Shakespeare and Venice

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Shakespeare and Venice

Graham Holderness ANGLO-ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STUDIES SERIES Series Editors General Editor: Michele Marrapodi, Univ

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Shakespeare and Venice

Graham Holderness


ANGLO-ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STUDIES SERIES Series Editors General Editor: Michele Marrapodi, University of Palermo, Italy Advisory Editors: Keir Elam, University of Bologna, Italy Robert Henke, Washington University, USA This series aims to place early modern English drama within the context of the (XURSHDQ5HQDLVVDQFHDQGPRUHVSHFL¿FDOO\ZLWKLQWKHFRQWH[WRI,WDOLDQFXOWXUDO GUDPDWLFDQGOLWHUDU\WUDGLWLRQVZLWKUHIHUHQFHWRWKHLPSDFWDQGLQÀXHQFHRIERWK FODVVLFDO DQG FRQWHPSRUDU\ FXOWXUH$PRQJ WKH YDULRXV IRUPV RI LQÀXHQFH WKH series considers early modern Italian novellas, theatre, and discourses as direct or indirect sources, analogues and paralogues for the construction of Shakespeare’s drama, particularly in the comedies, romances, and other Italianate plays. Critical analysis focusing on other cultural transactions, such as travel and courtesy books, the arts, fencing, dancing, and fashion, will also be encompassed within the scope of the series. Special attention is paid to the manner in which early modern English dramatists adapted Italian materials to suit their theatrical agendas, creating new forms, and stretching the Renaissance practice of contaminatio to achieve, even if unconsciously, a process of rewriting, remaking, and refashioning of ‘alien’ cultures. The series welcomes both single-author studies and collections of essays and invites proposals that take into account the transition of cultures between the two countries as a bilateral process, paying attention also to the penetration of early modern English culture into the Italian world. OTHER TITLES IN THE SERIES A Bibliographical Catalogue of Italian Books Printed in England, 1558–1603 Compiled by Soko Tomita Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage Michael J. Redmond Courtesans, Shakespeare, and Early Modern Drama Duncan James Salkeld Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare & His Contemporaries Edited by Michele Marrapodi

Shakespeare and Venice

GRAHAM HOLDERNESS University of Hertfordshire, UK

© Graham Holderness 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Graham Holderness has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, WREHLGHQWL¿HGDVWKHDXWKRURIWKLVZRUN Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Wey Court East Union Road Farnham Surrey, GU9 7PT England

Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington VT 05401-4405 USA British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare and Venice. – (Anglo-Italian Renaissance studies) 1. Venice (Italy) – In literature. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616 – Knowledge – Venice (Italy) 3. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616. Merchant of Venice. 4. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616. Othello. 5. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616 – Criticism and interpretation. 6. Venice (Italy) – Religion. I. Title II. Series 822.3’3–dc22 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare and Venice / by Graham Holderness. p. cm.—(Anglo-Italian Renaissance studies) Includes index. 1. Venice (Italy)—In literature. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616—Criticism and interpretation. 3. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616—Knowledge—Venice (Italy) 4. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616. Merchant of Venice. 5. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616. Othello. I. Title. PR3069.I8H63 2010 822.3’3—dc22 2010019968 ISBN 9780754666066 (hbk) ISBN 9781409419518 (ebk) II

Contents Introduction: ‘This is Venice’



Renaissance Venice



Jew and Moor



Merchant and Jew of Venice



Moor and Whore of Venice



Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction



Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


Conclusion: Particularities


Works Cited Index

145 153

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‘This is Venice’ It seems incredible that so simple and obvious a title as Shakespeare and Venice, though used for chapters and articles, has never, so far as I can discover, been previously applied to a monograph.1 Why should this be so? The linking of Shakespeare’s name with the key locations in which his plays are set is a commonplace of critical methodology, furnishing a set of familiar titles: Shakespeare and Italy, Shakespeare’s Rome, Shakespeare and Scotland, Shakespeare’s England. But apparently not, until now, Shakespeare and Venice. Is it because there are in Shakespeare’s oeuvre only two Venetian plays, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, both of which use the city of Venice only as a partial setting for the action of the drama?2 There is only a handful of Roman plays too, but there have been many books with titles that link Shakespeare with the city of Rome.3 Is it because, as many critics have argued, Shakespeare’s Venice is a thinly disguised cover for Shakespeare’s England, and the preoccupations of both


The British Library Integrated Catalogue shows no citation entailing the combinations ‘Shakespeare’ ‘Shakespeare’s’ and ‘Venice’, though ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Venice’ obviously appear in the titles of hundreds of editions and critical studies of the Venetian plays. Recently Shaul Bassi and Alberto Toso Fei have proposed a different kind of relationship between the two terms, not ‘and’ but ‘in’: Shakespeare in Venice: Luoghi, personaggi e incanti di una città che va in scena (Venezia: Elzeviro, 2007). 2 All quotations of the modernized Shakespeare text are taken from The Merchant of Venice, ed. M.M. Mahood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), and Othello, ed. Norman Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Quotations from the Quarto texts are from The Most Excellent Historie of The Merchant of Venice, ed. Annabelle Patterson (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice-Hall, 1995); and The Tragedy of Othello, the Moore of Venice, ed. Andrew Murphy (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1995) in the series Shakespearean Originals, ed. Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey. Quotations from the Folio text are from The Merchant of Venice: a facsimile of the First Folio (London: Shakespeare’s Globe and the British Library, 2007) and The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice: a facsimile from the First Folio (London: Shakespeare’s Globe and the British Library, 2007). 3 Titles still current include Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare’s Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Paul A. Cantor, Shakespeare’s Rome (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976); Coppelia Kahn, Roman Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1997); Vivian Thomas, Shakespeare’s Roman Worlds (London: Routledge, 1989); Michael Platt, Rome and Romans According to Shakespeare (Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1976).

Shakespeare and Venice


plays are in fact matters of local and domestic concern dressed in exotic costume?4 This would then be true of virtually all of Shakespeare’s plays, since only one of them, The Merry Wives of Windsor, is set in his own contemporary England, while the rest all employ some distantiation of time and/or place, which would imply WKDW6KDNHVSHDUHZDVYLUWXDOO\LQFDSDEOHRIUHÀHFWLQJRQKLVRZQLPPHGLDWHZRUOG except via the mediation of temporal or geographical difference. Or is it that the very concept of ‘place’ is in this context problematical, since all Shakespeare’s dramas, irrespective of their nominal location, and whether set in the present or the past, were produced as contemporary theatrical events, on relatively bare and unlocalized stages, in the same English towns and for the same primarily English audiences? There is no compelling evidence to indicate that Shakespeare ever travelled abroad, so he probably did not have direct access to such places as Padua and Rome and Venice in the way that we do today. If, for him, such places were mediated through writing and visual representation and conversation, through books and maps and travellers’ tales, inhabited textually and imaginatively rather than in bodily presence – then for Shakespeare’s early modern ‘poetic geography’,5 one place might have been much the same as another. And if place is thus accidental rather than contingent, then spatial location is merely a convenient environment for the unfolding of the universal human drama, for stories of love and hatred, revenge and forgiveness, trust and betrayal, marriage and murder that happen in all places and at all times. Venice, Rome, Verona … ‘Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria/Vienna, London’ … as in T.S. Eliot’s homogenized modernist Europe, the essential Shakespeare might consist in archetypes of human experience relatively independent of time and of place. To link the two terms ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Venice’ is therefore to raise more questions than such a deceptively simple collocation would imply. Both are XQLYHUVDOO\ IDPLOLDU VLJQL¿HUV WKRXJK WKH PRUH VHQLRU SDUWQHU LV DOVR WKH PRUH IDPRXV KDUG WKRXJK LW ZRXOG EH WR ¿QG VRPHRQH ZKR KDG QHYHU KHDUG RI 6KDNHVSHDUH LJQRUDQFH RI 9HQLFH ZRXOG EH VWLOO PRUH GLI¿FXOW WR ORFDWH 7KH existence of Venice in the popular imagination is a much larger phenomenon than the reputation of Shakespeare, and its expansion and development since 4

According to Leo Salingar, Shakespeare’s Venice is ‘a refracted projection of London’. ‘Venice in Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’, in Michele Marrapodi, et alii (eds), Shakespeare’s Italy: Functions of Italian Location in Renaissance Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 173–82. Aaron Kitsch cautions against this tendency: ‘Scholars have been too quick to read the historical setting of most plays about Jews in the Mediterranean as a means for English authors to project their own national anxieties about sexuality, commerce and social order onto a generalized Other’. Aaron Kitsch, ‘Shylock’s Sacred Nation’, Shakespeare Quarterly 59:2 (2008), p. 148, n. 69. 5 Michele Marrapodi, ‘Introduction: Appropriating Italy: Towards a New Approach to Renaissance Drama’, in Michele Marrapodi (ed.), Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Rewriting, Remaking, Refashioning (Aldershot: $VKJDWH S)RUPHWKHµJHRJUDSK\¶RI9HQLFHZH¿QGLQ6KDNHVSHDUH¶VSOD\VLVQR less authentic for being ‘poetic’.



the Renaissance have proceeded relatively unconstrained by Shakespearean considerations. The Venice we know today as the product of that process is not necessarily all that easy to map onto a sixteenth-century observer’s poetic and dramatic vision of what once it was, or may have been. A standard historicist approach, wedded to chronology as the organizing SULQFLSOHRIKLVWRULFDOGHYHORSPHQWZRXOGLQVLVWWKDWWKHUHOHYDQWDQGVLJQL¿FDQW Venetian content and character of these plays must have been restricted to such knowledge as the dramatist could, at the time, have been capable of acquiring. What did Shakespeare know of Venice? What did Venice mean to Shakespeare? What was his view of it, what did he understand by it? Was this knowledge a unique acquaintance, such as could only be acquired by personal experience of being there, or was it derived from sources available to most educated English Elizabethans? It has in the past, and again more recently,6 been suggested that Shakespeare must have visited Venice, since his knowledge of ‘local colour’7 was so accurate and detailed. But then dismissals of the improbability of this claim are usually accompanied by observations to the effect that much Venetian detail in Shakespeare is in fact inaccurate or incomplete. If he had ever visited Venice, how could he have failed to place Shylock in the Ghetto?8 So a basic question for this study, which has of course been addressed by others, is ‘how exactly GLG9HQLFH¿QGLWVZD\LQWR6KDNHVSHDUH¶":KDWZHUHWKHVRXUFHVRINQRZOHGJH DQGLQÀXHQFHUVRIRSLQLRQWKDWPHGLDWHGWKHGUDPDWL]DWLRQRI9HQLFHLQ(QJOLVK FXOWXUH"+RZVLJQL¿FDQWZHUHWKH\LQVKDSLQJWKHSRHWLFDQGLPDJLQDWLYHZRUOGV of Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays? What relationship was there between the dramatic compositions and the actual historical city-state of Venice? These remain active questions, and in Chapter 1 this book will précis existing work on perceptions of Renaissance Venice and suggest some new possibilities of interpretation. But objective historicism can have only a limited value when approaching cultural artefacts that remain as living and contemporary as do the plays of Shakespeare. Shakespeare could not have known about the Holocaust or about the eighteenth-century slave trade (though he knew of course about both persecution and slavery); but in the present day, no reader who cons the pages of one of these Venetian plays, no actor who speaks lines from The Merchant of Venice or Othello, no spectator who hears them spoken, and no critic who attempts yet again to reinterpret ‘I am a Jew’ or ‘Soft, you, a word or two’ can disown such knowledge

6 Bassi and Fei, Shakespeare in Venice. But see Keir Elam, ‘“At the cubiculo”: Shakespeare’s problems with Italian Culture’, in Marrapodi, Italian Culture, pp. 99–110. Erika Jong’s novel Serenissima: A Novel of Venice %RVWRQ+RXJKWRQ0LIÀLQ SODFHV the Shakespeare of the ‘lost years’ in Venice, in the company of the Earl of Southampton. See Chapter 5 for a discussion of Jong’s novel. 7 Mahood, Merchant, p. 13. 8 Mahood, Merchant, p. 12. This point assumes of course that the play is set in a time after 1516–17 when the Venetian Ghetto was established, though that is not necessarily the case.


