Blackadder but has a comfortable desk job far behind the lines where he is at General Melchett's right hand side. Blackadder uses Captain Darling's second name against him to hilarious avail.

Every character represents a type of person. For example, Lieutenant George who is played by Hugh Laurie is representing the ‘public school boy twit'. If Blackadder mocks George, he is also mocking every one of his class and type and everything that he stands for.

In ‘Goodbyeee' we briefly come across Field Marshall Haig. This is when Blackadder has one last try to escape ‘going over the top'. Haig is pictured on the telephone to Captain Blackadder while in front of a model of the battlefield. He is seen to sweep a platoon of men of the table with a dustpan and brush without a care in the world. He had a total disregard for human life and thought of men as ‘canon fodder'. In my opinion, he comes across as almost child like; as though he is so blissfully unaware of what his men are going though. He lacks any cerebral qualities.

Haig is used in this scene to convey satiric points by they way that he talks and what he says, he is very short with Blackadder over the phone and also stubborn in sense. He seems to be in a hurry. His visual impact on us is fairly great. He is a large man who seems to have a presence about him; this is similar to General Melchett. Melchett seems to tower above everyone when he visits the trenches. He visits after he has heard that Blackadder has gone mad, when in fact he was pretending.

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Private Baldrick is played by Tony Robinson. He is a very interesting character as is a hyperbole of the common man; just as George is a hyperbole of an ‘upper-class twit'. Baldrick is characterised by his lack of knowledge about the war and how it started, ‘I heard it started when a bloke called Archie Duke Shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry'. Although in some cases, Baldrick shows himself to have an astonishing ability to get his Captain out of a situation or to make a point clear, ‘my God, you've got it, you've got it!' To which Baldrick amusingly replies ‘well, if I've got it, you got it too, now, sir.'

Baldrick is opposite to Captain Blackadder as he completely oblivious to what is going to happen to him when the time comes for him to charge out into ‘no - mans land'. This makes us far more emotionally attached to the likes of George and Baldrick.

All in all, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis have written a comedy that affects you emotionally while also producing comic value out of the characters situation. They have addressed the flaws in the British military hierarchy of that era and have produced there opinions and the opinions of others in a fantastic satiric series. I think that this episode ‘Goodbyeee' was a fantastic way to round off the series as it not only pays tribute to those that died on the battlefield, it shows just how those men dealt with their final hours before their death, some were filled with fear and anxiety others had already acknowledged the circumstances. It has remained to be funny even twenty years on, and I expect it will remain funny for a long time yet.

Sources of information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Blackadder