menu

Shakespeare In and Beyond the Ghetto

The Background menu

The Background

Shakespeare as a Global Phenomenon Performer in Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare is the quintessential European author. Shakespeare is now a global phenomenon that transcends national borders, institutional boundaries and historical categories. His two plays set in Venice, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, are particularly relevant for the cultural memory and the future of Europe. Both have at their centre an outsider, the Jewish moneylender Shylock and the moorish soldier Othello, arguably the two most prominent "others"of Western culture. The paradox is that they have been both vehicles of prejudice and gateways of toleration. Shylock was often exploited for antisemitic purposes, carrying with him century-old stereotypes about Jewish greed and propensity to revenge. On the other hand, Shylock as a member of a persecuted minority has also been used to promote sympathy for the Jews. This project provides the unique opportunity to explore all the political implications of The Merchant of Venice and to experiment with ways in which a sensitive play can be adapted to different media and reach different audiences, including children and young adults.

The Ghetto of Venice (1516-2016) 

Square in Venice

Venice is famous for its beauty and history that have long been the source of legend and inspiration. Less known is the fact that, for centuries, Venice was also a focal point of Jewish life and culture. The Ghetto, founded in 1516 as a place of segregation, became an important crossroads of various Jewish communities and a place for dialogue between Jews and non-Jews. It was the model for all subsequent ghettos, beginning with the name itself which derives from the Venetian geto (foundry). Today tens of thousands of people visit the Ghetto every year: they tour its synagogues and museum, gaze in wonder at the tall tenements and remnants of its famous 'banks', and they read the memorial plaques dedicated to the Holocaust. The small but vibrant Jewish population treasures its own traditions and participates in the civic and cultural life of Venice. The 500th anniversary of the founding of the Ghetto has been a unique opportunity to open a new phase in the history of this site and to highlight its global relevance. At a time of political uncertainty in Europe, the Ghetto has precious ethical and cultural lessons to educate the public about the Jews, about human rights, about cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue. This apparently marginal place in the world's most visited city is yet crucial for understanding how societies can engage in cross-cultural conversation to their mutual benefit. Shylock, the moneylender from The Merchant of Venice, despite never having existed, still manages to be the most famous Venetian Jew of all time. By unpacking the most famous myth linked to the Ghetto, we hope to demystify the stereotypes that have accrued around this exemplary site.

Return to top