Shakespeare and Venice

or attend to these plays as if innocent of those great historical tragedies of religion and race.9 Nor can any of us occlude, from our response to these Venetian plays, our modern acquaintance with Venice, which in turn subsumes the entire history of the city, and as many of the innumerable visual and textual representations of Venice as we have had time to see and to read. In the theatre, nineteenth-century pictorial and spectacular representations of place are of course a thing of the SDVWEXW¿OPYHUVLRQVRIWKH9HQHWLDQSOD\VFRQWLQXHWRSODFHWKHDFWLRQLQWRD represented Venice, at least partly acquired from location shooting (even Orson Welles’s cosmopolitan and expressionist Othello used Venice as location for some scenes).10 The Venice that Shakespeare never saw is thus inevitably introduced, as constitutive memory (if not explicitly represented as cinematic context) for every reader, spectator, actor and critic, every time one of Shakespeare’s Venetian plays is mobilized in some form of cultural activity. And though it can be argued that this is the contemporary baggage we bring to our frequentation of Shakespeare, as distinct from any potentiality of meaning he could have imported into the work, the fact remains that the Jew, and the Moor, of Venice, have become inseparable from the real city whose name shares equally with them in the titles that construct WKHLU ¿FWLRQDO H[LVWHQFH117KLV ERRN JLYHV VRPH DWWHQWLRQWR PRGHUQ ¿OPLF DQG ¿FWLRQDO DGDSWDWLRQV RI 6KDNHVSHDUH¶V9HQHWLDQ SOD\V RQ WKH JURXQGV WKDW VXFK representations are a constitutive part of the history of Shakespeare’s Venice. A further indication of the relativity of place in criticism of the Venetian plays is the fact that they have rarely been considered together. Belonging as they do to two different genres, two different periods of Shakespeare’s work, indeed two different centuries (c. 1594 and 1607), The Merchant of Venice and Othello have not been collocated in the same way as the Roman plays, or the English histories, or more recently the ‘Italian’ plays. As Michele Marrapodi puts it, ‘The Merchant of Venice as a romantic comedy and Othello as a tragedy have never been linked together as derivative plays’.12 7KLV DVVHUWLRQ LV VRPHWKLQJ RI DQ RYHUVLPSOL¿FDWLRQ VLQFH WKH SOD\V KDYH certainly been put together, not on the common ground of Venetian location,

9 ‘History is far too important to be left to scholars who believe themselves able to make contact with a past unshaped by their own concerns’. Terence Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 3. 10 See Chapter 6 for discussion of Orson Welles’s Othello (1952) and Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice (2004). 11 In the Stationers Register for 1598, The Merchant is referred to as ‘A booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce, or otherwise called the Jewe of Venyse’, and the title-page of the First Quarto text (published 1600) echoes this dual attribution: The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. With the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Iewe towards the sayd PHUFKDQWLQFXWWLQJDLXVWSRXQGRIKLVÀHVKDQGWKHREWD\QLQJRI3RUWLDE\WKHFKR\VHRI three chests. As it hath beene diuers times acted by the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Othello ZDV¿UVWSXEOLVKHGLQDVµWKH0RRUHRI9HQLFH¶ 12 ‘Introduction’, in Marrapodi, Italian Culture, p. 10.



but as explorations in cross-culturalism, or in ethnicity and race.13 Shylock and Othello stand as textbook examples of ‘the stranger in Shakespeare’, the alien RXWVLGHUZKRVHSUHVHQFHMXVWL¿HVGLVFRQFHUWVDQGFKDOOHQJHVWKHLGHDOVRIOLEHUW\ and tolerance claimed by the state.14 But it is true that the two Venetian plays have not routinely been brought together on the shared ground of their common location. ‘There has been very little attempt’, concurs John Drakakis (who does read the Venetian dramas together in his essay ‘Shakespeare and Venice’), ‘to link the two plays’.15 7ZHQW\ \HDUV DJR KRZHYHU LQ D FROODERUDWLYH SURMHFW GHVLJQHG WR UHDI¿UP against New Historicism, the importance of deliberately realized historical time and place in the imaginative worlds of Shakespearean drama, Nick Potter considered the two Venetian plays as a poetic and dramatic unity.16 Both plays, he argued, are about the disappearance of the sacred in social relationships, when ‘power loses its capacity to exalt and becomes the merely pragmatic power of the prince and the merchant’ (p. 157). Shakespeare set these plays in Venice in order to provide them with a social environment of republican politics, individualistic economics and secular values appropriate to this theme. Through the medium of Venice as the paradigmatic modern, secular, commercial city, these two plays were able to ‘invite their audiences into their present’ (p. 159), and to display to them the sobering reality of the history men were in the process of making for themselves. In Potter’s view Venice provided a uniquely exact environment for such explorations, in terms of its physical structure; not the splendour of its SDODFHVDQGWKHPDJQL¿FHQFHRILWVXUEDQDUFKLWHFWXUHEXWUDWKHUWKHFRQVWUXFWHG archipelago the Venetians formed through ingenious exploitation of the natural landscape: 7KLVUHÀHFWLRQWKDWKLVWRU\LVµPDQPDGH¶LVVWULNLQJO\LPDJHGLQWKHGHVFULSWLRQ RI9HQLFHLWVHOIDJURXSRIDUWL¿FLDOO\H[WHQGHGLVODQGV9HQLFHVKRZVLWVHOIWREH DQDJJUHJDWLRQRIVHSDUDWHHQWLWLHVDQGWKLVLVLQWXUQUHÀHFWHGLQLWVROLJDUFKLF and republican politics and its individualistic understanding of citizenship. The play of Venice conjured by Shakespeare is the play of a world directly in line with our own, drained of the coherences of the sacred and devoted instead to SUR¿W S

13 See for instance Walter Cohen, ‘The undiscovered country: Shakespeare and mercantile geography’, in Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow (eds), Marxist Shakespeares (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 128–58. 14 See Leslie Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein and Day, 1973). 15 John Drakakis, ‘Shakespeare and Venice’, in Marrapodi, Italian Culture, p. 181. 16 Nick Potter, ‘This is Venice’, in Graham Holderness, Nick Potter and John Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History (London: Macmillan, 1998), pp. 157–209. The book groups plays together by ‘place or period rather than by genre’, in order to demonstrate that ‘Shakespeare’s plays evince a serious belief in history’. John Turner, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.

Shakespeare and Venice


In Venice every man is an island, entire of itself. Although individualism and alienation could obviously be explored in any one of a number of social and historical contexts, the aesthetic geography of Venice, with its diaspora of insulated entities, provided a uniquely appropriate context for dramatic explorations of early modern isolation.17 Both Potter and Drakakis agree that ultimately the Venetian plays deliver a critical and disenchanted view of Venice. Venice, says Potter, ‘traps people in their mutually alienated selfhoods, which imprisonment it presents as the preservation of individual rights’ (p. 207). Both Shylock and Othello, argues Drakakis, represent forces of ‘otherness’ that contribute to the formation of Venetian self-identity, and legitimate Venetian claims to liberty and equality, and yet reveal, by their very alterity, the strictly limited parameters of tolerance. They are both ‘central to the construction of Venetian identity, and it is this economy of constitutive difference that threatens to undermine the republic’s much-vaunted stability’ (p. 185). Though I wish to interpret the relationship between Shakespeare and Venice differently from either of these critics, I am deeply indebted in what follows to the pioneering work of both. Drakakis bases his argument in ‘Shakespeare and Venice’ on J.G.A. Pocock’s LGHQWL¿FDWLRQRIDµP\WK¶RI9HQLFHWKDWGRPLQDWHG5HQDLVVDQFHUHVSRQVHVWRWKH city and its reputation.18 This primarily political ‘myth’ represented Venice as the ideal republic, a perfection of governance, economy and social organization. Venice, says M.M. Mahood, was ‘a legend for independence, wealth, art and political stability, her respect for law, and her toleration of foreigners’.19 The city’s republican constitution provided an example of popular government that echoed the greatness of Rome and an alternative to the inexorable drift of Renaissance monarchies towards absolutism. Venice’s legendary openness and tolerance, together with its political and religious independence, facilitated the success of its economy, and economic success buoyed the city-state’s expansion into empire. Wealthy and powerful, tolerant towards the presence of strangers and hospitable to international trade, Venice gained the reputation of a remarkably open and multicultural society, which treated all its citizens as equal before the law, irrespective of race, colour or creed. Within this ideal community both rulers and ruled, natives and strangers, participated in the fabulous wealth and enviable liberty of ‘a polity in which all particulars were harmonized and whose stability was consequently 17

Compare Richard Sennett: ‘The “city” would stand for a legal, economic, and social entity too large and various to bind people together. “Community” of an emotionally intense sort would require division of the city. The Venetians acted on this divisive desire for community by availing themselves of their own watery geography’. Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: the Body and the City in Western Civilization (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), p. 228. ‘Insulate’ and ‘isolation’, though frequently used with apparent innocence by some critics, derive of course from the Latin and Italian words for ‘island’. 18 J.G.A. Pocock, The Machievellian Moment: Florentine Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 102–3. 19 Mahood, Merchant, p. 13.



immortal’ (p. 102). This Venice was however a ‘vision’ (p. 102), says Pocock, a ‘myth’, not a reality. +HUHµYLVLRQ¶DQGµP\WK¶DUHLQWHUFKDQJHDEOHWHUPVVLJQLI\LQJD¿FWLWLRXVHQWLW\ an unreality of the mind that was demonstrably discrepant from the historical reality of the actual Venetian state. I wish to accord much more substance and VLJQL¿FDQFHWRERWKµP\WK¶DQGµYLVLRQ¶DQGWRFKDOOHQJHWKHFRQVHQVXVWKDW9HQLFH failed to live up to its reputation. I regard ‘myth’ as ‘a real and powerful form of human consciousness’,20 one that is open to levels of existence that cannot be measured, or photographed, or fully documented by the accumulation of historical records. Myth, in Ernst Cassirer’s terms,21 is the process by means of which the creative mind makes its own objective reality; and Venice can be said to make and re-make itself in precisely this way. In any case, to restrict Venetian mythology to a single ‘myth’ is to oversimplify. There is not one myth of Venice, but multiple myths, or an entire reservoir of mythological identities. David McPherson, for instance, suggests that historically WKHUHDUHIRXUNH\P\WKVRI9HQLFHWKDWKDYHHEEHGDQGÀRZHGDFURVVWKHFHQWXULHV Venice the Rich, Venice the Wise, Venice the Just and Venice the ‘città galante’.22 Venice the Just belongs to an earlier history, to the time before the Venetian republic lost its autonomy to France and then Austria. This reputation for justice and equality was the basis for Pocock’s political myth of Venice. The city was also famed for its fabulous wealth, and hence became known as ‘Venice the Rich’, but the city-state’s economy went into decline as early as the later sixteenth century. ,QVXEVHTXHQW\HDUVWKLVLGHQWLW\ZDVUHGH¿QHGLQWHUPVRIDZHDOWK\DUWLVWLFDQG cultural heritage, thus incorporating the city’s cultural and intellectual fame as ‘Venice the Wise’. Venice has always been known as a city of carnival, festivity, sexual licence – the ‘citta galante’ of Casanova and Byron. All these are part of the traditions of the real Venice, but also very much part of the history and heritage of the Venice, or Venices, of myth. Although McPherson’s polymythology is widely cited, many critics still speak of ‘myth’ in the singular, presupposing as Pocock did a single ‘myth’ of Venice, extensively and from early on promoted by the city itself, and then widely accepted throughout Renaissance Europe. Thus John Drakakis suggests that ‘The ideal republic would appear to be less harmonious than its widely publicized “myth” would suggest’;23 J.R. Mulryne writes of The Merchant of Venice as lying


Graham Holderness, Cultural Shakespeare: essays in the Shakespeare Myth +DW¿HOG8QLYHUVLW\RI+HUWIRUGVKLUH3UHVV S 21 See Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965). 22 David McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson and the Myth of Venice (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990), p. 27. 23 Drakakis, ‘Shakespeare and Venice’, p. 176.


Shakespeare and Venice

simply ‘Between Myth and Fact’,24 and M.M. Mahood states that ‘the myth of Venice can be shown to have been sometimes a long way from the reality’.25 But these binary formulations raise questions of scope and status. If there was/is a singular ‘myth’ of Venice, then it would be a simple matter to disclose the gap between myth and ‘fact’ or ‘reality’: as for instance if Venice presented itself as universally tolerant, but was in practice systematically intolerant towards certain HWKQLF PLQRULWLHV VXFK DV -HZV DQG 0RRUV %XW DQ\ VXFK VLPSOL¿HG FRQFHSW RI myth will inevitably prove restrictive, exclusive and inadequate to the complex reality. Such ethnic minorities might, for instance, have been able to participate in the legal protection, opportunities for wealth-creation and festive hospitality afforded by Venice, despite suffering the discrimination of an explicitly unequal status. They may have been cheated by one aspect of Venetian mythology but embraced and supported by others. Editors and critics tend to deploy the term ‘myth’ in the way that Marxists used to invoke ideology, as a ‘false consciousness’, invented to serve the interests of the VWDWHDQGUHODWLYHO\HDV\WRH[SRVHE\FRPSDULQJLWVVHGXFWLYH¿FWLRQVZLWKKDUVK reality. But if in practice myth is a much more complex site of cultural production, capable of generating multiple images of its subject, and if all personal encounters with a heavily mythologized city take place on an already mythologized ground, WKHQ UHDOLW\ DQG P\WK EHFRPH PXFK PRUH GLI¿FXOW WR GLVHQWDQJOH7KURXJK WKH cycles of history these features of Venice – political freedom and independence, commercial and cultural wealth, hospitality and pleasure – change, decline, return, transform, change places, but remain active in the myths, and there take on the power of reality. Hence even today people continue to encounter, in their transactions with Venice, passion, luxury, wisdom and justice. I will be arguing in what follows that, alongside Pocock’s political myth, and MacPherson’s quadripartite mythology of Venice as just, wise, rich and pleasure-loving, lie a large number of other mythological reputations, among them Venice the Chaste, the Seductive, the Powerful, the Fragile, the Pure, the Imperfect, the Beautiful, the Evanescent, the Decadent and so on. Although these various reputations can EHLGHQWL¿HGPXFKPRUHKDQGLO\LQPRGHUQZULWLQJDQGYLVXDOFXOWXUHLWLVP\ contention that they were implicit or explicit in early modern literature, and that they appear in dramatic and poetic forms in Shakespeare’s Venetian plays. It is natural enough to assume that an untravelled Shakespeare would have been likely to absorb information about Venice’s political and legal institutions but much less likely to have picked up aesthetic and sensory impressions of the city he never saw. But I will argue that we need to revalue Pocock’s other term ‘vision’, as well as his concept of ‘myth’. To speak of the Venice that was available to people of the Renaissance in terms of ‘vision’ is only to repeat what has been said of it continuously for six centuries, that it is as much a vision as a city. Venice offers an experience of 24 J.R. Mulryne, ‘Between Myth and Fact: The Merchant of Venice as docu-drama’, in Marrapodi, Italian Culture, pp. 111–26. 25 Mahood, The Merchant, p. 15.



