Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

Parody in Ann-Marie MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Katherine MacInnes '07, Lakehead University, Ontario

This essay was originally written for Dr. P. V. Allingham's English 1112.

A parody serves many functions, the most important of these being comedic entertainment. Contrary to popular belief, parodies often are a way to praise a piece of work, creating a subtle shrine to the original masterpiece. Such is the situation in the modern drama Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Ann-Marie MacDonald uses two of William Shakespeare's tragedies Othello and Romeo and Juliet, as a basis for an entirely new tale. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) parodies both classics, and praises Shakespeare's work. This dual intention can be seen through a study of parody in these three areas: the tragedy of the original play, the characters, and William Shakespeare's literary style.

MacDonald uses her own unique style and perception to parody the central event which leads to the downfall of the major characters in both Othello and Romeo and Juliet. MacDonald suggests that the downfall of Desdemona and Othello in Othello could be avoided if a slight change were made in a critical scene, the one in which Othello listens to Iago's council and resolves to murder Desdemona. MacDonald cleverly introduces her original character Constance at this vital instance, and Iago's plot is revealed to Othello.

Iago: Do it not with poison.

[Iago hands Othello a pillow]

Strangle her in bed.

Constance: No!

[Both Othello and Iago turn and stare at her]

Um . . . You're about to make a terrible mistake . . . m'Lord. (MacDonald, 24)

From this point onwards, the story becomes more of a comedy than a tragedy, with Constance befriending the bold and fierce Desdemona. MacDonald thickens the parody by having Constance accused of witchcraft, adultery, and spying by Iago, who urges Desdemona to make an attempt on Constance's life. Cleverly, much of the original text of Othello remains in the scene, adding to the humour of the situation.

Iago: O, 'tis foul in her.

Desdemona: And to lie with my husband!

Iago: That's fouler.

Desdemona: Fool's cap--confession--fool's cap--to confess then die--first to die, then to confess--(MacDonald, 48)

The words have been set in italics to indicate that they are taken from the tragedy Othello. Fool's cap is a variation of the word "foolscap". In an ironic sense, the very plot which Constance exposes is now set upon herself, and this creates a humorous situation for the reader to observe. The reader is further amused when Constance seems oblivious to the sudden change in intentions: "Constance: You mean you've found out who I really am? [Desdemona nods] Who?! Who?! Who?!" (MacDonald, 48). Constance does not realize the threat Desdemona presents, and is only interested in completing her quest to find herself. Constance takes up the classic position of the fool, wandering through the events, ignorant.

When Constance is transported to the world of Romeo and Juliet, she, once again, enters at the critical point in the tragedy, the event which brings the downfall of Romeo and Juliet. Constance halts the impending fight between Romeo and Tybalt, which would cause Tybalt's death and start a chain of deaths, ending with Romeo's. However, in the process of doing so, she attracts the romantic attention of Romeo, who believes Constance to be a young man. Once again, the intrusion of Constance into the story of Romeo and Juliet turns the tragedy into a farce, as a series of comedic events follow, including Juliet's falling in love with Constance as well.

MacDonald uses characters from Shakespeare's tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Although the names of the main characters are the same, the personality of each is altered drastically, giving a humorous tinge to their conversation. Desdemona, for example, is depicted as a bloodthirsty, fierce warrior woman in MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Her love of war is so exaggerated that it is funny: "Desdemona: Gird thy trembling loins, and slay Professor Night!" (MacDonald, 37). Desdemona's character seems to be based on an Amazon warrior, rather than the persona that Shakespeare creates in Othello, in which Desdemona can best be described as gentle.

Romeo, instead of being the devoted lover portrayed in Romeo and Juliet, is transformed into a fickle, spoiled youth, whose affections jump swiftly from Juliet to Constance disguised as a boy. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is besotted with Rosalind, and is pining for her love as the beginning of the tragedy. However, immediately after he lays eyes on Juliet, he forsakes Rosalind: "Romeo: Out of her favour where I am in love." (Shakespeare, 9). MacDonald expands on this spontaneous nature, and carefully constructs Romeo into an erratic young man. After one night of marriage with Juliet, Romeo looks elsewhere for love, and finds Constance, who is hidden behind the persona of Constantine, a Greek boy:

Romeo: Brave Greek! [Romeo embraces Constance, but lingers a little too long with:]

[Aside] Did my heart love til now? Forswear it, nay! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this day! (MacDonald, 51)

The italicized speech indicates that it is taken directly from Romeo and Juliet, and MacDonald uses original lines from the tragedy to increase the parody of the character in her version.

