Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

Suggested Essay and Discussion Topics for Ann-Marie MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Philip V. Allingham, Associate Professor, Lakehead University, Ontario

NOTE: Copyrighted in Canada in 1990, Ann-Marie MacDonald's intertextual romp through the world of academe (although undoubtedly a symbolic name exploited for its ironic potential, Queen's is an actual, highly prestigious university in Kingston, Ontario) Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) was not published by Vintage Canada until 1998. The play was first staged by Toronto's Nightwood Theatre on 31 March 1988 at the Annex Theatre; the company subsequently toured Canada, receiving both critical acclaim and popular recognition.

1. Despite the fact that MacDonald has synthesized two of Shakespeare's tragedies, her play is a comedy that incorporates two times, two places, and two perspectives; the play contrasts Shakespeare's verse with modern prose, and a patriarchal Renaissance England with a Feminist North American present. Show how the tensions between these competing perspectives generate the humour of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet).

2. Using three examples drawn from the play, show how MacDonald uses Shakespeare's original characters to satirize phallocentric views about the appropriate position of women in society. Some direct references to Romeo and Juliet and Othello will be necessary.

3. Compare MacDonald's rendering of Juliet and Desdemona with their Shakespearean originals. Some direct references to Romeo and Juliet and Othello will be necessary.

4. Compare MacDonald's rendering of Othello, Iago, Romeo, and Tybalt with their Shakespearean originals. Some direct references to Romeo and Juliet and Othello will be necessary.

5. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is not merely a satire on Shakespearean tragedy, but also a satire on twentieth-century, North American academia. Classify the type of satire involved (Menippean, Horatian, Juvenalian) and explain the connection between the two subjects satirized in this play.

6. We may regard Ann-Marie MacDonald's play as a piece of Theatre of the Absurd. This twentieth-century theatrical movement is characterized by "Extreme forms of illogic, inconsistency, and nightmarish FANTASY" and "presents a view of the absurdity of the human condition by the abandoning of usual or rational devices and by the use of nonrealistic form" (Harmon and Holman 2). Compare Ann-Marie MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (1990) to one or several such quintessentially Absurdist works as Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, Beckett's Waiting for Godot, or Pinter's The Dumb Waiter.

7. We may also regard Ann-Marie MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (1990) as a parody of Shakespeare's tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Othello. The purpose of parody is usually to ridicule a work or a style by humorous imitation. "When the subject matter of the original composition is parodied, however, it may prove to be a valuable indirect criticism or it may even imply a flattering tribute to the original writer" (Harmon and Holman 376). Discuss how MacDonald parodies Shakespeare and with what intentions.

"Every text builds itself as a mosaic of quotations, every text is absorption and transformation of another text." (Julia Kristeva, trans. Jeanine Parisier Plottel; Harmon and Holman 274)

8. The term "Intertextuality," coined by critic Julia Kristeva, describes the receptionprocess whereby in the mind of the reader texts already read interact with the text currently being read. Modern writers such as Canadian satirist W. P. Kinsella in "The Grecian Urn" and playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) have learned how to manipulate this phenomenon by deliberately and continually alluding to previous literary works well known to educated readers (namely John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and Shakespeare's tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Othello respectively). Intertextual elements include a writer's using other writers' characters, making quotations from and paraphrases of other texts, re-telling the original from a different perspective, indicating what happened before or after another text, and making indirect references to characters and situations found in another text.

With reference to Ann-Marie MacDonald's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) and W. P. Kinsella's "Grecian Urn," discuss the different ways in which these writers utilize Intertextuality.

Reference List

Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 8th edn. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Kinsella, W. P. "The Grecian Urn." Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa. Toronto: Oberon, 1980. Pp. 74-92.

MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Toronto: Vintage/Random House, 1998.


Postcolonial Web Canada Ann-Marie MacDonald

Last Modified: 22 April 2004