Feminist readings and Desdemona
1.In Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) a young professor of English literature is working on a dissertation pursuing the theory that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies. She soon finds herself sucked into the midst of the two plays, seeking the help of Desdemona and Juliet in order to find the ‘lost fool’ of the plays. Constance intervenes in the plot of Othello, revealing to Othello that Iago is trying to trick him; however, Iago finds another route of destruction – persuading Desdemona that Constance is a witch who is after Othello’s heart, and thereby reversing the jealousy plot of Shakespeare’s play, so that Desdemona is intent on killing Constance. Desdemona is presented as a strong, proactive character, and the play invites its audience to question gender and societal expectations.Here is an extract from ‘Shakespeare’s “Sisters”: Desdemona, Juliet and Constance Ledbelly in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)’ by Laurin R. Porter (Modern Drama, Volume 38, Number 3, Fall 1995, pp. 362-377):
It is important to note that this Desdemona is not like the one we’re used to. MacDonald establishes this from the outset, combining some of Shakespeare’s lines with her own. When Desdemona greets Othello, he addresses her as his “fair warrior,” which sets the tone. When she responds, her lines include a paraphrase of a line Shakespeare assigns to Othello which takes on a new meaning in this play. Referring to Othello, she says, “My sole regret – that heaven had not made me such a man; I but next in honour is to be his wife” (32). The implication in MacDonald’s re-rendering of these lines is not that Desdemona regrets not having a man like Othello, but that she regrets not being one herself. The play embroiders on this theme, portraying her as adventurous, aggressive, even bloodthirsty, while Othello becomes a pompous windbag, fond of telling old war stories.
‘Peace and be still!’ you said.
No, Othello, no! I will not hold my peace. There are things I have to discuss with you, right here in our bedchamber. Do you want to turn our bed of love into a battleground? Does everything have to end in blood? Is that to be your last act of heroism? Killing the wife who loves you and who was faithful to you from the very first breath to the very last? A wife who is making no attempt to defend herself? You can still kill me in a quarter-of-an-hour’s time. I will have this quarter-of-an-hour. Once, I put my whole life in your hands, Othello; don’t be stingy – give me fifteen minutes as a present.
Is there after all so little understanding lodged in that great, beautiful head? In that great big beautiful body, such a tiny heart? You put your trust in a scrap of stuff that is used for blowing one’s nose, or mopping one’s brow, or even to wipe away tears.
Your father gave that little napkin to your mother. And you gave it to me as a bridal gift – you did not have very much that you could give. I was spoilt, Othello. But I took care of the napkin and brought it with me to Cyprus. Ought I to have looked after it more carefully? Could I have foreseen that someone would spirit it away from me? That I would be surrounded by thieves in your house? Ought I to have known that you would turn this love-token against me? I was gullible, Othello, I was only too trusting. It never crossed my mind that a little piece of stuff would suffice to prove me guilty of being unfaithful. Me! Desdemona!
Having looked at some of these readingsr:Are you some sort of Holy Fool? Iago has turned that good man Cassio (yes! he is good, and utterly devoted to you, and his sweetheart is a girl called Bianca – everybody here knows that – except you. Why didn’t you ask him, man to man?) – Iago has turned him into a drunkard. Iago is quicker than you, and he’s cleverer, if cunning can be called cleverness. He hates you, and he hates Cassio, who you have given promotion to. I didn’t know that he hated me too. He sees people’s weaknesses and he exploits them. Cassio’s weakness was wine; yours is jealousy.
- How do these creative works invite the reader to re-examine Shakespeare’s play and, in particular, the character of Desdemona?
- What has inspired these different responses?
Othello: In Performance
Our purpose is to transform access to education.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.