Describe and contrast Othello, Rita Joe and Good night desdemona and good morning Juliet.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The play Othello, by William Shakespeare, is a tragedy in which the protagonist gets caught up in the manipulation and deceit of one he trusts emphatically - Iago, his Machiavellian ensign. Othello is more a victim of his own insecurities and becomes easy prey for Iago who uses these insecurities to confound and mislead Othello into committing the foulest of deeds, murder. He smothers his wife and then commits suicide on discovering that he had foolishly believed Iago's deceptions and had, tragically, acted on them.

The play, The Ecstacy of Rita Joe,  is a seminal work by Canadian playwright George Ryga, which focuses on the dehumanisation of native Canadians by an invasive, paternalistic society which does not care about their culture, circumstances or problems and wishes them to be completely assimilated into their Western ideology. The lead character, Rita Joe, leaves for the city to find a better life for herself but becomes the victim of a careless, prejudiced society and is eventually brutally raped and murdered. Being raised on a reservation has created insecurities in Rita and her attempts in reconciling this with her new-found life in the city is what eventually results in her tragic death.

Good night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a comedic, satirical play in which the lead character, Constance Ledbelly, goes on a subconscious journey of self-discovery. She is also much-maligned: generally ignored and manipulated by those around her, as a result of her own self-doubt and insecurity. Constance believes that Shakespeare's plays, Othello and Romeo and Juliet, were originally written as comedies. Her journey takes her to dramatic points in both plays where she prevents the protagonists from committing the tragic deeds for which the plays have become famous. She becomes a central character in both instances and thus finds her true self. This realisation is symbolised by Constance's pen turning to gold on her return to reality.

It should be clear that the three plays share a similar theme: Insecurity and the devastating effect it can have.

Othello is manipulated because he is insecure about his marriage to Desdemona. He is a foreigner (a Moor), in a predominantly white society where racism and prejudice is the norm. He is much older than his bride and feels not worthy of her attention. Iago exploits this and easily manipulates Othello into believing that his bride, Desdemona is cheating on him with his lieutenant, the handsome Cassio, leading to the tragic denouement.

Rita Joe's insecurities derive from her limited upbringing. Native Canadians were supposed to know their place, be obedient and humble and forced to adapt to Western expectations. They were supposed to abandon their own cultures and beliefs and adopt those of the colonists. In her attempts to achieve self-actualisation, Rita becomes ever more enmeshed in, and abused by, the brutal demands of the city. All this ends in her horrific demise.

Constance Ledbelly is insecure and confused and needs to find something which can give her the confidence to stand up for herself. This happens when she discovers that she is both the author of the plays in which she becomes a character, as well as the Wise Fool. Constance returns to reality having discovered her inner strength and has a more positive outlook on life. 

In contrast to the other two plays, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) culminates in victory for the protagonist.   

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