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Comparison: ‘Night of the Iguana’ and ‘Goodnight Desdemona’ Research Paper

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Updated: May 13th, 2020

Central intellectual concerns in the plays

The two most prominent matters in the play Night of the Iguana comprise issues revolving around the concepts of morality and gender roles. The society’s perspective of morality matches that of individual characters in the play in some instances while it clashes with others in other areas, thus triggering the audience to think about issues that the characters arouse using personal perceptions of morality. For instance, during a trip to Costa Verde Hotel in which Reverend Lawrence Shannon takes up the responsibility of a tour guide, he engages in a consensual sexual encounter with Charlotte Goodall – a sixteen-year-old girl who is part of the group of eleven young Baptist music teachers on the bus for whom he is responsible. The rest of the group learns about the engagement and understandably express their anger towards the reverend, thus resulting in his decision to make a stop at the hotel and booking accommodation for the group at the hotel (Williams 24). The objective behind making the stop at the hotel is to curtail the group’s efforts of informing the travel agency’s management of his indiscretion.

It would be erroneous to disregard the possibility that the group’s abhorrence of Shannon’s actions has nothing to do with his previous position in his church and society. The tour group’s determination to get in touch with the travel agency provides proof for the society’s high regard for morality. However, people in the same society practice acts that seem to suggest the existence of double standards. For instance, they find tying Shannon up acceptable and Maxine Faulk – the owner of the hotel, even gets angry when she finds out that Hanna Jelkes untied him. The mixed statements require the audience to form its own opinions with regard to what constitutes morality.

Gender roles in the play also raise intellectual concerns regarding the kind of social makeup in the society in which the play exists. Ordinarily, in most societies, the male gender plays roles that portray men as strong such as providing for their families and protection (Jenkins 32). However, in this play, men appear weaker as compared to women in several ways. For instance, even though the tour group comprises women, Shannon feels weak in their presence. Secondly, Shannon plays the role of the prey while Maxine constantly seeks him out as an object for the fulfillment of her sexual desires. Maxine also holds an authoritative position throughout the entire play, regardless of the fact that she stays off stage for most of its duration.

The issue of gender roles also features prominently in the play Goodnight Desdemona by Anne-Marie McDonald. Both men and women have a confusing balance of power, thus making it difficult to establish which gender holds the most power. Constance Ledbelly – a professor from the University of Queens and the main character in the play, seeks to prove that Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet and Othello, were originally comedies from the Gustav Manuscript. However, her timid nature prevents her from proving her theory’s skeptics like her boss, Claude Night. Although very educated, Constance seeks approval constantly from Night, on whom she has had a crush for a while (McDonald 14). The scenario portrays the power of the male gender over the female, which complies with the traditional gender roles to which most societies subscribe.

Additionally, her boss manages to acquire a job at Oxford University that Constance has been hoping to secure. The issue gives Constance an emotional meltdown, at which she disappears into her subconscious seeking to prove her theory and acquire the respect that she thinks she deserves from her peers. Her lack of ability to confront her fate in real life makes Constance and the female gender that she represents in the play, appear weaker as compared her male counterparts, which Night represents in this case.

Another notable concern in the play is the interrelationship between fantasy and reality that leads to the actualization of the story. The audience always has to be keen to understand scenes in which the characters represent the reality and those in which they represent the fantasy world of Constance’s subconscious musings. For audiences with avid knowledge of the Shakespearean plays of Othello and Romeo and Juliet, the mere mention of the names of the characters as they interact with Constance allows them to identify the subconscious journey. However, for members of the audience lacking knowledge of the two plays, noting the cities in which certain scenes take place is helpful, thus requiring close attention to details throughout the play.

