Of course, he adds, there is also the star factor: “American stars playing Shakespeare—Al Pacino, F. Murray Abraham, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Ethan Hawke—all have great skills with Shakespeare and build audiences.”
The Shakespeare plays revived today, though, are mainly familiar ones—Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth, even Taymor’s own Midsummer Night’s Dream. It had been Taymor’s daring to reach outside the famous Shakespeare plays and revive Titus (now available on YouTube as well as DVD). I say daring not just because it’s relatively obscure, but also because it’s so bloody and terrifying. Titus is the story of a Roman general, Titus Andronicus, who ends up in a death spiral of murder, mutilation, rape and the most grisly revenge in the history of revenge.
“How do you explain all this—?” I start to ask about the sensational, horrific material.
“I think that part of civilization—similar to Midsummer—is to harness the darker aspects of our nature. When you come to Tamora...”
Tamora is the queen of the conquered Goths, whose son is slaughtered in front of her by Titus.
“When Tamora sees her firstborn murdered, she says, ‘Cruel, irreligious piety.’”
For Taymor, these are “the most extraordinary three words. They represent our day and age better than any I know. Because it is [filled with] ‘cruel, irreligious piety’—in the name of which we bomb these people or we kill those people.
“My favorite play is Titus and it will always be Titus,” she says. “I think it contains the truth of human nature. Especially about evil, about violence, about blood. It investigates every aspect of violence that exists. It is the most terrifying play or movie that exists.”
When I ask why, she gives a terrifying answer:
“Because what Shakespeare’s saying is that anybody can turn into a monster. That is why I think Titus is way beyond Hamlet."