YLVLELOLW\ZKLFKLVSDUWO\DSHUIHFWLRQRIVHHQPDJQL¿FHQFHEXWSDUWO\DOVRDVHQVH of visual impossibility, as of an ‘unreal city’.26 Venice is indeed truly visionary, an inexplicable splendour, a ‘vision, or a waking dream’.27 ‘Opium couldn’t build such a place’, observed Charles Dickens, ‘and enchantment couldn’t shadow it forth in a vision’.287KLVGHUHDOL]LQJVHQVRU\FDSWLYDWLRQZKLFKVWUXFNYLVLWRUVLQWKH¿IWHHQWK century as forcibly as it still does today, immediately projects Venice, most worldly of cities, into an other-worldly dimension. This is the place where myth and reality meet and merge, and this is the site of Shakespeare’s poetic Venice. In early modern Europe, as today, people reached Venice, whether they actually went there or not, via the city’s pre-existing fame and reputation. There was no direct access to a myth-free Venetian zone. In our own time, Venice is an elaborate construction composed from a vast multiplicity of texts and images: a cornucopia RILPDJHVIURPSDLQWLQJVPDSVSKRWRJUDSKV¿OPVDµSDOLPSVHVW¶RIWH[WVIURP histories, travel writing, poetry, drama, novels.299HQLFH0DQIUHG3¿VWHUVD\VLV ‘one of the most frequently and “thickly” represented places on earth’, always ‘inscribed with the traces of previous texts’.30 ‘Nothing in Venice has not been written about, and written over, again and again’.31 ‘Venice’, concurs Tony Tanner, ‘is always the already written, as well as the already seen, the already read’.32 Yet despite this superabundance of representation, it is also a commonplace WKDW DV 3¿VWHU VD\V 9HQLFH LV µXQUHSUHVHQWDEOH¶ µEH\RQG UHSUHVHQWDWLRQ¶ RU LQ Tony Tanner’s nicely clumsy English word, ‘unhandleable’.33 None of these texts and images takes us to the heart of a real Venice. Instead they all depict something fascinating but elusive, enchanting but dissipating, alluring but ultimately ungraspable. This virtual Venice of text and image has mainly been produced over the centuries not by Venetians themselves, but by visitors, tourists, foreigners, ‘strangers’: 26 T.S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, Collected Poems 1909–62 (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), p. 65. 27 John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, in Debbie West (ed.), John Keats: Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 28 Charles Dickens, Letter to John Forster, 12 November 1844, in K. Tillotson and Nina Burgess (eds), Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. IV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 217. ‘As is often true of Venice, the real cannot be dissociated from its dramatic presentation’. Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, Venice Triumphant, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. xiii. 29 0DQIUHG 3¿VWHU DQG %DUEDUD 6FKDII µ,QWURGXFWLRQ¶ WR Venetian Views, Venetian Blinds: English Fantasies of VeniceHG0DQIUHG3¿VWHUDQG%DUEDUD6FKDII $PVWHUGDP Rodopi B.V., 1999), p. 1. 30 0DQIUHG3¿VWHUµ7KHRULD7R*R$EURDGWKH6HHWKH:RUOG¶LQ0DQIUHG3¿VWHUHG The Fatal Gift of Beauty: the Italies of British Travellers (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), p. 4. 31 0DQIUHG3¿VWHUµThe PassionIURP:LQWHUVRQWR&RU\DWH¶LQ3¿VWHUDQG6FKDII Venetian Views, p. 15. 32 Tony Tanner, Venice Desired (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 17. 33 Tanner, Venice Desired, p. 6.

Shakespeare and Venice


Venice is ‘not really ever written from the inside, but variously appropriated from without’.34 Virtual Venice is not a place to dwell in, but a place to visit: ‘never a home’, says George Simmel, only ‘an adventure for our souls’.35 It is not a place you can get to the heart of, but a place to view from the outside; not a place to live in but a place in which to stage your death. Byron’s Childe Harold sees Venice emerging from the sea: I saw from out the wave her structures rise As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand…

This is how Venice presents itself to the traveller arriving by sea; but here the poet himself is the enchanter, causing his own Venice to rise from the waves, a fantasy that then becomes part of the Venice of history. This virtual or textual Venice is the Venice of Byron, of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man,36 of the Gothic novel; the Venice of Henry James and Thomas Mann; the Venice of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Lucino Visconti’s Death in Venice; the Venice of modern ¿FWLRQVVXFKDV,DQ0F(ZDQ¶VThe Comfort of Strangers and Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion.37 Even the most recent text in this list, Winterson’s novel, reproduces YLDDKLVWRULFDO¿FWLRQPDQ\RIWKHWUDGLWLRQDOIHDWXUHVRIYLUWXDO9HQLFHDVDSODFH of transgression, mystery, self-abandon. Her Venice is a ‘city of mazes’, where ‘there is no such thing as straight ahead’; a city ‘of the interior’, of ‘disguises’, ‘of uncertainty’; a city ‘enchanted’, ‘mercurial’, ‘changeable’. It is ‘a watery city that is never the same’.38 Winterson is drawing here on a traditional nineteenth-century language about Venice, in which the city is always metamorphic, always in some process of change, evolution or decline. John Ruskin called it ‘amphibious’, a hybrid creature, one that belongs, as Simmel puts it, ‘to neither water or land’.39 Venice is always emerging from the primeval slime, or sinking back into it: a Venus rising from the waves, ‘Cybele, fresh from ocean’ (Byron), or ‘a moribund spot of civilization being sucked in by the surrounding marsh’.40 Venice lies on a shifty border between land and water: Ruskin called it ‘a petrifying sea’.41 It lies between muddy swamp and bright air: Proust wrote of the ‘Venetian air, that 34 35

Tanner, Venice Desired, p. 17. George Simmel, ‘Venice’, trans. Jayne Barret, quoted in Tanner, Venice Desired,

p. 368. 36

Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826, London: Wordsworth Editions, 2004). Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981); Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (London: Bloomsbury, Vintage, 1986, 2001). 38 Winterson, Passion, p. 49. 39 Simmel, ‘Venice’, p. 368. 40 Werner von Koppenfels, ‘Sunset City – City of the Dead: Venice and the 19th &HQWXU\$SRFDO\SWLF,PDJLQDWLRQ¶LQ3¿VWHUDQG6FKDII Venetian Views, p. 100. 41 John Ruskin, Complete Works, ed. Edward T. Cook, Vol. IX (London: Wedderburn, 1903–12), p. 323. 37



marine atmosphere’.42 It lies somewhere between nature and art, composed of µSHWUL¿HG ZDWHU¶ DQG µOLTXH¿HG PDUEOH¶43 It lies between darkness and light: ‘A dark city’, Ruskin called it, ‘washed white by the sea foam’.44 It lies between life and death: in Byron’s phrase a ‘dying glory’; or as Henry James called it, ‘a vast mausoleum’, ‘most beautiful of tombs’.45 Venice is always changing, yet always remaining the same; always dying, yet always living on; always turning into something else, that turns out after all to be ‘Venice’.46 $VDFRQVHTXHQFHRIWKLVKXJHO\LQÀXHQWLDOGLVFRXUVHRI9HQLFHDVPHWDPRUSKLF always newly emergent, yet ‘forever on the brink of dissolving, disappearing’,47 the modern literature of Venice seems to be all about losing yourself, in the city’s maze of streets and squares and waterways; losing your bearings in mystery and uncertainty, bewildered by masks and transvestite costumes; losing your moral compass in the ‘transgressive passions’ that Venice seems to have made possible, at least imaginatively, for so many writers: passions ‘of love and madness, of sensuality, licentiousness, prostitution and sexual perversion’;48 RU ¿QDOO\ ORVLQJ \RXU OLIH DOWRJHWKHU OLNH 'DSKQH GX 0DXULHU¶V -RKQ %D[WHU RU Thomas Mann’s Aschenbach. Everywhere in the representation of Venice we are presented with this condition of liminality, of being on a border between oppositions, often extreme and irreconcileable antinomies: paradoxes, oxymorons, extremes that are impossible WR FRQFHLYH RI DV HOHPHQWV RI D XQL¿HG WRWDOLW\49 7RQ\ 7DQQHU ¿QHO\ VXPV XS these paradoxes: A Western city saturated with the East; a city of land and stone everywhere penetrated by water; a city of great piety and ruthless mercantilism; a city where HQOLJKWHQPHQWDQGOLFHQWLRXVQHVVUHDVRQDQGGHVLUHLQGHHGDUWDQGQDWXUHÀRZ DQGÀRZHUWRJHWKHU±9HQLFHLVLQGHHGµWKHVXUSDVVLQJDOORWKHUHPERGLPHQWRI that “absolute ambiguity” which is radiant life containing certain death’.50

42 Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way: Book One of Remembrance of Things Past, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (London: Penguin, 1983), p. 427. 43 von Koppenfels, ‘Sunset City’, p. 109. 44 Ruskin, Complete Works, p. 323. 45 Henry James, ‘The Grand Canal’, in Italian Hours (New York, Grove Press [1909]), p. 32. 46 See Peter Platt, ‘“The Meruailouse Site”: Shakespeare, Venice and Paradoxical Stages’, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), p. 124. 47 6HUJLR3HURVDµ/LWHUDU\'HDWKVLQ9HQLFH¶LQ3¿VWHUDQG6FKDII Venetian Views, p. 125. 48 3¿VWHUµ7KH3DVVLRQ¶S 49 See Platt, ‘Mervailouse Site’, p. 124. 50 Tanner, Venice Desired, p. 368. Tanner quotes George Simmel, who in turn was quoting Schopenhauer.

Shakespeare and Venice


One modern text that effectively summarizes this entire history of Venetian mythology is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.51 )DFHG ZLWK WKH GLI¿FXOW\ RI representing this unrepresentable city, Calvino blended history and fantasy into a series of magical-realist fables, depicting various imagined cities, but in the form of descriptions supposedly given by Venetian explorer Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. Polo describes ‘Tamara’, city of signs, an undiscoverable semiotic city in which VLJQVSRLQWRQO\WRRWKHUVLJQVDQGQHYHUOHDGWRDQ\¿QDOGHVWLQDWLRQ52 ‘Despina’, a port city that is not an end in itself, but only an exit, an access-point to foreign WUDGHDQGWUDYHOµ9DOGUDGD¶DFLW\EXLOWRQDZDWHUZD\WKDWUHÀHFWVHYHU\DFWLRQ RIWKHLQKDELWDQWVVRWKDWOLIHLVHQWLUHO\VWXGLHGLPLWDWHGVHOIUHÀH[LYH7KHUHLV ‘Esmerelda’, a ‘city of water’ (p. 88) where every direction is a ‘zigzag’; ‘Olivia’, a city of unintelligible contrasts, beauty and sordidness, which seem opposite sides of the same thin coin; ‘Octavia’, a city suspended over an abyss, where living entails the perpetual terror of slipping into the depths. All these descriptions are clearly distorted representations of Venice, as Polo eventually admits to the Khan: ‘Sire, now I have told you about all the cities I know’. ‘There is still one of which you never speak’. Marco Polo bowed his head. ‘Venice’, the Khan said. Marco smiled. ‘What else do you believe I have been talking to you about? … Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice’.

‘Ogni volta che descrivo una città dico qualcosa di Venezia’.53 Venice is the DUFKHW\SDOFLW\WKHµ¿UVWFLW\WKDWUHPDLQVLPSOLFLW¶ S DQGLVWKHUHIRUHSUHVHQW in every other encounter with every other place. When pressed by his auditor to reveal the reasons for his reticence, Polo acknowledges that he fears to lose WKH9HQLFHRIKLVLPDJLQDWLRQµ0HPRU\¶VLPDJHVRQFHWKH\DUH¿[HGLQZRUGV are erased’ (p. 87). If he calls Venice by other names, perhaps it may escape the ¿[LW\RILQVFULSWLRQ2USHUKDSVWKHUXVHLVWRRWUDQVSDUHQWDQGZKLOHKHKDVEHHQ ‘speaking of other cities’, his Venice has quietly and imperceptibly disappeared, becoming lost to him for ever. Calvino’s fables address Venice indirectly, by circumlocution, and at the level of myth and representation and imaginative vision rather than documentary analysis 51

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (London, Secker and Warburg,

1974). 52 Venice features in much this form in a magazine advertisement for Phillips televisions. A photo of the Rialto bridge appears on a television screen. The image is framed by the TV screen, which is in turn framed by a domestic interior, framed by a border bearing WKHORJRVRI3KLOOLSVDQGUHWDLOHU-RKQ/HZLVZKLFKLV¿QDOO\IUDPHGE\WKHPDJD]LQHSDJH 7KHSKRWRLWVHOILVDVWRFNLPDJHWKDWFDQEHIRXQGLQ9HQLFHJXLGHERRNV7KH¿QDOSXUSRVH of this recessional semiosis is not however to encourage people to visit Venice, but to watch it on TV. 53 Calvino, Invisible Cities, p. 86.



or realist imitation. The city is easily recognizable through Polo’s fantasies: DWUDGLQJSRUWDFLW\RIFDQDOVDQGZDWHUZD\VUHÀHFWHGLQLWVRZQZDWHU\VXUIDFH a city where no itinerary is ever straightforward, and which is perilously positioned over a depth into which, at any moment, it might catastrophically fall. But Polo also describes Venice in the way many other writers have invoked it, as a place of incredible contrasts, an unintelligible place where appearances are deceptive and nothing is but what is not: Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. (p. 44)

Clearly any hope of grasping and possessing such a place is hopeless: it will always be elusive and disappearing. It is precisely because Venice can only be presented as vision that its hold on the imagination is so strong, yet at the same time, as a vision, it remains, fragile and evanescent, enchanting and disenchanting at once, simultaneously offering and withholding blessing. The modern mythology of Venice, assembled largely by nineteenth-century poets, novelists and painters, and extended in similar directions by twentiethcentury writers, is clearly less concerned with Venice’s name for political liberty and independence, equality and justice, and far more focused on the city’s aesthetic properties, its miraculous beauty, its cultural and artistic reputation. The modern myth of Venice dwells on a glamour that seems capable of losing its meaning, and yet miraculously surviving; and on a city that forms, in its inexplicable visual beauty, the very archetype of the aesthetic. ‘Our’ Venice is not wholly, or even primarily, to do with wisdom, wealth, justice or even festivity. It is, in a word, Romantic. Over-represented yet defying representation, metamorphic, liminal, transgressive, Venice is now inescapably the nineteenth-century city of Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann and John Ruskin. A place of alluring loveliness, and DSSDUHQW VDIHW\ WKDW HQFRXUDJHV FRQ¿GHQW UHOD[DWLRQ \HW FUXHOO\ GHQLHV DQ\ promise of security and happiness. She dwells with beauty: beauty that must die. Venice invites you to change in yourself, the better to encounter a liberating environment, but then reveals itself as changing, and hence changes you, in ways neither anticipated nor necessarily welcome. This modern myth is realized in remarkably compelling terms in the denouement of Casino Royale WKH  ¿OP RI ,DQ )OHPLQJ¶V  QRYHO James Bond’s entry into Venice is an escape, a renunciation of responsibility (he transmits his resignation via laptop from a boat on the Grand Canal). The ¿OPUHSUHVHQWV9HQLFHYLDDWRXULVWLWLQHUDU\WKH5LDOWRWKH6DOXWH6DQ0DUFR all milling crowds, smiling tourists, glittering palaces and sparkling water. Until Bond realizes he is betrayed, when the scene shifts to a darker Venice of sottoportegiGDUNFRXUW\DUGVDQGGHVHUWHGEXLOGLQJVLWHV,QWKHHQVXLQJJXQ¿JKW %RQG SXQFWXUHV WKH VXEPHUJHG ÀRDWV VXSSRUWLQJ D SDODFH XQGHU UHSDLU DQG WKH entire structure collapses and slides impossibly down into the waters of the canal. Here the image of Venice as a vulnerable and fragile beauty, ready to drop into the

