December 27, 1999 [Titus]
I glanced into my old Pelican edition of Shakespeare and read the introduction to Titus Andronicus to remind myself that the play is--or was--generally dismissed, even scorned, as the misfire of a young playwright. One Gustav Cross begins his introduction by asserting that it is "a ridiculous play," and goes on in withering tones to defend his thesis.
But what makes him laugh? His lack of pity to Tamora (and what would such a role be without Jessica Lange, fiercer than her barbarian Queen could ever hope to be)? The bludgeoning ironies of hands and tongues and virtues torn out by the roots--themselves replaced by roots and branches and stumps, poor utensils for the little cannibal holocaust Titus prepares, his chef hat jaunty as he serves up Satan's meatloaf? Or is it simply the knowledge that someone like Julie Taymor (so good, I've heard, as the director of the stage version of The Lion King, a master puppeteer with eclectic tastes--true, I think, for so many puppeteers) could pull this play from the scholars' dunk-tank?
I don't know what the canonizers think of Titus these days, but as a movie it jumps out at me like that little Thing from Alien and latches on and goes deep--while that last long shot--young Lucius and the baby making their way toward the sunrise (corny if it weren't true, simple astronomy swallowing them up)--perhaps promises a Somewhere better than a country where duty trumps love and love conquers all like an invading army.