Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

by Ann-Marie Macdonald
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How is Desdemona represented in Ann-Marie MacDonald's "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)"? 

In Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Ann-Marie MacDonald represents Desdemona as a confident, assertive, dramatic, and perhaps gullible woman. Through commandeering and sometimes indignant language as well as violent action, Desdemona demonstrates these traits that contrast her to her namesake in Othello.

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Desdemona is represented as an assertive, defiant, and confident woman in Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Unlike the traditionally viewed submissive and helpless Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello , the modern namesake is quite the opposite, as demonstrated through her speech and actions. Before the audience even meets...

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Desdemona is represented as an assertive, defiant, and confident woman in Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Unlike the traditionally viewed submissive and helpless Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello, the modern namesake is quite the opposite, as demonstrated through her speech and actions. Before the audience even meets Desdemona, the protagonistEnglish literature scholar Constancedescribes her as fascinated with violence and horror stories. This set-up hints at Desdemona’s forceful nature, which is later revealed in the play.

When Constance enters the action of the play-within-a-play Othello, she reveals Iago’s deceitful machinations to Othello and prevents his murder of Desdemona. Desdemona thanks Constance profusely and eagerly offers herself to assist the scholar in the quest to find the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. She leaps into action and takes charge with domineering language like

I’ll call this quest mine own, my constant friend...I’ll find thine unknown Author and Fool’s Cap.

Her assertive nature borders on bloodthirsty aggression. She speaks commanding words while trying to motivate a reluctant Constance with,

If thou wouldst know thyself an Amazon, acquire a taste for blood. I’ll help thee. Come.

Desdemona believes that she is not weak but strong and worthy of respect; she will not allow herself to be pushed around and neither should Constance. When she learns that other academics ridicule Constance as a meek mouse, she encourages the scholar to fight back and regain respect (as well as credit for her literary theory) because “we be women; not mice.”

Desdemona’s confident and bold language seems to be a reaction to her frustration at female roles in society. As much as she refers to the myth of Amazon woman warriors, she knows that she cannot be an actual soldier. She curses her own female identity, saying, “My sole regret—that heaven had not made me such a man,” and experiences battle only vicariously through Othello.

Her righteous anger is warranted but reveals an overly dramatic side. For example, when Constance tells her that academics traditionally view her character as a “doomed and helpless victim,” Desdemona indignantly protests,

Did I not beat a path into the fray, my vow to honour in thy fool’s cap quest? Did I not flee my father, here to dwell beneath the sword Hephaestus forged for Mars? Will I not dive into Sargasso Sea, to serve abreast the Amazons abroad? Will I not butcher any cow that dares low lies to call me tame, ay that I will! So raise I now the battle cry, Bullshit!

True, Desdemona does "beat a path" for Constance to pursue the truth; she also did defy her father to marry Othello. Nonetheless, she hyperbolically compares her marriage to a confrontation with Hephaestus the god of fire. She also claims that, without hesitation, she would swim the boundless Sargasso Sea to join in faraway warfare. Her “battle cry” of “bullshit!” expresses an impatience for what she believes are diminutive, embarrassing misconceptions about her; the funny curse also punctuates her speech histrionically.

Finally, Desdemona’s actions illustrate her aggressive, confident, and dramatic nature; interesting, they also show that she is “gullible” (as described by Constance near the end). Desdemona easily believes Iago when he tells her that Constance is a witch trying to seduce Othello. Then Desdemona tries to kill Constance two different times (by smothering in Act II and stabbing in Act III) and stabs Juliet.

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