Shakespeare and Venice


abyss, a promise simultaneously possessed and lost, is represented literally in the catastrophic drowning of a palazzo.54 Regis Debray dreamed optimistically of such an inundation – ‘let it slide into oblivion’ – in his corrosive polemic Against Venice, which voices a powerful countermyth to the Romantic and aesthetic Venice of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.55 Debray sees exactly the same Venice as everyone else, but everything other writers celebrate is for him a ground of complaint, an objective of castigation. Others have found Venice elegant, cultured, authentic, dramatic, original, mysterious; Debray ¿QGVLWSUHWHQWLRXVSRPSRXVDIIHFWHGWKHDWULFDOVHFRQGKDQGDQHPSW\HQLJPD The aesthetic beauty of Venice is a false appearance concealing an inauthentic UHDOLW\9HQLFHLVXQUHDOLWVSDODFHVµOLNHSHUPDQHQWUHÀHFWLRQVRIWKHLUUHÀHFWLRQV in the water’ (p. 9) – and therefore empty of life, a museum-city. The real life of the population retreats to make way for the tourists, so Venice is like an empty theatre, or a scale model of a city. The tourist occupies a ‘festive unreality’ (p. 9) which prescribes affectation and conventionality in the place of experience. ‘The passing stranger savors a totally novel sense of liberty in a space where the numerous inhabitants feel imprisoned’ (p. 8). Debray also observes that Venice is always already written-over and over-read, so that anything one does or says within it seems scripted, choreographed, prescribed, ‘programmed, framed and endlessly repeated’ (p. 12). All this makes IRUDUWL¿FLDOLW\FOLFKpWKHIDPLOLDULW\RIUHSHWLWLRQµWKHZHOONQRZQHQFKDQWPHQW¶ ‘Venice is not a city, but the representation of a city’ (p. 9). Liberation, self-discovery, transgression, all are expected and therefore phoney: in reality nothing is learned, nothing discovered, nothing changed: ‘each person plays at losing his or her self … EXWWRZDQGHULGO\LQWKHODE\ULQWKLVDOZD\VWR¿QGRQHVHOI¶ S /LNH3URXVW the original somehow escapes us, and we see only the visible, not the visionary, Venice (p. 30). Although Debray’s lampoon is passionately ‘against Venice’, it will be apparent that his descriptive observations are closely parallel to the accounts of those who with equal vehemence write of Venice in a passion of admiration. Or more precisely, neither pure adoration nor simple distaste can ever do justice to the impact of Venice on the active imagination. George Simmel56 anticipated Debray’s position when he wrote compellingly of the city in terms of a fundamental disconnect between its appearance and its underlying meaning or reality, ‘a surface which has been left by its foundations’, ‘a foreground which has no background’. The observer senses the hidden presence of a ‘dark and violent, remorselessly purposeful life’ which seems to have deserted the city’s appearance, leaving only ‘a soulless theatrical set, the false beauty of the mask’. Simmel sees this lacuna as ‘the tragedy of Venice’, that 54

Casino Royale, dir. Martin Campbell (MGM/Columbia, 2006). Fleming’s novel (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954) has no corresponding Venetian episode. The only time %RQG¿QGVKLPVHOILQ9HQLFHLVLQWKHVKRUWVWRU\µ5LVLFR¶ VHHQRWHEHORZ  55 Regis Debray, Against Venice, trans. Philip Wohlstetter (Boston: North Atlantic Books, 2000). 56 Simmel, ‘Venice’, p. 368.



in turn sums up what Schopenhauer called the ‘absolute ambiguity’ of life itself: ‘It is as if everything had collected on its surface all the beauty which it could for itself, and then withdrawn from it, so that it is left as if fossilized’. From our own contemporary perspective, then, to speak of a single ‘myth’ RI9HQLFHLVFOHDUO\DQRYHUVLPSOL¿FDWLRQDQGZHQHHGUHFRXUVHWRDPXFKPRUH complex model of myth and counter-myth, or a concept of mythical multiplicity, a polymythology. But how old are these modern multiple mythologies of Venice, and in what sense can they be applied to the Renaissance? The historical trajectory underlying David McPherson’s generalizations on Venetian myths of wisdom, justice, wealth and festivity extends well beyond the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and most of the writing I have been quoting in the previous few pages comes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Am I not guilty of anachronism? The historicist will feel compelled to observe that dates matter, and that Shakespeare was not, so far as we know, an avid reader of Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann and John Ruskin. Or was he? I’m reminded of Terry Eagleton’s tongue-in-cheek observation that 7KRXJKFRQFOXVLYHHYLGHQFHLVKDUGWRFRPHE\LWLVGLI¿FXOWWRUHDG6KDNHVSHDUH without feeling that he was almost certainly familiar with the writings of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein and Derrida.57

If those, why not Proust and Mann and Ruskin too? In this anachronistic fantasy, Eagleton points up the impossibility of an innocent reading of any document from the past. In any contemporary reading, or acting, or interpretation of Shakespeare there is an interaction between the writing and the reader, actor, critic. What emerges is not the result of a direct communication between Shakespeare and the agent who activates the transaction, but the effects of an encounter between an old piece of writing and the modern intellectual substance the agent brings to that exchange. If Hegel and Marx and Nietzsche are part of that substance, then the act of reading produces a reaction between the old and the new discourses. Hence 6KDNHVSHDUH LV DOUHDG\ LQÀXHQFHG E\ HQFRXQWHUV ZLWK +HJHO 0DU[ 1LHW]VFKH Shakespeare’s language has already been through that exchange; Shakespeare must have read Hegel and Marx and Nietzsche. As Marco Polo discovers in Calvino’s IDQWDV\WKHSDVWLVQRW¿[HGDQGLPPRYDEOHEXWDOWHUVDFFRUGLQJWRWKHWUDMHFWRU\ of the traveller’s journey: … what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey … .58

We know the past only through our own interpretations, and as our interpretations change, so does the past. We need to read Shakespeare’s plays via acts of historical imagination, as documents of their time; but also by the application of a modern 57 58

Terry Eagleton, Shakespeare (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986). Calvino, Invisible Cities, p. 28.


Shakespeare and Venice

historical consciousness, as a text of our own time. Perhaps we can never be absolutely sure, when engaged in the dialectical process of reading the past, whether a particular act of interpretation, or effort of understanding, is a historical RUDFRQWHPSRUDU\SKHQRPHQRQ$UHZHVHHLQJLQWKHSOD\VSRWHQWLDOLWLHVWKHLU¿UVW spectators might have seen? Or reading into the plays modern concerns of which the plays and their audiences could have had no prior knowledge? My own view is that in reality these different perspectives are inseparable elements of a single process. Our present-day concerns echo in these old texts and are in turn informed DQGPRGL¿HGE\WKHDXWKHQWLFKLVWRULFDOGLIIHUHQFHRIWKHROGWH[WVWKHPVHOYHV There is still therefore a historicist analysis to be made of the kinds of knowledge pertaining to Venice that was certainly, or at least probably, available to writers of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, particularly of course to Shakespeare. Such a diachronic ‘thick description’ of Renaissance Venice, its history and its mythologies, is effected in the following chapter. Although I use a more complex method than the simple ‘source’ studies that have generally been used as explanatory models – i.e., identifying those written materials that clearly were, or at least could have been, available to Shakespeare, and matching them to the language and content of the Venetian plays – I have in general restricted my range to textual materials that were in circulation during the relevant historical period. I will on the other hand argue that these documents, together, probably, with pictures, maps, and oral communications from those who had direct knowledge of Venice, amply furnished the shrewd and opportunistic Renaissance mind of a writer OLNH6KDNHVSHDUHZLWKPDWHULDOVVXI¿FLHQWWRIDFLOLWDWHWKHFRQVWUXFWLRQRISOD\VWKDW anticipated the future directions and developments of Venetian mythology. After DOOUHDGLQJDQGRUDOUHSRUWVZHUHWKHFKDQQHOVLGHQWL¿HGE\/HZHV/HZNHQRUDV adequate sources for a knowledge of the ‘particularity’ of Venice, the city he wrote of, but never saw: I have not omitted from time to time to gather such observations as well by reading the best and choicest authors entreating thereof, as also by conference ZLWKVXQGU\ZHOH[SHULHQFHGJHQWOHPHQDVPLJKWH«VDWLV¿HWKHFXULRVLWLHRI my own desire.59

The standard method for assessing and evaluating the relationship between ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Venice’ has been to proceed with caution, positively assuming DV FRQWH[W RQO\ ZKDW LV OLNHO\ WR KDYH RU FDQ EH SURYHQ WR KDYH LQÀXHQFHG Shakespeare’s conception of the city, and interpreting language, character and incident in the plays in the light of such imputed Shakespearean knowledge. I intend to adopt a bolder, more liberal approach which allows for the possibility that Shakespeare’s knowledge of Venice may have been deeper and more extensive than a reliance on the obvious but fairly minimal sources, and that the Venetian plays are at least as much concerned with an exploration and interpretation of Venice, 59 Lewes Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, in Gaspar Contareno, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, trans. Lewes Lewkenor (London: Edmund Mattes, 1599), A2.



as with the contentious and enduring matters of capitalist economics, gender and sexuality, race and religion that the plays dramatize in their Venetian setting. This is partly a matter of reading the plays in a context provided by the wider range of material discussed in Chapter 1, a method which will not be regarded as especially controversial (as no-one really knows, beyond the directly attributable sources, exactly which books Shakespeare read, or with whom he conversed). I will also however be operating within the hypothesis that Shakespeare might have written his Venetian plays with a conscious and deliberate focus on what constitutes a historical society that can be compared to his studies of ancient Rome. What this means in terms of method is that in cases where a detail of language or incident or character might have a Venetian reference, but might equally relate to English culture, or be of more general import, I shall always prefer the Venetian reading. This may at some points seem arbitrary, but I trust the whole argument will stand ¿UPO\HQRXJKLQWKHHQG Lastly, given the close interaction within the ‘myths’ of Venice of history and imagination, reality and fantasy, and given the explicit acknowledgement provided here that there is no return to the past that can purport to be unaffected by the concerns of the present, there will probably be present within this book’s critical discourse some element of the creative and imaginative in literary exegesis and historical interpretation. This method, one I have advocated elsewhere,60 might at times look like making things up as we go along; but I trust it will be perceived rather as legitimate speculation based on a deep immersion in the historical culture Shakespeare shared with Renaissance Venice. As Diane Middlebrook said of Stephen Greenblatt’s partially fanciful biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World LI WKH FULWLF µOHWV KLV LPDJLQDWLRQ ORRVH LQ WKH ¿HOGV RI KLV NQRZOHGJH¶61 then the outcome should be exciting as well as accurate, compelling as well as convincing, and neither irresponsible nor misleading.

60 In for instance my Textual Shakespeare: Writing and the Word +DW¿HOG8QLYHUVLW\ of Hertfordshire Press, 2003). 61 Diane Middlebrook, ‘The Role of the Narrator in Literary Biography’, South Central Review 23.3 (2006), pp. 5–18.

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Chapter 1

Renaissance Venice On his way east, Italian traveller Santo Brasca stopped off for a few days in Venice. He visited San Marco, and several other churches. He took in the Doge’s Palace, WKH&DPSDQLOHDQGWKH$UVHQDOH+HHYHQ¿WWHGLQDERDWULGHWR0XUDQRWRVHH the famous glass-works. He did not, however, step off a cruise liner, or cross on the vaporetto from Marco Polo Airport, as the date of his visit was some time in 1480.1 Very few places in the world have changed so much, yet remained so much the same, as Venice.2 Brasca was a pilgrim travelling towards Jerusalem, and Venice was a staging-post on the pilgrimage route to the east. What he did, and saw, is exactly what a modern visitor would do and see in a comparable space of time, though the buildings and their functions have changed. Notwithstanding this apparent transhistorical continuity, in what follows I will, insofar as it is possible, allow Renaissance eyewitnesses like Brasca to speak for themselves of Venice. The objective of the exercise is to reconstruct a composite text that should resemble the reported Venice that must have circulated in sixteenth century Europe, the Venice that Shakespeare must have known. 7KHGRFXPHQWVFLWHGKHUHGDWHIURPWKHODWH¿IWHHQWKWRWKHHDUO\VHYHQWHHQWK centuries. They include some major descriptions of Venice that Shakespeare, in the view of most scholars, is very likely to have known and used for dramatizable material, such as William Thomas’s History of Italy (1549) and Gasparo Contareno’s La repubblica e i magistrate di Venezia (1543), published in Latin in 1543, later translated into Italian, possibly previewed by Shakespeare in the translation by Lewis Lewkenor, published in 1599,3 but they also include a much wider range of material, some of which may not have been textually and linguistically available in England, and some of which postdates the writing of Othello. However, writings circulated in manuscript form before publication, and writers talk about their work before it goes into print. We have no idea if Shakespeare could read Italian, but he obviously knew others who could, and knew himself at least ‘small Latin’. Impressions of 9HQLFHDFTXLUHGLQWKH¿IWHHQWKFHQWXU\PXVWKDYHLQÀXHQFHGWKHJURZWKRIWKHFLW\¶V reputation, and transmitted material into subsequent writings; and the recollections of travellers who visited Venice in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century 1

Santo Brasca, ‘A Pilgrim’s Impressions’, quoted in David Chambers and Brian Pullan (eds), Venice: A Documentary History 1450–1630 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 21–2. 2 µ9HQLFH VHHPV DEOH WR UHPDLQ WKH VDPH WKRXJK LW LV FRQVWDQWO\ LQ ÀX[¶ 3ODWW ‘Meruailouse Site’, p. 131. 3 William Thomas, The History of Italy (1549), ed. George B. Parks (Ithaca: Cornell 8QLYHUVLW\3UHVV /HZNHQRUVWDWHGWKDWµ&RQWDUHQRGLG¿UVWZULWHWKLVWUHDWLVHLQ/DWLQH the same being since his time translated into Italian’. Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, A3v.

