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Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (1990)

af Ann-Marie MacDonald

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294366,848 (4.01)22
In this exuberant comedy and original revision of Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo and Juliet -- Constance Ledbelly, a drab and dusty academic, deciphers a cryptic manuscript she believes to be the original source for the tragedies, and is transported into the plays themselves. She visits Juliet and Desdemona, has a hand in saving them, and finds out what these women are about. In true Shakespearean spirit, Constance plunders the plays and creates something new, all the while engaging in a personal voyage of self-discovery. With an abundance of twists, fights, dances, seductions, and wild surprises, the play is an absolute joy of theatricality.… (mere)

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A wild, wonderful ride through two of Shakespeare's noted tragedies, with a modern twist, some hilarious slapstick, and even a bit of self-discovery. The protagonist is Constance Ledbelly, an English professor at Queen's working toward her PhD, which focuses on an encoded manuscript that she believes to be the original source of Othello and Romeo and Juliet. She ends up landing her own role in these two plays, altering them significantly and learning about herself along the way.

This play deftly incorporates original Shakespeare lines with MacDonald's own blank verse and re-imagines the characters with amusing effects. What would Desdemona have done had she not been killed by Othello? What if Romeo and Juliet had stayed married longer than they did? And of course what happens when you throw in a modern person who knows the stories inside and out? You'll find out if you read this play. Recommended for Shakespeare enthusiasts, especially those with a fondness for Othello or Romeo and Juliet. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Feb 26, 2011 |
The best premise ever--increasingly spinsterly PhD student is writing her dissertation on a manuscript that she believes proves that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies that Shakespeare changed into tragedies just by virtue of one random twist of fate--Iago giving Othello Desdemona's handkerchief; Tybalt killing Mercutio--is misunderstood and maltreated by the academic old boys' club and the snotty and mendacious professor she bears an unrequited love for; gets sucked into the plays, changes everything at that crucial moment, and it leads to merriment and meditations on the struggle to define one's identity, the ways women are negated by men, and the ways in which events are and are not predetermined. Oh, only she's not just a PhD student but an assistant professor, albeit one without a PhD and one who will evidently never make full professor unless she jettisons her quixotic dissertation topic for something better; this is only one example of the weird uncanny valley thing that happens where this is a world just distant enough in time from the very familiar academe of the present to seem the same only then weirdly different (so like, assistant professor is a bad job from which one may never advance, as opposed to a good job which one always advances from because one would not have secured said job unless one already had a PhD and was an academic star, or starlet, to boot; Constance is held down by gender relations and her male colleague speeds ahead, as opposed to the present when nobody has a job or ever will; the dissertation is written in ink; etc.)


Anyway, the Othello section is better, I think because it's the one where Constance's thesis doesn't really hold true--Othello is certainly brought down by his own jealousy and rage, and if Iago didn't have the handkerchief or Cassio weren't so attentive to Desdemona, it is very easy to imagine ways that those circumstances could have been got around. Desdemona was doomed the day she laid eyes on Othello--not only by his hubris but her own--she was, inexorably, going to be true to this man and love him fiercely and go with him anywhere. MacDonald does something really cool with Desdemon, turning her into a woman of action with a frustrated thirst for blood (which, having read this before Othello, I applied retroactively to that work, and my Desdemona will always be the one that bestrides Cyprus like an avenging colossus. But that bloodyminded inexorability to these characters and what becomes of their being thrown together gives the comedy here a tragic edge that rarefies and ennobles--perhaps as evidenced by the greater amount of text from the original that is integrated here as opposed to the Romeo and Juliet section. It is easy to imagine a cheaper version in which Desdemona is a traditional passive heroine, Constance keeps wrecking Iago's renewed efforts with her pratfalls, and all's well, but it takes away from the power of the myth, and MacDonald chose the wiser path.


Romeo and Juliet, by contrast, are a pair of silly teens--as is Tybalt, who is easily diverted; as soon as they are married, they get tired of each other, and the whole thing falls into the farce it ostensibly was quite naturally, with R and J both falling love with Constance dressed as a man--is she a girl? Is she a boy?--and all the attendant goofy laughs and of course much crossdressing. A high-school comedy about a bunch of wild rich-kid teens in the Renaissance and what happens when two of them get married--what could be better? Forget Baz Luhrmann, this is 90210. And then Desdemona shows up, because she is unstoppable, and in the end it gets down to her and Juliet pulling Constance back and forth shouting "Kill with me!" "Die with me!" "No, kill!" "No, die!" which is cute, and then of course they are all facets of each other in the end and there are some effects with the lights and Constance comes back but not the same as before. The ending of this wonderful play perhaps flags a little, and I can't help but think it's another kind of uncanny-valley thing, because the dialogue is so snappy and modern that you expect a certain ironic sensibility to rear its head when things start getting over-the-top, and maybe it does with kill-no-die-no-kill but MacDonald doesn't go the whole way--the perfect ending to this would, of course, be for Constance to realize she's the Author and the Fool (as she does) and then rise up on a pedestal with angelic lights and grasp the object coming down to her and exclaim "Oh! My dissertation!" But it is still the '80s, and their irony is still just on the political side of perfect, just as ours now errs always on the side of jokes (we had the balance perfect in the '90s, of course).


Anyway, this book is the best and once occasioned a paper of mine that failed gloriously for trying to connect the early-modern theatre and the postmodern academy as performative spaces where the political can be tackled in a way not possible elsewhere by the creation of strong performative personas and stances. I was in third year and I knew a fraction of what I know now (and I would never try to write a paper like that now--like, is MacDonald on stage, or is Constance her political persona, and if so who is Stephen Greenblatt's persona? is she a theorist? are the [worthwhile] activities of experimenting with narrative and being a feminist really doing theory in any meaningful sense?). But it was fun. And perhaps Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet's (few) flaws can be accepted in the same spirit. ( )
1 stem MeditationesMartini | Nov 24, 2010 |
Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is hilariously fun. Winner of the 1990 Governor General’s Award for Drama and written by the author of Fall on Your Knees, this play takes the main character, Constance, and puts her in the middle of Othello and Romeo and Juliet with very funny results. Plot lines are changed, lines rearranged, and we get to really know the players as never before.

If you’re familiar with both plays you will be in stitches in parts. Lines from the original plays are in italics to help the reader know the difference between those lines and MacDonald’s. Even MacDonald’s are written in iambic pentameter.

Highly recommended — especially for lovers of Shakespeare or those participating in the Canadian Literature Challenge. ( )
  1morechapter | Nov 20, 2008 |
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In this exuberant comedy and original revision of Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo and Juliet -- Constance Ledbelly, a drab and dusty academic, deciphers a cryptic manuscript she believes to be the original source for the tragedies, and is transported into the plays themselves. She visits Juliet and Desdemona, has a hand in saving them, and finds out what these women are about. In true Shakespearean spirit, Constance plunders the plays and creates something new, all the while engaging in a personal voyage of self-discovery. With an abundance of twists, fights, dances, seductions, and wild surprises, the play is an absolute joy of theatricality.

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