Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a play by Canadian author, Ann-Marie MacDonald. The play is the story of a woman named Constance Ledbelly. Constance is employed at a university and has been researching a document known as "The Gustav Manuscript", which she believes to be the source document for William Shakespeare's plays, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Upon translating the manuscript, Constance is drawn into the world of both plays. While inside she attempts to save Desdemona and Juliet from their horrible fates, while also learning a lot about herself. In her attempts at redirecting Shakespeare's works, she earns the love (the carnal kind) of many of the lead characters from both plays, sometimes due to her cross dressing. By the end, when the plays have merged, Constance learns that a tragedy is a tragedy, and no matter what she does the characters will work their ways to some bizarre fate.

Upon finishing my reading of the play, I add further comments.

The show was first produced in 1988 by Nightwood Theatre at Toronto Annex theatre. Since then it has toured nationally to venues around Canada, and won the Governor General's Award for Drama.

The play is extremely humourous, particularly because of it's method of recasting typically serious Shakespearian characters by developing their personalities. Amazingly accurate to the original text, the play is extremely carefully written, which Constance comments on when she notes,

I speak in blank verse like the characters:
unrhymed iambical pentameter.
It seems to come quuite nat'rally to me.

Anywhere possible, MacDonald uses original lines from both plays, and manipulates well known scenes (i.e. the famous "balcony scene" in Romeo and Juliet). The humour is light and if you have read both Othello and Romeo and Juliet, and know abit about Shakespeare, the experience will be enhanced though it's not necessary. For instance, in Act III Scene ix, Desdemona is wandering through a graveyard and reads a couple of lines off a tombstone. She is actually reading part of the curse the bard but on his tombstone, which reads

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Constance's journey could be read in various ways. The characters could all be figments of her unconscious, and the journey representing a trip through the mind. Or the play could be taken at face value. In any case, it is a fun, humourous play that I found to be very different from MacDonald's later work. A very good read for those devoted to Shakespeare or anybody who enjoys a well-written play.

And, a full plot summary:

After a prologue from our one-man Greek chorus, the curtain opens on Constance Ledbelly, a mousy English professor whose ghostwriting for the man she loves, Professor Claude Knight, hinders her work towards her PhD thesis. Constance has become quite the laughingstock of her university because of her obsession with an off the wall literary theory; Constance, having noticed the plots of both Othello and Romeo and Juliet twist around the sort of coincidence most often found in Shakespeare’s comedies, has decided that the plays originally were comedies, and that an old Renaissance alchemist’s manuscript she has will prove her right by introducing the character of a Wise Fool (so prevalent in Shakespeare’s comedies) into both plays, and hold the answer to the mystery of authorship. Soon after the play opens, Constance – and the audience – find Professor Claude Knight being whisked away by his star graduate student, leaving poor Constance alone, desperate, and depressed.

With a twist of fate mirroring Alice’s fall through the rabbit hole, or Dorothy’s trip to Oz, Constance Ledbelly finds herself having fallen – literally – into the world of her manuscript to alter the lives of these Shakespearean prototypes as she believes the Bard originally wanted. First we enter into the world of Othello, where Constance exposes Iago and earns the thanks of the leading couple. But wait, Desdemona is no damsel in distress; far from it is this aggressive domineering, almost Amazonian warrior, thirsty for revenge.

A sudden change of location drops Constance then in the middle of the most famed street fight – and she settles things! Sorta. Disguised as a boy, Constance saves Romeo and Tybalt by making them aware of their new kinship. Everything is solved until Juliet enters the picture. Juliet is not the virginal flower of youth and picture of pure innocence; she is a lustful thirteen year old who bores of Romeo once she has tamed him, and falls in love instead with our own dear Constance, making a cross dressed love story not unlike Twelfth Night or many of Shakespeare’s others.

As Constance is torn between these two strong female characters, we learn the true meaning of the play. Not unlike Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole, Constance’s journey is truly one of self-discovery. The prologue promises, “mingling and unmingling opposites/transform base metal into precious gold,” and MacDonald does not disappoint. Constance learns that only she is the true author of her life, and that she is her own Wise Fool. The alchemist’s manuscript truly belonged to an alchemist, for at the end, it is Constance’s own mettle we find transformed.

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