Shakespeare and Venice


may have been around before their publication, in reports and conversations.4 There are many conditionals in these suggestions, but none of these hypotheses can be disproved, even where they cannot be proved. By some means or other, we know from the evidence of the plays themselves, a complex and sophisticated knowledge of Venice was there to be acquired within the cultural environment from which Shakespeare derived his impressions of destinations beyond the seas. Lewes Lewkenor described exactly such a process in the preface to his translation of Contareno’s Commonwealth and Government of Venice. Fascinated by the reports he hears of Venice, he longs to go there, but never arrives: These and such like reportes have from time to time kindled within me so greate a desire to acquaint my selfe with the particularities of this famous Cittie, that though during the time of my travell, (destinate to more unhappy courses) I was not so fortunate as to bee a beholder of the glorie thereof, yet I have not omitted from time to time to gather such observations as well by reading the best and choicest authors entreating thereof, as also by conference with sundry wel H[SHULHQFHGJHQWOHPHQDVPLJKWHQRWRQO\VDWLV¿HWKHFXULRVLWLHRIP\RZQGHVLUH but also deliver unto other a cleare and exact knowledge of every particularitie worthy of note, that thereunto appertaineth, which cannot as I imagine (the nobelenesse of the subject considered) but bee pleasing and agreeable to the best conceipted spirits, who may out of this one commonwelth of Venice, gather and comprehend the fruite of all whatseoever other governments throughout the world that are of any fame or excellency.5

Deprived of the direct acquaintance that would have enabled him to stand in the fortunate position of a ‘beholder of the glorie thereof’, Lewkenor nonetheless clearly believed that, from a combination of judicious reading and attentive listening, he could gather all he needed to know of the ‘particularities of this famous Cittie’. The Christian overtones of ‘beholder of the glorie’6 imply that being in Venice remains a kind of incommensurable primary experience of elevated presence, yet those who are not so fortunate as to stand in such presence can still, in their writing, show themselves to be believers; and in their lives, partakers of the common glory.7 To reconstruct Shakespeare’s Venice, then, I have broadened out the traditional PHWKRGRORJ\RIµVRXUFHVWXG\¶LQVHDUFKRIWKDWµODUJHUSURFHVVRIFXOWXUDOLQÀXHQFH¶ which in Michele Marrapodi’s words, draws on a ‘“deep”, ultimate source, the archetypal or seminal legacy reached indirectly via the mediation of a countless


See McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, pp. 19–20. Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, in Contareno, Commonwealth, A2r. 6 ‘And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’ (John 1.14). 7 ‘The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, WKRXJKLWEHWULHGZLWK¿UHPLJKWEHIRXQGXQWRSUDLVHDQGKRQRXUDQGJORU\DWWKHDSSHDULQJ of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1.7–8). 5

Renaissance Venice


number of subsequent models’.8 In this case the ‘deep source’ is Venice itself. This method is an ‘intertextual perspective’, which … challenges the traditional views of the past, based on simplistic double-sided constructs of imitation and xenophobia, thus delimiting the breadth of research DOPRVWH[FOXVLYHO\WRDQDO\VHVRISDVVLYHLQÀXHQFHVDQGVRXUFHVWXGLHV S

‘The philosophy of the old historical approach’, Marrapodi goes on, ‘insisted on the idea of a borrowed source, artfully improved and rearranged by the dramatist’ (p. 3). The ‘intertextual’ method, by contrast, does not restrict its focus to demonstrable indebtedness, but sets contingent discourses in parallel and seeks correspondences between them. The relationship between Shakespeare and Venice is best considered, along these lines, as a ‘diachronic process of transtextuality, moving across genres and epochs despite national divides’ (p. 2). I shall attempt to describe the Venice that was, for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, in Keir Elam’s words, ‘a great cultural intertext’.9 7RVWDUWZLWK¿UVWLPSUHVVLRQVIURPWKHHDUOLHVWUHFRUGVWUDYHOOHUVKDYHEHHQ struck with the sheer beauty of Venice, what Ian Fleming called ‘The unfailing shock of the beauty that never betrays’.10µ)D\UH9HQLFHÀRZHURIWKHODVWZRUOG¶V delight’, sang Edmund Spenser in one of the dedicatory poems prefaced to Lewkenor’s translation of Contareno, where Venice can be considered a successor to Babel and Babylon in ‘beauty’.11 Venice was, to Marin Sanudo, writing at the FORVH RI WKH ¿IWHHQWK FHQWXU\ µD YHU\ ELJ DQG EHDXWLIXO FLW\¶12 and to Thomas Coryate, writing at the beginning of the seventeenth century, ‘of that admirable and incomparable beauty, that I thinke no place whatsoeuer, eyther in Christendome or Paganisme may compare with it’.13 Aesthetic appreciation of the city’s formal beauty is often coupled with admiration for the ingenuity of its construction, and a VHQVHRIZRQGHUWKDWVRLPSUHVVLYHDQHGL¿FHFRXOGKDYHEHHQHVWDEOLVKHGRQVXFK inhospitable terrain. Early observers of Venice, including visitors like Santo Brasca, were impressed by the city’s apparently ‘miraculous’ construction, set in the midst of water, on land reclaimed from the sea: ‘a marvellous thing which must be seen to be believed’.14 ‘This stately City’, marvelled Fynes Moryson, ‘built in the bottome


Marrapodi, ‘Introduction’, in Marrapodi, Italian Culture, p. 1. Keir Elam, ‘Afterword: Italy as Intertext’, in Michele Marrapodi (ed.), Shakespeare, Italy and Intertextuality (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 258. 10 Ian Fleming, ‘Risico’, in For Your Eyes Only (London: Jonathan Cape, 1960), p. 168. 11 Edmund Spenser, ‘The antique Babel’, prefatory poem in Contareno, Commonwealth. 12 Marin Sanudo, from ‘Laus Urbis Venetae’ (1493), quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 5. 13 Thomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities: Hastily Gobbled Up in Five Months Travels (London, 1611), p. 171. 14 Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 20. 9


Shakespeare and Venice

of the gulfe of the Adriatique sea, in the midst of marshes upon many Ilands’.15 ‘What ever hath the worlde brought forth so monstrously strange’, asked Lewes Lewkenor, ‘then that so great and glorious a Citie should bee seated in the middle of the sea, especially to see such palaces, monasteries, temples, towers, turrets, & pinacles reaching up unto the cloudes, founded upon Qagmires, and planted XSRQVXFKXQ¿UPHPRRULVKDQGVSXQJLHIRXQGDWLRQV¶16 ‘This city aboue all other is most worthy to bee admired’, wrote Francesco Sansovino, ‘as being singular by her selfe, and brooking no comparison with any other … But onely this being seated in the middle of waters, hath not any thing vppon the earth, to which it may be resembled’.17 Moryson mused over the phenomenon of ‘A new Dukedom arising out of these salt marshes of the sea’.18 ,Q WKH ¿UVW (QJOLVK KLVWRU\ RI Venice, William Thomas spoke of the city’s location as ‘the rudest, unmeetest, and unwholesomest place to build upon or to inhabit that were again to be found throughout an whole world’. ‘The city seemeth to be … in a part of the sea … For every channel19 (as who should say every street) is full of water’.20 Thomas noted that without the natural defence of the sandbanks in the lagoon, ‘it were impossible to be inhabited because, the city standing equal with the water, the ÀRRGE\UHDVRQVVKRXOGSDVVWKURXJKWKHKRXVHVDWHYHU\IXOOVHD¶ S +XPDQ ingenuity has also played its part, however: ‘… yet men (constrained by necessity) have brought this marsh to such a pass that it is now … exceeding full of people and rich of treasure and buildings’ (p. 64). The lagoon forms a natural defence to which the city owes its security (p. 65), as illustrated by Francesco Sansovino in his Venetia citta nobilissima, included in Lewkenor’s translation of Contareno: … the rare situation thereof being such, that it inioyeth both the commodities of the water, and the pleasures of the land, secure by being not seated vpon land, from land assaults, and free by not being founded in the depths of the sea, from maritime violence.21

The buildings, both in the ‘ingenious method’22 of their construction and their PDJQL¿FHQFHDUHµWREHPDUYHOOHGDW¶ I think no place of all Europe able at this day to compare with that city for number of sumptuous houses … For he that will row through their Canale Grande and 15 Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary written by Fynes Moryson Gent., First in the Latine Tongue, and then translated by him into English (London: John Beale, 1617), p. 77. 16 Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, in Contareno, Commonwealth, A3r. 17 Francesco Sansovino, from ‘Venetia citta nobilissima’, trans. Lewes Lewkenor, in Contareno, Commonwealth, pp. 191–8. 18 Moryson, Itinerary, p. 77. 19 ‘Channel’ from French ‘chenelle’ = ‘canal’, a later English formation. 20 Thomas, History, p. 64. 21 Sansovino, ‘Venetia’, p. 193. 22 Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 4.

Renaissance Venice


mark well the fronts of the houses on both sides shall see them more like the doings of princes than private men. And I have been with good reason persuaded that in Venice be above 200 palaces able to lodge a king. (p. 65)

According to Lewes Lewkenor, Venice elicited universal admiration, since men of all European nations, ‘comming once to speake of the cittie of Venice, they would inforce their speech to the highest of all admiration, as being a thing of WKH JUHDWHVW ZRUWKLQHVVH DQG PRVW LQ¿QLWHO\ UHPDUNDEOH WKDW WKH\ KDG VHHQ LQ the whole course of their travels’.23 Thomas Coryate also found Venice a place of ‘admirable and incomparable beauty’ and gave particular praise to the basilica of San Marco,24 which Moryson also found ‘admirable for the singular art of the builders and painters’.25 Marin Sanudo wrote of the great houses, the immense ZHDOWK WKH QXPEHU RI SDODFHV WKH SURIXVLRQ RI MHZHOOHU\ DQG ¿QH JODVV 7KLV ¿IWHHQWKFHQWXU\ZULWHUDOVRHPSKDVL]HG9HQLFH¶VJURZLQJUHSXWDWLRQLQWKH¿QH arts, noting the international success registered by Gentile Bellini’s commission to paint the portrait of Mohammed II, ‘King of the Turks’. Sanudo praised the Rialto Bridge, noted the gondolas rowed by ‘Saracan negroes’ (p. 6), and FHOHEUDWHGWKHPDJQL¿FHQFHRI6DQ0DUFRZLWKLWVJUHDWEURQ]HKRUVHVEURXJKW IURP&RQVWDQWLQRSOH&RU\DWHVDLGRIKLV¿UVWYLHZRI6DQ0DUFRWKDWLWµGLGHXHQ amaze or rather ravysh my senses’.26 William Thomas also admired San Marco, WKH 'RJH¶V 3DODFH DQG WKH$UVHQDOH EXW LGHQWL¿HG WKH FLW\¶V FRPPHUFLDO FHQWUH as the Rialto: ‘The Rialto is a goodly place in the heart of the city where the merchants twice a day assemble’.27 The marketplace was the centre of the city, and Venice itself, according to Coryate, ‘a marketplace of the world, not of the citie’,28 attracting merchants and WUDGHUVIURPHYHU\ZKHUHµ$OOWKHZRUOGÀRFNVWKHUH¶ZURWH,WDOLDQSLOJULP&DVROD29 ‘Venice is a marvellous thing’, attested Marin Sanudo: ‘its greatness has grown up through trade, based on navigation to different parts of the world’.30 Venetian galleys sail on trading expeditions ‘everywhere’, long-distance voyages on which they ‘carry merchandise which they exchange and then bring back for other goods’ (p. 11). Sanudo wrote of the number of shops and the profusion of merchandise, noting the presence of the German trading house, and identifying the Rialto as ‘the richest place in all the world’ (p. 11). He observed the role of bankers, who ‘hold very great amounts of money, issue credits under different names, and are called authorized bankers’ (p. 11). Casola wondered at the amazing range, volume and 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, in Contareno, Commonwealth, A1v–A2r. Coryate, Crudities, p. 171. Moryson, Itinerary, p. 78. Coryate, Crudities, p. 171. Thomas, History, p. 66. Coryate, Crudities, p. 170. Casola quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 167. Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 20.

