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.
Constance Ledbelly, a PhD student who is writing her thesis on an obscure document that she believes will prove Shakespeare had prepared different endings for two of his most famous plays. She hopes to prove that Romeo and Juliet and Othello were intended to be comedies! As digs into her topic, Constance is given a magical opportunity to prove her thesis when she disappears into her wastebasket and enters a world where she comes face-to-face with Desdemona and Juliet. Constance's experiences provide the audience with a view of her journey of self-discovery. Through the course of the drama we revel as Constance finds and reaffirms her self-confidence and frees herself from the harmful influence of her mentor, who up until then had manipulated her and passed her work off as his own.
The other character that is a representation of Constance's mind is the ghost. The ghost in the short play represents Constance's sub-conscious mind. The ghost represents what Constance knows, in her sub-conscious but not in her conscious mind. When Constance is having a conversation with the ghost, and asks who the ghost is, the ghost replies "Alas poor fool, you know me well" (P.74). The ghost is giving hints as towards who he is. He is trying to say that that "you know me well" meaning that he is a part of Constance's mind, and is there to tell her what he knows; the sub-conscious part of Constance. Indeed, through her interactions with Desdemona and Juliet, the central character Constance discovers her own strength and passion. Beyond the fun and silliness of the play, is the story of a woman learning to stand up for herself, claim her own voice, explore her sexuality, grow and mature into adulthood. The play may be a comic fantasy, but it is also concerned with the way we can engage imaginatively with literature or any work of art and gain new understanding of ourselves in the process.
Desdemona is a bloodthirsty warrior who married Othello because she loved to hear him talk of war. When Constance foils the plot against her, Iago begins to turn Desdemona against Constance using the very same ploys he used with Othello. Desdemona is first passionately Constance's sister, then becomes just as easily swayed to be her sworn enemy. In Verona, Constance is mistaken for a boy (Desdemona had ripped her skirt off during a sword fight, leaving her in her long johns) and both Romeo and Juliet proceed to fall in love with the new "boy." When they each think that "Constantine" is attracted to the other, Romeo dresses in Juliet's clothes and Juliet in Romeo's clothes to further their wooing. Nor is Juliet swayed in her passion when Constance reveals herself as a woman.
In toto, the play is very witty. The characters, even wittier. The humor injected into the lines of the characters is very implicit. The lines are well-thought and creativity flows from the repartee of the characters. Goodnight Desdemona is a successful comedy because it is able to play with the different levels of the mind and transcends from one