Canada was a former British colony and a modern democracy in the late twentieth century. Most of Canada was English speaking, but French was also an official language, and the French-speaking province of Quebec had a unique culture in which separatism was a major issue. Canada's political and social climate was strongly affected by the United States, and the two countries had close economic ties.
Toronto Theater Scene
Toronto was the center of the English-speaking theater scene in 1980s Canada, a scene that had flourished since the 1970s. A number of playwrights revitalized Canadian theater in English, including David French, David Fennario, and Carol Bolt. The city became famous for direct, realistic, and compelling theater that often addressed important social issues, and playwrights like French were known for closely collaborating with directors and actors. Although MacDonald has since become a more international celebrity, she was closely identified with the Toronto theater scene when she produced Goodnight Desdemona.
Broadly speaking, feminism is the advocacy of women's rights, and it is a movement that dates back centuries. It advances the rights of women by acknowledging the historical dominance of men and working to address inequalities. The feminist movement began to exert an increasing amount of influence on literary and cultural studies in the decades following World War II. In literary studies, feminism has concentrated on critiquing the male-dominated literary canon, reevaluating the role of women in literature, studying writings about women, and exploring gender identity. Writers such as Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millet began inquiries into feminist literary studies and critics like Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and Judith Butler have continued or adjusted their focus.
Elizabethan England and William Shakespeare
The rule of Queen Elizabeth I of England forms an important context for Goodnight Desdemona. Although Othello was probably first performed after the queen's death in 1603, it and Romeo and Juliet are associated with Elizabethan culture and society. Elizabeth was a shrewd, able monarch who presided over a period of increased power and prosperity in England. In this environment of relative tolerance and stability, the flourishing of the arts in continental Europe spread to England, and the late sixteenth century became famous for a flowering in the arts known as the English "Renaissance."
William Shakespeare is probably the most important dramatist in the English language, and his plays are considered the high point of Elizabethan art. Born in 1564, Shakespeare grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon during Elizabeth's rule. At some point before 1592, he moved to London and began a successful career as a dramatist, writing comedies, histories, and tragedies for the stage. Romeo and Juliet was probably first performed in 1594 or 1595 and Othello in 1604 or 1605.
The Venetian City-State
The pertinent scenes of Othello are set in sixteenth-century Cyprus, which was then a part of the Republic of Venice. A powerful mercantile city of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Venice ruled an independent empire that stretched between present-day Italy and Greece. The city of Venice established its independence in the ninth century and became very wealthy because of its extensive trade network. Venice was initially ruled by an all-powerful duke, but power was later divided between elected and appointed aristocrats. During the period in question, Venice was fighting the Ottoman Turks for control of Cyprus, which it would lose by 1571.
Although Shakespeare does not set an exact date, Romeo and Juliet takes place in the city of Verona, Italy, at some point in the fourteenth century. This period was the height of Verona's power, when it was dominated by the aristocratic family of the Scaligeri. However, different aristocratic families competed for influence and control at...
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