Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) Summary
by Ann-Marie Macdonald

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Introduction

(Drama for Students)

The actor, playwright, and novelist Ann-Marie MacDonald has earned a reputation as one of Canada's most exciting contemporary voices. Since the production of her first solo play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), she has become widely known and revered in the theatrical and literary world. In fact, the success of Mac-Donald's first play was key in identifying her as a socially conscious feminist as well as a witty writer with wide popular appeal.

First performed in Toronto in 1988, Goodnight Desdemona is the story of Constance Ledbelly, a quirky and absentminded academic who is writing a doctoral thesis about two of William Shakespeare's tragedies. Suddenly, Constance finds herself transported into the worlds of Romeo and Juliet and Othello, where she interferes with the plot, gets to know the characters, and discovers her true identity. With its witty allusions to late-sixteenth-century English culture, its use of Elizabethan dramatic conventions, and its playful reimagining of some of Shakespeare's most enduring characters, Goodnight Desdemona amuses its audience and brings the Elizabethan period to life. It also provides a thoughtful commentary on such issues as feminism, academia, Elizabethan values, and the nature of tragedy. The play was revised in 1990, and a revised paperback edition is available from Grove Press (1998).

Summary

(Drama for Students)

Act 1

Goodnight Desdemona begins with a "dumb show," or a scene with no sound, in which three situations occur simultaneously. Othello murders Desdemona, Juliet kills herself, and Constance Ledbelly throws a pen and a manuscript into a wastebasket.

In scene 1, Constance works on her doctoral dissertation, which claims that Romeo and Juliet and Othello were originally comedies written by an unknown author and that this can be proved by decoding a manuscript written by a physicist named Gustav. Her longtime crush, Professor Claude Night, comes in, criticizes her dissertation topic, and tells her that he is taking a job at Oxford University that she had hoped to secure. Constance laments her fate and begins throwing her possessions into the wastebasket until she herself is sucked into the wastebasket.

Act 2

The second act takes place on the island of Cyprus, within the world of Othello. During the scene where Othello resolves to kill his wife, Constance intervenes and reveals that Iago is tricking Othello. Othello binds Iago and expresses his gratitude to Constance. Desdemona arrives and asks whether Constance may stay with them. Othello tells Constance not to make known to Desdemona that he was jealous of his wife. Constance asks Desdemona for help in her quest to discover who originally wrote Shakespeare's plays. Desdemona agrees and tells her to come to battle. Constance wonders if she has permanently changed Shakespeare's work and resolves to find the "Wise Fool," a typical Shakespearean character, who secures the happy ending of a comedy.

In scene 2, Iago discloses that he has a page from the Gustav manuscript and forms a plan to conspire against Constance. Constance bonds with Desdemona, telling of her relationship with Professor Night, while Iago eavesdrops. Constance describes the world of academia and her newfound feminist convictions. Desdemona encounters Iago carrying buckets of filth, and Iago stirs jealousy in her. Desdemona believes Iago's claims that Constance is a witch who is after Othello's heart, and she resolves to kill her.

Desdemona sees Othello give Constance a necklace, and her suspicions increase. Constance muses about what a strong woman Desdemona is. Iago and Desdemona enter, fighting with swords, and Constance nearly kills Iago, thinking that she is saving Desdemona. Iago shows Desdemona the page from the Gustav manuscript, saying that he found it in Desdemona's underwear drawer. Desdemona shows it to Constance, who confirms that it is hers. She reads its clue that she must seek truth in Verona, Italy. Before Desdemona can kill her, Constance is dragged offstage.

Act 3

Act 3 takes place within...

(The entire section is 1,403 words.)