Saturday, 26 January 2013

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald

You've heard of fractured fairy tales?  Well, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is like that - except with Shakespeare's plays.  Ann-Marie MacDonald has created a witty and clever and hilarious exploration of the characters and themes in Romeo and Juliet and Othello.  I really, really wish a theatre company would stage it right now so I could see this live.

The play begins in the office of Assistant Professor Constance Ledbelly at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario (my alma mater!) where Constance is working on her Ph.D. dissertation.  She is working to analyze an old manuscript which, she believes, contains the two source comedies that Shakespeare used to write his tragedies. Constance is warped into the Shakespearean world where she needs to find the author of the manuscript.  In the process, she must also find her own true identity, in a Jungian voyage of re-birth.

In an interview with Melanie Lynn Lockhart in 2005, Ann-Marie MacDonald stated:
I think [Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)] ended up as a tribute to Shakespeare. It’s a testimonial. Because it was done in the spirit of ransacking –and that’s what Shakespeare did. And I think the greatest thing you can do for an author is to make free with them, ultimately, or they won’t survive. If they’re going to survive, they have to survive all kinds of things.
Drawing not just from Romeo and Juliet and Othello, Ann-Marie MacDonald uses characters and lines from other works by Shakespeare often for comedic purposes.  Here is an example of how she plays with the original Romeo and Juliet:
SAMPSON. Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
ABRAHAM. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? 

SAMPSON. I do bite my thumb, sir. 
ABRAHAM. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? 
SAMPSON. [Aside]  Is the law of our side, if I say ay? 
SAMPSON. No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir. (1.1. 33-40)
And here is the corresponding section from Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet):
TYBALT. [laughter – CONSTANCE nervously bites her thumbnail] Do you bite your thumb at me sir?!
CONSTANCE. No! I just bite my nails, that’s all. 

TYBALT. Do you bite your nails at me sir? 
CONSTANCE. No I swear! Look, I’ll never bite them again. This’ll be a great chance for me to quit once and for all. Thanks.
[Pause. The boys tense. Will there be a fight?]
TYBALT. You’re welcome. (51-52)
Ann-Marie MacDonald uses not just Shakespeare's words, but his themes and symbols and his love of gender-bending and mistaken identities to great comedic effect.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is full of intelligent fun.  I would highly recommend this play as a wonderful read.  Now... does anyone know if there is a dvd available of a stage performance?

Ann-Marie MacDonald
author image from here

Recipient of the Governor General's Award for English Language Drama, the Floyd S. Chalmer's Canadian Play Award and the Canadian Author's Association Award, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is the much lauded play by the much lauded over-achiever, Ann-Marie MacDonald. 

Ann-Marie MacDonald is an actor, a playwright, a novelist (Fall On Your Knees, and The Way The Crow Flies), television host of Life & Times for seven years, and currently for The Doc Zone on the CBC.  She's written an opera libretto based on Jungian theories (Nigredo Hotel), and won both Genie and Gemini Awards and a Dora Award, and her novel Fall On Your Knees was chosen by Oprah's Book Club.


  1. I love this play and, of everything I've read by Ann-Marie MacDonald, it is my favourite. It is so intelligent but also laugh out loud funny. And, like you, how could I fail to appreciate a heroine who works at my alma mater? Cha Gheill!

    1. Cha Gheill, indeed! Glad to know that!

      I fear I may have missed the chance of seeing this live in the 1990s. I hold out hope of a rep theatre staging it at some point.


I appreciate every comment left here! Thank you for taking the time to write. All comments are visible after being moderated.