Theatre Preview: Talking feminism with Shakespeare

By Fiona McLay

The question is not whether Shakespearean studies needs feminism but whether feminism needs Shakespeare. Broad Minds Productions and The Shakespeare Company explore this as they present renowned feminist author Ann-Marie MacDonald’s play Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet.

“This is definitely the story of a woman coming into her own,” says Coulter. “It was originally performed by Nightmail Theatre in Toronto, a well-recognized feminist theatre co-opened by playwright MacDonald.”

Good Night Desdemona tells the story of a small, mousey, grad student who lacks confidence. After deciphering a coded manuscript, this wallflower suddenly finds herself surrounded by cross-dressing, swordplay and mistaken identity smack in the middle of two Shakespearian works. Therein, she effectively changes the outcome of the plays from tragedy to comedy.

“The main action in the play begins when she reaches a breaking point,” Coulter explains. “Just when she is ready to give it all up she is sucked into this Wizard of Oz alternate reality.”

Shakespeare’s works have often been criticized for seemingly endorsing women’s subjugation. His female characters are often weak and unable to bring about the change they long for in their lives. However, you will not find such weak characters in Good Night Desdemona.

“The Shakespeare heroines in this play are not limited to traditional female stereotypes,” asserts Coulter. “The female characters are in control and aware of their inner desire.”

The ever-popular feminist theme of self-discovery is explored thoroughly by the playwright. The lead character must tackle the issue head on when she finds herself confronted by Elizabethan theatre.

“As she meets the characters in her alternate reality she recognizes something familiar about them,” Coulter remarks. “They are actually reinvented from her real life.”

Shakespeare enthusiasts shouldn’t be alarmed. Good Night Desdemona doesn’t seek to trivialize these great works.

“It is a parody as well as a celebration,” Coulter assures. “There are direct quotes and MacDonald writes in iambic pentameter as soon as the main character arrives in the alternate universe.”

Exploring feminism through Shakespearian content is a daunting task but Coulter maintains it is not an impossible one.

“Good Night Desdemona is a huge comedy that tells its message in a funny and accessible way,” she says.

Leave a comment