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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“No, we worked together five years. So it wasn’t ‘some enchanted evening.’ [It’s been] 30 years now. But it was love at first sight as collaborators,” she says. “I love working with him. He’s a genius!”

Especially working on Shakespeare, she says. “We eat dinner going, ‘Oh my god, can you believe this piece of Shakespeare?’ this line, that line—so it continually feeds you to do Shakespeare because you’re always discovering something new.”

How many people still feel this way about Shakespeare after 400 or so years? I recall a dinner I had with the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Peter Hall, when he said he was worried that people were losing their grip on Shakespearean language.

“Are you kidding?” Taymor says. “What are there now, seven, ten productions going on in this city?”

And it is true. The New York Times has called it a “feast of Shakespeare.”

“There’s nobody in the Western world as good,” she explains. “Look at the movies being made that are either direct Shakespeare or adaptations of Shakespeare. ‘House of Cards’ is a complete Richard III revival.”

I ask if the “feast of Shakespeare” has something to do with the sense of being out of control—chaos at home, terror spreading around the world—and the need for wisdom and perspective from the Bard.

She doesn’t think so. She sees it more practically, as “a dearth of good writing for the stage” because many of the best writers are doing quality long-form TV. In addition, she says people have gotten over the idea that British Shakespeare is somehow more stodgy. (Many of the “feast of Shakespeare” productions are British imports.)

“Was there something about our situation today that makes Shakespeare more relevant?” I ask Jeffrey Horo­witz, the founder of the Theatre for a New Audience, who put on the stage version of Taymor’s Titus back in 1994 and is highly regarded in his own right as a Shakespeare producer/director and thinker. He’s also a producer of her new Dream.

He thought it might have something to do with “America as a struggling empire. When Shakespeare wrote,” he pointed out, “England was dealing with the question of what it means to be English, and what political system should we have? America is losing its uncontested power in the world. Shakespeare is a writer who expresses an understanding of wrenching change and loss.”


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