Academic Constance Ledbelly has a theory that the plays Othello and Romeo and Juliet are not actually tragedies. Through her interactions with Desdemona and Juliet, Constance turns “base metals into gold” by illustrating how these supposed tragedies can be seen as comedies. The “base metals” are the original plays as written, studied, and viewed for centuries. The “gold” is each play with revised plot action due to the intervention of a Wise Fool—Constance herself—that reveals comedies of error, mistaken identity, and fluidity of gender roles.
At the beginning of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Constance takes out her unremarkable pen and reads aloud from her dissertation that the tragic characters of Romeo and Juliet and Othello are actually unintentional victims of a “disastrous practical joke” (I.i). Furthermore, Constance posits that “any grains of authentic tragedy must be seen to reside in the heroines, Desdemona and Juliet” (I.i).
First, Constance is transported into the action of Othello as Iago tries to convince Othello that Casio has Desdemona’s handkerchief. By exposing Iago’s deception, Constance prevents Othello’s murder of Desdemona and completely changes the plot line of this classic play. Constance laments, “I’ve wrecked a masterpiece. I’ve ruined the play, I’ve turned Shakespeare’s Othello to a farce” (II.i). This intervention, however, releases Desdemona’s assertive nature hidden under the facade of a submissive, helpless wife as this character is often portrayed. In fact, Desdemona’s “fascination with violence and…love of horror stories” (I.i) actually inspires Constance into standing up to her fellow academics and proving her theory. Desdemona jumps into action and wants to help Constance: “I’ll call this quest mine own, my constant friend...I’ll find thine unknown Author and Fool’s Cap” (II.i). She rallies Constance with, “If thou wouldst know thyself an Amazon, acquire a taste for blood. I’ll help thee. Come” (II.i). Errors and mistakes ensue (e.g., Desdemona later suspects Constance of canoodling with Othello and tries to smother her!) that illustrate how Othello can be turned into a comedy.
Constance also scrutinizes plot elements of Romeo and Juliet, noting that the play’s tragic events unfold only because Romeo does not
confess to Tybalt that he has just become his cousin-in-law by marrying Juliet...is it a comedy gone awry, when a host of comic devices is pressed into the blood-soaked service of tragic ends? (I.i.)
When Constance is transported into Romeo and Juliet, she alters crucial plot action by preventing Tybalt from fatally stabbing Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. She then tells Tybalt that through marriage to Juliet, Romeo is now his cousin...and the two men then embrace. Bored with Romeo, the impetuous and passionate adolescent Juliet transfers her strong affections to Constance, whom she mistakes for a boy. More mistakes, mistaken gender identity, and cross-dressing ensue, turning the tragedy into a comedy of errors. Through her interactions with Desdemona and Juliet, Constance realizes their true natures; Desdemona is “gullible and violent” (III.ix) and Juliet is “more in love with death” (III.ix). When both plays intersect eventually, Constance tells the two women that she was a “monumental fool to think I could save you from yourselves...Fool” (III.ix). Most importantly, though, Constance discovers that she was correct about the two tragedies, that they “were comedies after all, not tragedies” (III.ix).
Constance realizes that indeed she is the Author because “The Fool and the Author are one and the same” (III.ix). At the end of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Constance returns to real life to find that her pen has turned into gold.