The author uses the fantasy world to unravel some of the traits that Constance hides from the world in her real life as a professor. For instance, Constance reveals her deceitful nature when she tricks Romeo into thinking that she is a man by the name Constantine in the opening scene of Act III, where he pushes Romeo out of the way before Tybalt stabs Mercutio from under Romeo’s arm, as is the case with the original play (Shakespeare 16). She also allows Juliet to fall in love with her and seduces her without letting her know that she is indeed a woman in a man’s attire (Vogel 35). The confusion of identities results in conflict between Romeo and Juliet, which she does nothing to stop regardless of the fact that she is the cause. The author also explores the issue of love and acceptance Constance seeks to escape from in the real world and reveals her need for love during her interactions with Romeo.

The most significant similarity between the two plays is the feminist approach with which the authors handle issues they address within the plays. Tennessee Williams empowers the female gender in his play through the inclusion of characters such as Maxine, Hanna, and the rest of the all-women tour group, who portray strength in the way they handle their roles (Roudane 41). For instance, Hanna chooses to remain unmarried to take care of her ailing grandfather while supporting their existence with her earnings from the paintings she sells to patrons in hotels where she stays as she travels. Maxine chooses to run the Costa Verde Hotel after her husband dies instead of selling it or remarrying. Additionally, she is confident enough to let Shannon know that she desires him sexually, even though he was a good friend to her husband and is currently a church minister on exile.

In the play Goodnight Desdemona, by Ann-Marie McDonald, the author reveals the strength of the female gender through the main character Constance. Although timid in her real life, she controls everything that happens in the fantasy world, including altering the thoughts and actions of men and women in the two plays to her advantage. For instance, she allows Romeo and Juliet to think she is a man while enjoying the benefits and allows Othello to fall in love with her while trying to reveal Iago’s true nature to Desdemona. The main difference between the two plays is their contexts in terms of times and places where events occur, although the expectations for gender roles in the two societies remain the same.

Conflict in the plays

The main problem in Night of the Iguana, which the author reveals in the form of conflict, is a clash between individual and societal concepts of morality. In the play, the author depicts a difference in perceptions of conflict that individuals in society have about the society’s expectations of them. For instance, Shannon is okay engaging in consensual sexual interaction with Charlotte Goodall, and so is she, even though she is only sixteen years old. However, society considers such interaction as an act constituting statutory rape, thus resulting in uproars from the rest of the tour group when they finally find out about it. Interestingly enough, Goodall says nothing of the incident the entire time except for instance towards the end of the play when she asks Shannon to marry her as a way of correcting the wrong.

Another example of the conflict between individual moral values and those of the society appears in instances where Maxine tries to get Shannon to have sex with her. Shannon has been a friend to Maxine and her late husband Fred for some time, most of which he has related to her as Fred’s wife. When her husband dies, Maxine decides to take up her husband’s responsibilities as the owner of the hotel. Maxine’s confidence in her abilities extends to her sexuality. She lets Shannon know about her desires regardless of the fact that she knows she is a priest. Although she seems comfortable with her stance, her actions reveal that she is aware of the society’s views on the matter, thus causing her to remain discrete about her agenda. She avoids the topic around others, which explains why Hanna’s presence makes her uncomfortable.

In Goodnight Desdemona, the conflict occurs in the form of identity issues. The characters sometimes take up different identities to fit different roles from their original ones in this play, thus causing confusion and ultimately, conflict. Constance acts a university professor in her real life, but she takes an investigative role in her fantasy life where she falls in search of the ‘wise fool’ in the Gustav manuscript as part of her quest to prove that Othello and Romeo and Juliet are both comedic plays and not tragedies like Shakespeare insinuated. In her life as a professor, she displays timidity and lack of motivation to pursue her theory, but she possesses enough aggressiveness to perform the task in her investigative life in her fantasy world.

In Act III, that constitutes Constance’s interactions with characters in Romeo and Juliet. Constance takes on a different identity as Constantine, which allows her to blend into the scenes. However, her character as a man suffers her desire as a woman to acquire Romeo’s affections, thus leading to a series of changes in the play such as Juliet altering her character to that of a man to attract Constantine and Romeo dressing up as Juliet to obtain the same affection from Constantine. The result of such changes is confusion and the occurrence of physical conflict between Romeo and Juliet.