Shakespeare and Venice


‘inestimable’ value of goods available in the shops and markets of Venice.31 In the shops along the Merceria, remarks Sanudo, ‘is all the merchandise you can think of, and whatever you ask for is there’.32 ‘The Citizens’, said Moryson, ‘abound with all commodities of sea and land’.33 Giovanni Botero in 1605 recalled the ‘incalculable wealth of all goods’,34 and suggested, in an interesting metaphor, that Venice could be considered a kind of universal compendium of every possible thing, and therefore a microcosm of the universe of created things: ‘Venice may be called a summary of the universe, because there is nothing originating in any faroff country but it is found in abundance in this city’ (p. 167). Contarino spoke of So vnmeasurable a quantity of all sorts of marchandise to be brought out of all realmes and countries into this Citie, and hence againe to be conueyed into so many straunge and far distant nations, both by land and sea.35

And yet, remarks Sanudo, all this abundance is in transit across a site of sterility: ‘in the city nothing grows, yet whatever you want can be found in abundance’.36 7KLVHIÀRUHVFHQFHRISOHQW\IURPDJURXQGRIYDFDQF\FDQEHFRQVLGHUHGDPLUDFOH or a system of virtual wealth-creation inevitably doomed to collapse. This much more jaundiced view of the Venetian economy is also available IURPVRPHH\HZLWQHVVDFFRXQWVWKRXJKVXFKUHVSRQVHVZHUHREYLRXVO\LQÀXHQFHG by commercial competition and envy of others’ success. Dudley Carleton, English Ambassador to Venice, writing around 1612, observed with grudging admiration of the Venetians that ‘They want no arts in raising money’.37 Much Venetian commercial practice also met with Thomas’s disapproval: the ubiquity and severity of local customs taxation (p. 69); the wealth ‘out of measure’ of Jews, and the SUR¿WVWKH9HQHWLDQVUHFHLYHGIURPWKHLUXVXU\38 He believes a friend who tells him that Christians ‘lived a great deal better under the Turk than under the Venetians’ (p. 69). Heavy import duties were, according to Carleton, a primary cause of commercial decline in the early seventeenth century: ‘the decay of trade proceedes of the greatness of the imposts’, which drove traders to other ports, Genoa and Marseilles.39 But competition also obstructed Venetian trade, particularly the spice trade which was the basis of their wealth. Bringing ‘Indian marchadise’ to Venice and ‘from thence transporting it to other parts was the cause of theyr greatnes of trade’ (p. 28). Now, Carleton says, pepper and spices are no longer shipped through

31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Botero quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 167–8. Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 9. Moryson, Itinerary, p. 78. Botero quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 167. Contarino, Commonwealth, p. 1. Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 9. Dudley Carleton, quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 26. Thomas, History, p. 69. Carleton quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 28.

Renaissance Venice


Venice, but sold into Venice from English ports (p. 28). The Venetians had also lost out in competition for trade with the Turks (p. 28). Early seventeenth-century observers also registered a shift in Venetian economic practice from the hazards of trade to the security of land-acquisition,40 as Carleton notes: The opinion of many is that this state cannot long continue … because they here change theyr manners … theyr former course of life was marchandising: which is now quite left and and they look to landward buieng house and lande furnishing themselfs with coch and horses. (p. 27)

$WWKHHQGRIWKH¿IWHHQWKFHQWXU\0DULQ6DQXGRZURWHRI9HQLFHDVµDIUHHFLW\¶ but also ‘a common home to all men’.41 Political independence allowed for social freedom and individual liberty for a cosmopolitan population. Venice was like a queen controlling the sea (p. 4), a sovereign independent city-state: ‘It is governed by its own statutes and laws, and is not subject to the legal authority of the Empire’ (p. 20). Venice always attempted to maintain neutrality in its dealings with other states, this stance being the best protection for its power and its commercial relationships: ‘Theyr general course in all divisions betwixt other Princes and states is to maintaine a neutrality which doth give them the advantage of time’.42 Potential enemies were bought off: Carleton notes that the Venetians paid ‘great bribes’ to the Turks to ward off attack (p. 30). Most editors and critics take it that the primary basis for the early modern ‘myth’ of Venice was a widely shared adulation for its constitutional system, its republican tradition, the fairness of its political processes and their relative freedom from corruption. Venice could emulate Babel and Babylon in beauty, claimed Spenser, but outmatched them in politics: Venice ‘farre exceedes in policie of right’.43 In the Venetian state, wrote Maurice Kissen, ‘all corrupt meanes to aspire are FXUEG$QG2I¿FHUVIRUYHUWXHVZRUWKHOHFWHG¶44 Reference to Venice as the seat RIJRRGJRYHUQPHQWFDQEHIRXQGDVHDUO\DVWKH¿IWHHQWKFHQWXU\5RJHU$VFKDP45 saw Venice as ‘the seat of just laws, wise rulers and free citizens’. Fynes Moryson praised the Venetian Senate for its ‘strict observation of justice’.46 James I was praising Venice to the Venetian ambassadors for its ‘government and laws’ around the time Othello was being written. Very detailed accounts of Venetian political institutions could be found in the works by Thomas and Contareno, and the Venetian political process, with its use of the secret ballot, seemed to Thomas ‘one of the laudablest things used amongst them’ (p. 73). In practice the Venetian reputation 40 Shakespeare’s merchant Antonio seems content to settle into Portia’s landed estate in The Merchant of Venice. 41 Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 4. 42 Carleton quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 31. 43 Spenser, ‘The antique Babel’, prefatory poem in Contareno, Commonwealth. 44 Maurice Kissen, ‘Venice Invincible’, prefatory poem in Contareno, Commonwealth. 45 Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (London, Iohn Daye, 1570), p. 24. 46 Moryson, Itinerary, p. 80.

Shakespeare and Venice


of respect for law seemed to him misleading, since ‘all matters are determined by the judges’ consciences and not by the civil nor yet their own laws’ (p. 76). Nonetheless, Thomas admitted, Venetian law, though corrupted by the lawyers, remains an ideal: ‘there can be no better order of justice in a commonwealth than theirs if it were duly observed’ (p. 77). The disinterested application of justice by the Senate can be seen in the famous case of Venetian commander Gabriel Emo, executed in 1585 for an act of piracy that threatened Venice’s sensitive relations with Ottoman Islam.47 ‘Everyone understood the great danger to all the Venetian merchants and their goods in the land of Turkey and the danger to the person of the Bailo. Greater still, however, was the fear that this incident might disrupt the peace with the Sultan’ (p. 95). Everywhere William Thomas saw evidence of Venetian freedoms. ‘For their principal profession is liberty, and he that should usurp upon another should incontinently be reputed a tyrant, which name of all things they cannot abide’,48 and hence, ‘… he that dwelleth in Venice may reckon himself exempt from subjection’ (p. 83). This tolerance and respect for liberty and freedom of thought and speech was extended particularly to foreigners: ‘All men, specially strangers, have so much liberty there that though they speak very ill by the Venetians, so they attempt nothing in effect against their state, no man shall control them for it’ (p. 83). Moryson linked the city’s sheltered position with its political liberty, freedom of thought and trade, and universal hospitality: … this most noble City, as well for the situation, freeing them from enemies, DVIRUWKHIUHHGRPHRIWKH&RPPRQZHDOWKSUHVHUYHGIURPWKH¿UVWIRXQGLQJ and for the freedome which the Citizens and very strangers have, to injoy their goods, and dispose of them, and for manifold other causes, is worthily called in Latine Venetia, as it were Veni etiam, that is, come againe.49

As an independent and international trading empire, Venice housed an unusually cosmopolitan and multi-cultural population, a feature which forcibly struck visitors accustomed to environments of more homogenous ethnicity. ‘In no place is to be found in one market place’, remarked Moryson, ‘such variety of apparell, languages and manners’ (p. 90). Coryate marvelled at the ‘concourse and meeting of so many distinct and sundry nations’, ‘Polonians, Slauonians, Persians, Grecians, Turks, Iews, Christians of all the famousest regions of Christendome’. You could hear ‘all the languages of Christendom’, but also tongues spoken by what he calls ‘the barbarous ethnics’.50 Many, said Contareno, ‘exceedingly admired the wonderful


Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 95–7. Thomas, History, p. 72. 49 Moryson, Itinerary, p. 82. 50 Coryate, Crudities, p. 175. ‘Barbarous ethnics’ would be natives from Barbary, or North Africa – probably Moors like Othello. Coryate divides the globe into ‘Christian and Ethnicke worlds’, p. 160. 48

Renaissance Venice


concourse of strange and forraine people, yea of the farthest and remotest nations’.51 Venice was considered remarkably tolerant in politics and religion. There was ‘no danger … at all in the state of Venice’ said Moryson, ‘to him that can hold his peace’.52 ‘If thou be a Jew, a Turk, or believest in the devil’ wrote Thomas, ‘(so thou spread not thine opinions abroad) thou art free from all controlment’.53 That toleration went with tolerance of a highly multi-cultural population: ‘so thou offend no man privately, no man shall offend thee, which undoubtedly is one principal cause that draweth so many strangers thither’ (p. 83). For an early modern FLW\LWZDVXQXVXDOO\PRGHUQLQWHUQDWLRQDOFRVPRSROLWDQ,Q9HQLFH\RXFRXOG¿QG people of all nations coexisting in the one place. ‘Here is greate concourse of all nations’, observed Moryson, ‘as well for the pleasure the City yeeldeth, as for the IUHHFRQXHUVDWLRQDQGHVSHFLDOO\IRUWKHFRPPRGLWLHRIWUDI¿FNH¶54 Venice was therefore modern and cosmopolitan long before most other nations. ‘Most of their people are foreigners’, commented Phillipe de Comyns LQ WKH ODWH ¿IWHHQWK FHQWXU\55 Some foreigners were absorbed, some retained home and identity elsewhere, while some immigrants formed distinct foreign communities regulated by Venetian law. These communities were, as Chambers and Pullan show, ‘both privileged and restricted’: the privileges there to facilitate PXWXDOO\EHQH¿FLDOWUDGLQJUHODWLRQVWKHUHVWULFWLRQVWRµSUHYHQW«FRPSOHWHO\ free association on equal terms between Venetians and foreigners’.56 The bestknown such community was the Jewish Ghetto, established in 1516. But similar foreign communities, with comparable charters of privilege and restriction, existed for other nationalities, including Germans, Turks, and Greeks. The German merchant community existed from as early as the fourteenth century: the Senate was regulating their activities in 1475.57 Turkish merchants were active in the city from at least the early sixteenth century and were concentrated into a discrete place from 1570, but did not have their own quarters until 1621. The -HZLVK*KHWWRZDV¿UVWHVWDEOLVKHGLQ3ULRUWRWKLVGDWH-HZVKDGVHUYHG the Venetian economy from a distance, residing in the mainland town of Mestre, but were not permitted permanent residence in the the city. When in the early VL[WHHQWK FHQWXU\ ODUJH QXPEHUV RI -HZV GLVSODFHG E\ ZDU ÀHG WR9HQLFH WKH city found it necessary to accommodate them inside the city or risk losing the value of their contribution to the economy. Once the crisis was past, the Jews were permitted to remain, though under spatial and social restriction, allowed to live only in the Ghetto, and subject to religious and cultural segregation. The net effect of this segregation, however, as discussed in Chapter 2, was that 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Contareno, Commonwealth, p. 1. Moryson, Itinerary, p. 80. Thomas, History, p. 83. Moryson, Itinerary, p. 90. Philippe de Commynes quoted Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 325. Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 335. Ibid., pp. 328–9.

Shakespeare and Venice


Jews in Venice were able to retain their faith and culture in conditions of limited liberty. The Ghetto was extended several times to house a larger population. In 1511 a community of Greek Orthodox Christians petitioned the Senate to be granted their own place of worship. They asked only to be treated as well as µWKH$UPHQLDQKHUHWLFVDQG-HZLVKLQ¿GHOVZKRKHUHDQGLQRWKHUSDUWVRI\RXU lordships’ dominions have synagogues and mosques for worshipping God in their own misguided way’; or at least as well as Turks and Moors treated Christian subjects in their Muslim dominions!58 Venice in Shakespeare’s time had a distinct and controversial reputation as a city of pleasure. One aspect of this repute was the legendary beauty of Venetian women. In The Merchant of Venice 3RUWLDLVGHVFULEHGDVD¿JXUHRIP\WKRORJLFDO beauty who attracts suitors from all over the world. For the four winds blow in from every coast Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks +DQJRQKHUWHPSOHVOLNHWKHJROGHQÀHHFH Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis’ strand, And many Jasons come in quest of her. (1.1.167–70)

Thomas Coryate speaks in parallel terms of Venetian women, but in this case he is referring to prostitutes: 6RLQ¿QLWHDUHWKHDOOXUHPHQWVRIWKHPRVWIDPRXV&DO\SVRVWKDWWKHIDPHRIWKHP hath drawn many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendom, to contemplate their beauties, and enjoy their pleasing dalliances.

Speaking generally of Italians, Fynes Moryson ascribed to both men and women a UHPDUNDEO\SRZHUIXOHQHUJ\RIVH[XDOGHVLUHµPHQRIDOOVRUWVDUHFDUULHGZLWK¿HUFH DIIHFWLRQVWRIRUELGGHQOXVWV¶ZKLOHµZLYHVDQGYLUJLQVDUHPXFKVRRQHULQÀDPHG with love, be it lawful or unlawful, than the women of other nations’. The same characteristic was perceived in Venice, and helped to explain the predominance of prostitution in the city. ‘The name of a courtesan of Venice is famous over all Christendom’, wrote Coryate, marvelling at the number of prostitutes, and at the Venetians’ boldness in risking by such ‘uncleanness’ some biblical downpouring of divine wrath. Prostitution is tolerated by the men of Venice, suggests Coryate, since the only alternative among the highly sexed Italians, ‘were it not for these places of evacuation’, would be cuckoldry. He also observes that prostitution was incorporated into the Venetian economy, delivering substantial revenues to the public purse. In addition to its reputation for carnival festivity, alluded to in The Merchant of VeniceWKHFLW\ZDVIDPRXVIRUWKHEHDXW\DQG¿QHU\RILWVZRPHQWKHKLJKO\FKDUJHG erotic appetites of both sexes, and for the number and professional capabilities of its courtesans: ‘indeed such is the variety of the delicious objects they minister to their


Ibid., pp. 334–6.

