The Bacchae is one of the more horrifying and monstrous plays in existence. Its author, Euripides, once remarked that “if the gods do aught shameful, they are not gods.” Consider then the case of Dionysus:
a young god named Dionysus, hungry to be acknowledged as a deity by the mortals whose blood runs through his veins as well—his late mother was one of Zeus’ unacknowledged lovers—drives a number of earthbound women into a frenzy, thus demonstrating his power in both the mortal and the mythic realms. As a kind of confused, vengeful stud, Dionysus is a difficult part to pull off without seeming preachy or self-righteous, or both. — Hilton Als, The New Yorker
Ditto the part of Shakespeare’s princely Dane. And no surprise:
Euripides is saying something that we should understand about Hamlet. He is neither a god nor a satyr. He is merely Prince Hamlet, the wretched man at the center of death-dealing in the state of Denmark. He is not a figure of classical tragedy. — Philip Rieff, The Crisis of the Officer Class
Of course big differences prevail between the characters of all-mortal Hamlet and freakbomb false god Dionysus. But both are bringers of group death. A while back I mused in medium-high dudgeon on the way our fear of our monstrous collectivity has been relentlessly banalized — in a post partially titled Dionysiac Lite:
In the good old days our orgies were special events — weeklong pansexual frenzies that brought ancient society to a momentary dead stop and left potent reminders of the depths of our animal selves. Now the authority of monstrosity has been replaced by an authority vacuum.
And so has the role of Dionysus been handed to…Alan Cumming. Als describes Cumming as “a bad boy with the balls to spout some of the most beautiful poetry extant while looking tough and delectable, all at once.” I on the other hand remember only a guy loitering at the valet stand after the State and Main premiere party, offering a most thinly veiled proposition to join himself and his hunky blond companion after hours in exchange for a Kit Kat (he was clutching a king-size sleeve of the things). Always to be outdone by the culture we criticize, if therapeutic orgies are the Diet Coke of murderous orgies, Alan Cumming as the Beast from the East will surely be its Coke Zero.