Value of ‘old’ play in present society

One of the things that ‘old’ plays teach the present generation is the history of society, including the core values that constitute the identity of a specific society. For instance, Night of the Iguana is set in Mexico, thus revealing some traditions that are unique to the society such as capturing Iguanas, tying them to poles, and fattening them in contemplation of a future meal, the admiration for the Catholic Church (Matovina and Riebe-Estrella 68), and preference for small businesses at the time (Haber 95). The Iguana analogy applies to Shannon through how the rest of the society treats him. Other indicators of societal history and values include the mode of dressing, gender roles, and popular social activities. In this play, selling paintings is a popular trade, as Hanna demonstrates. The style of the hotel and the lack of proper means of communication are also elements that allow the audience a glimpse into history (Haber 96).

In Goodnight Desdemona, some of the key indicators of history include the mode of dressing distinguishing males and females, the popularity of evening balls as the ultimate social events, and an exhibition of gender roles through acts such as sword fighting. An interesting indicator of the form of social interaction society favored in those days is the fact that individuals opted for self-improvement in their quest to appear attractive and relevant, especially to the opposite sex, which most societies practice to date (Jenkins 48). Understanding the history of societies is especially important for students studying in foreign countries as it helps them understand the dynamics involved in the social structure of their new environments inclusive of proper behavior and language.

Another way in which the plays add value to the current society is through the provision of examples of how societal perspectives shape individual perspectives. In most instances, individuals develop perspectives on morality, self-worth, and roles that they play from markers already present in society (Dolan 127). According to Kohlberg, children emulate the behavior of adults who hold influential positions in society or their lives such as parents and nurture the behavior as they grow older thus resulting in the formation of standard moral values in society (21). However, as people approach adulthood, they develop individual versions of the same traits that they learned from society, thus making them unique, albeit with reservations on some aspects regarding morality. For instance, in the play, Night of the Iguana, Shannon, and Maxine portray different perspectives from those of society regarding sexual affairs, even though they seem to recognize and abide by the society’s rules on the matter.

Similarly, in Goodnight Desdemona, Romeo is attracted to Constance in her persona as Constantine, despite the societal inclination towards attraction to the opposite sex. Juliet also portrays the same behavior when she approaches Constance at the balcony and professes her love to her, even after Constance’s revelation of her true gender. Society’s stance on gender roles is also prominent in the two plays and affects the perception of the audience towards the roles that the characters play in addition to the perception of the characters. The Shannon’s role as a priest in the society vulcanizes him in Night of the Iguana, while both Romeo and Juliet appear as villains against each other in Goodnight Desdemona.

Works Cited

Dolan, Jill. “How I Learned to Drive: Review”. Theatre Journal, 50.1 (1998):127-128. Print.

Haber, Stephen. Industry and Underdevelopment: The industrialization of Mexico, 1890-1940, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. Print.

Jenkins, Emyl. The Book of American Traditions: Stories, Customs and Rights of Passage to Celebrate Our Cultural Heritage, New York: Crown Publications, 1996. Print.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. The meaning and measurement of moral development, Germany: Clark Univ. Heinz Werner Inst., 1981. Print.

Matovina, Timothy, and Gary Riebe-Estrella. Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in US Catholicism, New York: Cornell University Press, 2002. Print

McDonald, Ann-Marie. Goodnight Desdemona: Good Morning Juliet, Toronto: Coach House Plays, 1990. Print.

Roudane, Matthew. The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet, New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.

Vogel, Paula. Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief, New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc, 1994. Print.

Williams, Tennessee. Night of the Iguana. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1998. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Comparison: 'Night of the Iguana' and 'Goodnight Desdemona'." May 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-night-of-the-iguana-and-goodnight-desdemona/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Comparison: 'Night of the Iguana' and 'Goodnight Desdemona''. 13 May.

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