Renaissance Venice


lovers, that they want nothing tending to delight’ (Coryate 145). In addition, Venice was notorious for homosexuality and for female cross-dressing.59 Along with its reputation for embracing strangers and accepting the consequent diversity of population, Venice was known as a place of security and safety. It was DEDIÀLQJP\VWHU\WR5HQDLVVDQFHREVHUYHUVWKDWDFLW\VWDWHVKRXOGKDYHJURZQ WRVXFKZHDOWKDQGSRZHUZLWKRXWGHIHQVLYHIRUWL¿FDWLRQV0RU\VRQVDZWKLVDVD feature of the city’s geography: ‘they found safety in their Isles’.60 Sanudo observed the absence of walls, gates and sentries: ‘It is so very safe at present that no one can attack or frighten it’.61 Lewkenor marvelled that ‘a single Citte unwalled’ could ‘command and over toppe mighty kingdomes’, and that ‘unweaponed men in gownes’ should be able to manage armies. Both seemed strikingly exceptional in Renaissance Europe: ‘what is there that can carrie a greater disproportion with common rules of experience?’62 Others felt that there was something unmanly in this devotion to the arts of peace. While admiring the Venetians’ commercial success, Thomas clearly felt that in terms of historical mission they had failed. Had they been men ‘as the Romans were’, they could have ‘subdued the world’. But instead they have exchanged war for trade, preferred defence to military aggression, and lost their empire. ‘For since Constantinople was gotten by the Turks, their dominion hath decreased … they rather practice with money to buy and sell countries, peace and war than to exercise deeds of arms, and for that most Venetians are at these days become better merchants than men of war’.63 Thomas notes the Venetian practice of hiring foreign mercenary generals to lead their forces: ‘by land they are served of strangers, both for general, for captains, and for all other men of war, because their law permitteth not any Venetian to be captain over an army by land, fearing, I think, Caesar’s example’ (p. 78). This µ&LWLHXQZDOOHG¶DFLW\ZLWKRXWIRUWL¿FDWLRQVFOHDUO\ZDVFRQVLGHUHGWREHDKDYHQ of security: ‘Throughout all their dominion, within any city or walled town, no man may carry weapon without special licence’ (p. 79). ,QDSDVVDJHWKDWUHÀHFWVLQWHUHVWLQJO\RQP\WKDQGFRXQWHUP\WK7KRPDVVSHDNV of the way in which the Venetian is portrayed by foreigners, as ‘proud, disdainful, FRYHWRXVDJUHDWQLJJDUGDPRUHOHFKHUVSDUHRIOLYLQJW\UDQWWRKLVWHQDQW¿QDOO\ QHYHUVDWLV¿HGZLWKKRDUGLQJXSRIPRQH\¶ S +LVRZQH[SHULHQFHKRZHYHU suggests the opposite: older Venetian men are ‘as wise, as honest, as faithful, as honourable, and as virtuous as in any place can be found’, while some of the younger men are ‘as gentle, as liberal, as well learned, as full of good qualities as may be’ (p. 80). The Venetians bear the reputation among foreigners of meanness, 59 See Anthony G. Barthelemey, ‘“What news on the Rialto”: Luxury, Sodomy and Miscegenation in The Merchant of Venice’, in Marrapodi, Shakespeare, Italy and Intertextuality, pp. 131–44. 60 Moryson, Itinerary, p. 74. 61 Sanudo quoted in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 4. 62 Lewkenor, ‘To the Reader’, Contareno, Commonwealth, A3. 63 Thomas, History, p. 67.


Shakespeare and Venice

money-lending and shady dealing with Jews, lack of charity to the poor, and inordinate generosity towards wife, daughter and mistress: ‘This is their trade, saith the stranger’ (p. 81). But then Thomas invents a little speech of protestation in which the Venetian defends himself against these charges: Admit (saith he) that this report were true. If I be proud, I have good cause, for I am a prince and no subject. If I be spare of living, it is because my commonwealth alloweth no pomp, and measure is wholesome … if I gain, I gain upon my money and hide not my talent in the ground. If I love, I hate not; if she be fair, I am the more worthy … And thus defendeth the Venetian it that in manner all the world layeth to his charge. (p. 82)

Speaking thus in his defence, the Venetian makes it clear that he is misunderstood rather than reprehensible. What foreigners object against is nothing more than cultural difference. Venice has its own values, which foreigners may like or dislike, but they are good enough for the citizens themselves. And in many respects the 9HQHWLDQVDUHFRQ¿GHQWWKDWWKHLUYDOXHVDUHEHWWHUWKDQWKRVHRIWKHµVWUDQJHUV¶ZKR condemn them: that pride, thrift, prudence, love of family and delight in pleasure are virtues rather than vices.64

64 Endorsed by an astute modern observer: ‘The Venetian way is the right way, and the Venetian always knows best’. Jan Morris, Venice (London: Faber and Faber, 1960, 3rd revised edition, 1993), p. 16.

Chapter 2

Jew and Moor

As the preceding chapter has shown, Venice was very well known, in Europe and beyond, from early times as a great commercial city-state and empire, with an unusually diverse population. Venice was therefore an obvious context in which to place dramatic stories about merchants and usurers, about the perils and pitfalls of the law, about love and adultery, poetry and passion, marriage and masks. Above all, Venice, ‘a city of strangers’,1 was absolutely the right place in which to locate stories about aliens, foreigners, those who in race, religion, ethnicity, colour, are different from ‘us’ (implicitly white Christian Venetians, or English Elizabethans), and yet occupy an important place in ‘our’ economy, ‘our’ society, ‘our’ lives. More than any other European city, Venice presented the model of a multi-cultural rather than a mono-cultural society, one in which aliens such as Jews and Muslim Turks were accorded a proper place, partially segregated but protected by law. Venice did not insist that everyone should be, or should purport to be, alike in belief and cultural practice, as did some European cities. Of Amsterdam, for instance, a rabbi declared that ‘each [Jew] may follow his own belief but may not openly show that he is of a different faith from the inhabitants of the city’.2 ‘By contrast’, observes Aaron Kitsch, ‘the Venetian Senate required Jews to express their religious differences, forcing them to enact the very rituals of faith that would have marked them as targets of the inquisition elsewhere in Europe’ (p. 41). The Holy Inquisition was in fact mainly concerned with Jews who were suspected of Judaizing (trying to convert Christians to Judaism), with Marranos (Jews who professed Christianity) and with relations between Christians and Jews. Marranos were able to avoid expulsion from Venice in 1547 and 1550 by declaring themselves Jews, entering the Ghetto and displaying the appropriate signs of Jewish ethnicity and religion. This gave them immunity from the Inquisition, as pointed out by Fra Paolo Sarpi: µ7KH0DUUDQRVFDQQRWEHVXEMHFWHGWRWKHRI¿FHRIWKH,QTXLVLWLRQKDYLQJUHFHLYHG a safe-conduct enabling them to come and live with their families in the Dominion and leave at their pleasure, with their possessions, living in the ghetto and wearing the yellow hat, and to exercise their rites and ceremonies without hindrance’.3 In Venice, then, Jews could worship at their own synagogues, Muslims could pray

1 Sennett, Flesh and Stone, p. 214. Sennett’s discussion contains many inaccuracies and exaggerations. 2 Quoted in Kitsch, ‘Shylock’s Sacred Nation’, p. 141. 3 Quoted in and trans. Benjamin I. Ravid. ‘First Charter of the Jewish Merchants of Venice, 1589’, AJS Review 1 (1976), pp. 187–222.

Shakespeare and Venice


to Allah, without fear of inquisition or persecution.4 What prompted the acceptance of this eclectic population was partly a proto-libertarianism and partly a modern, secular prioritizing of commercial values. Venetian wealth derived from trade; trade subsisted between nations and peoples; trade could be enhanced and augmented by the presence of alien businessmen within the city. As the much-quoted passage from The Merchant of Venice makes clear, ‘the commodity that strangers have with us in Venice’ was a prerogative of legal protection based on the value such people brought to the Venetian market in ‘commodities’. To some degree Venice offered the model of a more open, liberal, even modern society, which could not but be admired by progressive and enlightened minds of the day. Values such as tolerance, mutual respect for cultural difference, each man walking with his own god, seemed to many observers an admirable method of securing peaceful co-existence. Certainly Venice, for most of the time, remained relatively free from the common atrocities of anti-semitic persecution, and the restless enmity between Christianity and Islam was fought out on the foreign rather than the domestic front. ‘Whereas’, wrote Jean Bodin, Other cities and districts are threatened by civil wars or fear of tyrants or harsh exactions of taxes or the most annoying inquries into one’s activities, this seemed to me nearly the only city that offers immunity and freedom from all these kinds of servitude.5

But this early experiment in multi-cultural modernity was unusual, and to many observers disconcerting. This free mixing of ‘exotic strangers’6 could seem colourful, or threatening. Such freedom was exciting, but also intimidating; it destabilized convention and undermined tradition. Borderlines became confused; distinctions blurred; things seemed to turn into something else. In Venice, it seems, then as now, identity itself was always at risk: the otherness that should lie outside the body, and beyond the body politic, had been welcomed within, so the binary opposition between familiar and strange seemed at times liable to break down. One of the ways in which Venice achieved this ability to confuse and disturb identity was by appearing to be a centre and turning out to be a margin. Venice was thought of, as Virginia Mason Vaughan puts it, as culturally ‘at the center


Pier Zorattini’s study of Inquisition records relating to Venice between 1548 and 1600 shows that only 4.7 percent of cases were concerned with Jews. The cases dealt with Judaizing, living outside the Ghetto and keeping Christian servants in the Ghetto. No capital sentences ensured from these proceedings. Pier Cesare Ioly Zorattini, ‘Jews, Crypto-Jews and the Inquisition’, in Robert C. Davis and Benjamin Ravid (eds), The Jews of Early Modern Venice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 97–116. 5 Jean Bodin, Colloquium of the Seven About the Secrets of the Sublime, trans. Marion Leathers Daniels Kuntz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 3. 6 Murray Levith, Shakespeare’s Italian Plays and Settings (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 15.

Jew and Moor


of civilization’.7 It was ‘the Jerusalem of Christendom’8 (Jerusalem was of course thought of in the middle ages, in Christian Europe, as the centre of the world). It was in the heart of the Mediterranean, the centre of a great European trading and FRPPHUFLDOQHWZRUN,WZDVDÀDJVKLSRIZHVWHUQ&KULVWLDQFLYLOL]DWLRQ And yet geographically Venice was positioned ‘at the margins of Christendom’.9 From very early stages of Western exploration, Venice seemed to the European traveller oriental rather than European. For the crusaders it was a European &RQVWDQWLQRSOH )RU WUDYHOOHUV OLNH -RKQ 0DQGHYLOOH LQ WKH ¿IWHHQWK FHQWXU\ LW seemed even more exotic, a far eastern locale, a little Cathay. To think of it in the sixteenth century as a ‘Jerusalem’ could distance it even further, since Jerusalem had of course by the Renaissance lost the centrality it possessed for the crusaders, and was a Muslim holy place deep inside the Ottoman empire.10 When Wordsworth wrote of Venice in 1802: ‘Once did she hold the gorgeous east in fee / And was the safeguard of the west …’,11 he placed Venice historically as the limit of Christian Western Europe, and as the economic instrument by which Europe exercised power over the East. But like all borders, this one was never free from ambiguity DQGFRQÀLFW7REHDWWKHOLPLWRIWKH:HVWLVDOVRWREHRQWKHHGJHRIWKHHDVW DQG9HQLFHKDVORQJIXQFWLRQHGDVZKDW0DQIUHG3¿VWHUFDOOVµDQLQQHU(XURSHDQ orient’,12 a site of orientalist fantasy displaced from the orient back into Italy.13 Venice was a border town, on the very edge of Western Christian civilization, increasingly encircled in Shakespeare’s time by the expanding Ottoman Empire. It stood as the very perfection of Western civilization; yet it lay very close to the perilous borderline between that civilization and its many alien ‘others’. Throughout the centuries Europeans have arrived in Venice and felt themselves immediately at home. At the same time, countless people seem to have felt, as they approached those imagined borderlines – between ‘West’ and ‘East’, civilization and depravity, beauty and corruption, western self-control and oriental licentiousness – that they had unwittingly transgressed a limit, crossed a border, and were already ‘lost’.


Virginia Mason Vaughan, Othello: a Contextual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 27. 8 Coryate, Crudities, p. 170. 9 Vaughan, Othello, p. 27. 10 There were several sixteenth century guides to Jerusalem for the Islamic pilgrim. See Amikam Elad, Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship: Holy Places, Ceremonies, Pilgrimage (Amsterdam: Brill, 1995). 11 William Wordsworth, ‘On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic’, in The Poetical Works, ed. Ernst de Selincourt (London, Oxford University Press, 1950). 12 3¿VWHUµ7KH3DVVLRQ¶S 13 Proust wrote in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu of ‘cette ville d’Orient’. See Marcel Proust, La Fugitive (Albertine disparue) (Paris, Jean Milly, 1926, 1986), p. 283. Yet this was DQLQWHUQDORULHQWDOLVPWKDWUHPDLQHGZLWKLQ(XURSHZKDW3¿VWHUFDOOHGµDQLQWUD(XURSHDQ “Meridionism”’.

Shakespeare and Venice


From the beginning, Venice has appeared to the foreign traveller as liminal to Italy, as the place where Italy and with it Europe intermingled with its Oriental and African Other.14

Among those many nationalities who thronged the crowded streets of early modern Venice, we are particularly concerned here with two, an ‘Oriental’ and an ‘African’ other: the Jew and the Moor. Othello, ‘the Moor of Venice’; Shylock (as the play was called ‘otherwise’ in the Stationers Register for 1598) ‘the Jew of Venice’. Both are aliens in Venice, so the presence of their names in the naming of WKHSOD\VDOUHDG\VHWVXSDVHQVHRIFXOWXUDOFRQÀLFWDVVXJJHVWHGE\0XUUD\/HYLWK ‘the Jew and the Moor are aliens, “strangers” to Venice and Venetian manners’.15 In both play-titles, there is a clear tension between subject and location, since the name of the alien usurps the name of the homeland, the stranger claims the title that properly belongs to ‘us’, ‘we’, the implied western subject that combines the community of Christian Venice, the perspective of the sixteenth-century English traveller, reader or theatre-goer, and the ‘we’ subjectively constituted by the plays as a parallel imagined community of modern readers, auditors, and spectators. If Venice is ‘us’, where do ‘we’ stand in relation to the Jew and the Moor ‘of Venice’? Of Shylock, J.R. Mulryne comments: ‘the alien usurps the name of the most famous city in Europe’.16 ‘Shylock was himself a paradox’, comments Peter Platt: ‘the Iewe of Venyce’.17 Nick Potter asks if the title of Othello was an oxymoron: how could he be both a Moor (implicitly a Muslim), and yet naturalized to Christian Venice?18µ$0RRU¶(PPD6PLWKVWDWHVÀDWO\µ±OLWHUDOO\DEODFNPDQIURP1RUWK Africa – cannot ever be “of” Venice’.19 But Venice is also strange to that imagined community, ‘us’, so these two ‘strangers’ might be more at home in Venice than ‘we’ are. If Venice was thought of in the Renaissance as a Jerusalem, perhaps it was a kind of diasporic home to the Jew; and as Venice was an outpost on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps it was a kind of displaced home to the Moor. Although The Merchant of Venice does not mention the Jewish Ghetto, the institution was very well known, and its model of a segregated ethnic enclave clearly contributed to Venice’s reputation for according to Jews an unusual degree of protection as well as professional opportunity and social participation. Fynes Moryson described it in 1594: The Iewes have a place to dwell in seuerally, called Il Ghetto, where each family hath a little house, and all have one court-yard chmmon [common], so as they liue as it were in a Colledge, or Almes-house, and may not come

14 15 16 17 18 19

3¿VWHUµ7KH3DVVLRQ¶S Levith, Shakespeare’s Italian Plays, p. 17. J.R. Mulryne, ‘Between Myth and Fact’, p. 122. Platt, ‘Maruailouse Site’, p. 77. Holderness, Potter and Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History, p. 193. Emma Smith, William Shakespeare: Othello (London: Northcote House, 2004), p. 4.

