Kant illustrates, the humor of incongruity comes from the audience’s
strained “expectation… [which is] suddenly dissipated into nothing”
(Morreal). With their respective punchlines, Keating and Conroy
squander their students’ strained expectations about what their learning
experience is.
In delivering his punchline, Keating has his students rip out the
pages of their textbook. “Excrement. That is what I think of Mr. J
Evans Pritchard (the author of the textbook). We’re not laying pipe, we
are talking about poetry. Now how can you describe poetry like
American bandstand? (Mockingly) Well I like Byron, I’ll give him a 42,
but I can’t dance with him. Now I want you to rip out that page… rip
it out… rip it out! Don’t just tear out that page, tear out the entire
introduction. Leave nothing of it. Be gone J Evans Pritchard PhD!... I
want nothing of Mr. Pritchard. It’s not the Bible you aren’t, going to go
to hell for this… armies of academics measuring poetry. No, no more of
Mr. J Evans Pritchard. In my class you will learn to think for yourselves
again! You will learn to savor words and language!” With this
introduction, Keating breaks all norms and expectations.
When Keating introduces William Shakespeare, his students
groan. They expect a tedious and uneventful lesson. Keating
understands their anguish and expectation and plays off of it in
delivering his punchline. “I know a lot of you look forward to this about
as much as you look forward to root canal work. But we are going to
talk about Shakespeare as someone who writes something very
interesting. Now many of you have seen Shakespeare done very much
like this. (in a mocking accent) ‘Oh Titus, bring your friend hither.’ But if
any of you have seen Mr Marlon Brando, You know Shakespeare can
be different, (imitating Brando) ‘friends, romans, countrymen, lend me
your ears.’ You can also imagine John Wayne as MacBeth going,
(imitating Wayne) ‘Well is this a dagger I see before me?!’” Again, Keating
has broken their expectations with comedy and in the following scene,
we see his students listening and laughing to his enthusiastic reading of
Shakespeare.
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