Why Shakespeare is Julie Taymor’s Superhero

For the renowned director of the screen and stage, the Bard is a fantasy and a nightmare

(Marco Grob / Trunk Archive)
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“We usually think that if we see with the eye, it’s superficial,” she says, “but in this play it’s kind of opposite. You can see with the mind or heart. That I find a tough concept that Shakespeare’s bringing out...that he’s on a whole other level of what ‘seeing’ and ‘loving’ means.”

“Do you mean he sees love at first sight as something arbitrary?”

“Not always.” She starts talking about one of the two pairs of mixed-up young lovers in the play, Lysander and Hermia. She has an interesting insight into their relationship. In most of the criticism I’ve read about the play, the fact that Hermia loves Lysander and not Demetrius (whom Egeus, her father, wants her to marry) is arbitrary. I’ve seen the two male ingénues dressed identically in some productions to emphasize the point—affection is willy-nilly, arbitrary, impossible to predict—or faithfully sustain.

She’s read this too in her research, she says, but she begs to differ: “Are they out of their minds?! These are extremely well-etched and differentiated characters. Lysander is like a hippie, a poet. He’s not loved by Egeus [the father] because he is an artist. And that’s what little Hermia falls in love with. Demetrius is Wall Street....They’re unbelievably opposite.”

Lysander and Hermia go into the forest and Puck mistakenly puts drops of the play’s love potion in Lysander’s eyes, a potion made from the distillation of a flower called “love in idleness.”

“It’s a psychedelic!” Taymor exclaims. “The humor is obviously with the herb, because when Lysander wakes up with the drops in his eyes, he just dumps Hermia and easily falls in love with Helena, the first person to cross his path. But it’s not a true love, is it?”

“A potion is a juice, but the emotions—” I start to say.

“The emotion is unleashed!” she says, “and I think that Shakespeare’s saying that’s how easily we can switch our passions. A little thing can do it. Whether it’s love juice, a psychedelic drug or somebody swishes by in a different way—that love is extremely fickle. I think a lot of this is about all different levels of love, just like Titus is about every single aspect of violence.” Circle of Love. Circle of Death.

This brings her to a hole she’s spotted in the plot. It involves Demetrius, the Wall Street type, who is spurned by Hermia but loved by Helena, whom he spurns. Until, Taymor says, he wakes up with the juice in his eyes and says, “‘And now Helena who I always loved’ and you have to think—he’s on a drug.”

But she says, unlike the other youth—the poetic Lysander who gets the antidote for his drug and switches his affections back from Helena to Hermia—Demetrius “never gets off the drug,” Taymor says. “Because at the end [Shakespeare] didn’t take the drug off,” Taymor says. Perhaps he didn’t have the time. Or he forgot. “He probably wrote it over a weekend,” she says.


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