Juliet is depicted as a girl too young for marriage, and a girl obsessed with the idea of tragic death in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). In fact, both Romeo and Juliet appear too young to be married, and not ready for what marriage entails, and both tire of one another after only one night.

Romeo & Juliet: [Both Aside] Th' affections of our love's first-sighted blood, have in the cauldron of one hot swift night, all cooled to a creeping jelly in the pot. (MacDonald, 54)

The two quarrel on their first morning together, in a most childish manner, and the bickering leads to the death of the couple's pet turtle (MacDonald, 55). MacDonald exaggerates the juvenile natures of Romeo and Juliet to staggering proportions, until the reader is no longer able to take the portrayal of the young couple seriously. As well, Juliet is enamored of the idea of death: "Juliet: [Offering Dagger] Stab thyself first, and then will I stab mine!" (MacDonald, 71). In addition to this attempt at a romantic suicide, Juliet tries twice more: "Juliet: And I cannot rejoice upon thy sword, I'll die upon my dagger, so! [Juliet takes the dagger and winds up to stab herself. Constance intervenes]" (MacDonald 77), and again with "Juliet: I have a vial of poison hidden here; [Concealed in her shirt ] it will dispatch us with the morning lark" (MacDonald, 79). Anne Marie MacDonald recreates Juliet as a girl in love with death, because death is easier than love, as Constance states on page 86.

To increase the humor of the play, MacDonald also parodies the language of Shakespeare. Almost immediately after falling into the world of Othello, Constance begins to speak in iambic pentameter verse.

Constance: That's it, you see. I can't return until--That is . . .
my Queens have charge me with a fearful task:
I must find out my true identity,
and then discover who the author be. (MacDonald, 30)

The use of such language helps the audience to realize that MacDonald is making a parody of Shakespeare's work, and enhances the style and mood of the play. MacDonald also uses word alteration to create humor; Shakespeare is reduced to "shake spear", and foolscap to "Fool's cap." Also, the introduction of modern terms into the verse style enhances the parody.

Constance: Not that I'm some kind of feminist.
I shave my legs and I get nervous in a crowd--
it's just that . . . I was labelled as a crackpot,
by the sacred herd of Academe;
and after years spent as a laughingstock,
I finally came to think that it was true.
But, Desdemona, now that I've met you,
I want to stand out in that field and cry, "Bullshit!" (MacDonald, 37)

Although the entire speech is in iambic pentameter, it is full of modern phrases, and flows like regular speech. The remarkable modernity increases the parody of the play, as we expect words arranged in this form to be archaic. Instead, Constance uses a bluntness which actually shocks the reader, but creates a humorous effect.

MacDonald also uses famous associations to other Shakespeare plays and inserts them into her parody. On page 73, a Ghost makes an entrance into the comedy, and the Ghost is clearly taken from the play Hamlet. To increase this parody, Constance believes the ghost to be that of Yorick, the dead fool from Hamlet. These insertions of famous occurrences, added with the frequent word alterations in this sequence, adds greatly to the overall humor of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet).

In conclusion, Anne Marie MacDonald successfully parodies two of William Shakespeare's tragedies Othello and Romeo and Juliet to create a new story, full of humorous events and whimsical characterizations. MacDonald parodies these plays in order to praise Shakespeare, as she has established many parallels between the originals and her own creation, even going as far as to insert lines from Romeo and Juliet and Othello into her own dialogue to enhance the mood. The parody of events, although pointing out the route which may have saved the characters, is also a shrine to the complexity and brilliance of Shakespeare's vision, as, in both instances, the characters follow a somewhat similar path of destruction. Instead of Othello's murdering Desdemona, Desdemona attempts to murder Constance, and, instead of Romeo and Juliet's dying together, Juliet attempts to persuade Constance to join her in a romantic death. When MacDonald parodies the language of Shakespeare, she is also stating her love of the style, as it flows as easily as the plays of Shakespeare. Anne Marie MacDonald's love of Shakespeare is present throughout Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), in the language, the characters, and the plot.

Works Cited

MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Toronto: Vantage Canada, 1998.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. London: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Anne Marie MacDonald

Last Modified: 22 April 2004