Jew and Moor


forth after the gates are locked at night, and in the day they are bound to weare a yellow cap.20

The origins of the Ghetto did not seem so promising, since they seem to have arisen from a synthesis of military emergency, commercial opportunism and racist hatred. A Senate decree of 29 March 1516 stated that previously Jews had been permitted only temporary residence within the city: However, given the urgent needs of the present times, the said Jews have been permitted to come and live in Venice, and the main purpose of this concession was to preserve the property of Christians which was in their hands. But no godfearing subject of our state would have wished them, after their arrival, to disperse throughout the city, sharing houses with Christians and going wherever they choose by day and night, perpetrating all those misdemeanours and detestable and abominable acts which are generally known and shameful to describe, with grave offence to the Majesty of God and uncommon notoriety on the part of this well-ordered Republic.21

‘The urgent needs of the present times’ refers to the attack on Venice by the League RI&DPEUDL  EHIRUHZKRVHDGYDQFLQJDUPLHVWKH-HZVÀHGLQWR9HQLFHDV their charter permitted. The Senate alludes to the ‘detestable and abominable acts’ RI-HZVDVVRXQLYHUVDOO\NQRZQWKDWWKHUHLVQRQHHGWRGH¿QHWKHP7KHODQJXDJH KHUH LV FRORXUHG E\ FOHULFDO DQWL6HPLWLVP DQG WKH ODFN RI VSHFL¿FLW\ PD\ EH D mode of diplomatic circumlocution. But to avoid cultural cross-contamination with the Venetian population, while providing the Jews with the accommodation necessary to secure the safety of Christian property, in 1516 the Senate ruled that all Jews must reside in one place: ‘all the Jews … shall be obliged to go at once to dwell together in the houses in the court within the Geto at San Hieronimo’. This was the island known as the Ghetto Nuovo (‘new Ghetto’: confusingly the Ghetto Vecchio, ‘old Ghetto’, was added later), which was already populated by foreign workers. The name ‘Ghetto’ thus derived merely from a local place-name, the site of foundries for the manufacture of artillery,22 and only later acquired the negative connotations attaching to ‘ghetto’ as an urban area reserved for a deprived ethnic community. In the sixteenth century it became the standard name for Jewish quarters established in Italian cities such as Rome, Florence, Padua. The Venetian Senate decree stipulated that the area should be walled round and closed off by doors, which would remain locked at night, and guarded by Christian sentries. It was also ordered that boats should patrol the surrounding canals. All these measures were to be paid for by the Jews themselves, who had to pay higher rents (to compensate for the sensitivities of landlords), and to pay for the costs of the Ghetto watch.23 20 21 22 23

Moryson, Itinerary, p. 88. Senate decree of 29 March 1516, in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 338. From gettare, to ‘pour’ or ‘cast’. Pullan and Chambers, Venice, pp. 338–9.

Shakespeare and Venice


The Jews in question were Italian and German. They were moneylenders, mostly on a small scale, pawnbrokers and dealers in second-hand goods. Their economic value to the state operated on different levels. As providers of small cash loans on security of moveable property, they offered a vital service to the city’s poor, inadequately catered for by the charitable lending banks, the Monti di Pieta. ‘The Jews are necessary’, declared Marin Sanudo, ‘to subsidize the poor people’.24 But since together they constituted a community that commanded substantial wealth, the state could also call upon them for larger loans, in addition to the substantial revenues they paid in taxes. «DOORZLQJWKH-HZVWRVWD\LQWKHFLW\ZDVGRXEO\EHQH¿FLDO¿UVWWKH\FRXOGEH required to provide the hard-pressed treasury with substantial annual payments, and second, permitting them to engage in moneylending as pawnbrokers in the city itself would be convenient for the needy … .25

In 1541 the senate made provision for ‘Levantine Jewish merchants’, subjects of the Ottoman Sultan trading from the Balkan peninsula, to lodge in the Ghetto, and for the premises to be enlarged onto the Ghetto Vecchio as necessary to accommodate them. It was stipulated that the ‘Levantine Jews must always be enclosed and guarded in the same way as those of the Ghetto Nuovo’.26 Shylock in The Merchant of Venice appears to be a ‘Tedeschi’ or German Jew, and by profession a moneylender on a substantial though clearly limited scale.27 By contrast Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, Barabbas, is a Levantine Jew engaged in overseas trade.28 Shylock practices the ‘usury’ that is the focus of such heated debate in the play, and was the subject of so much contemporary anxiety. Shylock lends money at interest on security of property or person. The objections brought against Shylock’s practice from the Christians in the play, discussed in more detail below, are not objections to the practice of lending, or to the application of interest, or to charging a high rate of interest, for which Jews were extensively criticized (the word ‘excess’ in the play simply means interest, not excessive interest). The PRUDO REMHFWLRQ WR XVXU\ ZDV DQ REMHFWLRQ VSHFL¿FDOO\ DJDLQVW WKH FKDUJLQJ RI interest from the moment the loan was taken out, a practice that today would be regarded as standard. Christians had no quarrel with borrowing and lending per se, or with interest being added to the principal after the repayment date had passed (hence Antonio can reconcile himself to Shlylock’s ‘bond’, which is not 24

Quoted in Riccardo Calimani, The Ghetto of Venice, trans. Katherine Silberblatt Wolfthal (M. Evans and Co., Inc., 1987), p. 35. 25 Benjamin C.I. Ravid, ‘The Venetian Ghetto in Historical Perspective’, in Leon Modena, The Autobiography of a Seventeenth Century Venetian Rabbi, trans. and ed. Mark R. Cohen (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 280. 26 Senate decree of 2 June 1541, Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 344. 27 Shylock speaks of buying diamonds in Frankfurt. Although able to lend the money Bassanio asks for, he has to resort to a fellow Jew to raise the sum in cash. 28 Kitsch, ‘Shylock’s Sacred Nation’, p. 142.

Jew and Moor


usurious in form). The difference is similar to that between a bank loan, on which you pay interest from the moment the agreement is signed, and borrowing on a credit card, where interest become payable only after the repayment date has passed. This distinction between different methods of borrowing and lending money was a key issue in the anti-usury propaganda of the early modern period, though it must VHHPWRXVWRGD\WRWXUQRQDYHU\¿QHGLVWLQFWLRQDVERWKPHWKRGVDUHZLGHO\XVHG (though not of course in Islamic societies and communities, where banks operate so as to avoid usury). The early modern anti-usury polemic combined religious principles with philosophical arguments from antiquity. Aristotle had rejected the argument that the begetting of money via lending could be compared with the begetting of natural offspring:29 Currency came into existence merely as a means of exchange; usury tries to make it increase, as though it were an end in itself. This is the reason why usury is called by the word we commonly use; for as the offspring resembles its parent, so the interest bred by money is like the principal which breeds it, and as a son is styled by his father’s name, so it may be called ‘currency the son of currency’. Hence we can understand why, of all modes of acquisition, usury is the most unnatural.

These views were still being asserted in the sixteenth century, despite the enormous economic changes that had taken place. Martin Luther called money ‘that sterile thing’: ‘Pecunia est res sterilis’, and Francis Bacon ironically cited the prevalent view that ‘It is against nature for money to beget money’.30 Notwithstanding these surviving medieval objections to usury, the growing capitalist economy could not manage without it. Everywhere in Renaissance Europe usury was condemned, but employed; detested and desired; ‘secretly coveted’ but ‘publicly despised’;31 damned from the pulpit, and practiced in the exchange. In Venice, possibly the most commercially advanced society in Europe, the problem was especially acute, since all forms of capital investment were needed to power the economy, and Venice’s pragmatic and secularist rulers were reluctant to seal RII DQ\ DYHQXH RI SUR¿WDELOLW\ 7KXV YDULRXV NLQGV RI DFFRPPRGDWLRQ HIIHFWHG the adjustments necessary to make usury permissible. If any investment involved some degree of risk to the investor, ‘legal experts were usually willing to regard it


Aristotle, Politics, trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 1258. 30 Francis Bacon, ‘Of Usury’, essay no. 41 in Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding, R.L. Ellis and D.D. Heath, 15 vols (Boston: +RXJKWRQ0LIÀLQ± YROS0DUWLQ/XWKHUTischreden, 6 vols, (Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlau, 1967), vol. 5, no. 5429. 31 Kitsch, ‘Shylock’s Sacred Nation’, p. 142.


Shakespeare and Venice

as a partnership, and partnerships were not condemned as sinful’.32 Bernardino of Siena defended the taking of interest on loans if done with a charitable intention.33 And of course Jews also had their own rules and prohibitions, deriving from precisely the same scriptural sources as the Christian ones. Jewish scripture forbade lending at interest within the Jewish community, but permitted lending to foreigners. Early modern rabbis and Jewish scholars with some reluctance endorsed the latter exception, stipulating that such lending to Gentiles should be only out of necessity, and with strict safeguards against contamination by unnecessary contact with people of an alien faith.34 Thus in Jewish religious tradition the practice was forbidden between members of the Jewish faith, ‘brothers’ within the tribe, but permitted to outsiders, Gentiles such as Christians. Christianity, being a universalizing religion in which, theoretically, all human beings are potentially ‘brothers’, none necessarily strangers to God in Christ, received these Old Testament sources as total proscriptions on usury. This view was not however FRPSDWLEOH ZLWK WKH ¿VFDO QHHGV RI WKH JURZLQJ FDSLWDOLVW HFRQRP\ DQG LQ WKH course of the later sixteenth century, proscriptions against usury were relaxed, and it became accepted as a normal part of the business context. In Venice, the most convenient Christian view of Jews and usury was that usury being sinful, and Jews being universally disliked, it made sense for the Jews to practice the objectionable commercial custom that no Christian wished to undertake. If we can put up with Jews, declared Dominican Sisto Medici, we can put up with their commercial practices, which are at least useful: ,IWKHZRUVWFULPHRIWKH-HZVLVWKHLULQ¿GHOLW\DQGSHU¿G\ZKLFKRIIHQG*RG since our mother Church tolerates these why not tolerate their usuries when the latter are not contrary to the public good?35

Or as Pullan puts it, ‘while the Jews held to their faith, they were both empowered and compelled to render, directly or indirectly, specialized services of recognized value to society and the state’.36 This positive appreciation of the value of the Jewish contribution to the economy could clearly co-exist with the racism that demanded their strict segregation from the Christian community. We might need WKHPEXWZHGRQ¶WZDQWWKHPOLYLQJQH[WGRRU-HZVVWDWHGRQH¿IWHHQWKFHQWXU\ SUHDFKHUVKRXOGEHµWUHDWHGDVSURVWLWXWHVZKREHFDXVHRIWKHLU¿OWKDUHWROHUDWHG while they live in a bordello … So Jews should live their stinking lives in some

32 Brian Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice: the Social Institutions of a Catholic State, to 1620 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), p. 432. 33 Pullan, Rich and Poor, p. 434. 34 Ibid., p. 437. 35 Quoted Calimani, Ghetto, p. 18. 36 Brian Pullan, ‘Jewish banks and Monti di Pieta’, in Davis and Ravid, eds, The Jews, p. 72.

Jew and Moor


stinking place, separate from Christians’.37 Pullan endorses this perception: Jews in Venice were like prostitutes, ‘outcasts who committed for the sake of the community the sins that were almost unavoidable in human society’.38 The segregation of the Jews into the Ghetto can be seen as a kind of apartheid. Underlying the policy were strong prejudices drawn from a long tradition of Christian anti-Semitism. Jews were the stiff-necked and heard-hearted people who rejected Christian salvation, and murdered Christ; they were a cursed and wandering people, without a homeland, always strangers wherever they were; they practiced distasteful or unethical occupations such as usury; they were physically repulsive, foul-smelling, the bearers of infection and disease; and they were regularly suspected of such atrocities as blasphemous cannibalism and ritual murder. It was comforting for the holders of such prejudices to have the Jews quarantined inside a secluded space, rather than living and moving freely around the city. Despite the general perception in Renaissance and early modern Europe that Venice was an attractive place for Jews to reside … it must never be forgotten that the Jews were considered by all to constitute the Other who inhabited their own separate space and whose status was not, and could never be, the same as that of the other native inhabitants of the city.39

The Venetian fear of uncontrolled Jewish movement is revealed in the expulsion of the ‘Marranos’, Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had converted to Christianity, from the city in 1550. ‘The lords of Venice’, reported an Italian ambassador, believe that the Marranos ‘are worse than the Jews, because they are neither Christians nor Jews’.40 All the Jews live together in the Ghetto, separated from Christians, but the Marranos have to do with Christians, and live in several parts of the city.

Such free ‘association’ leads Christians to ‘transgress’. The Marranos practice XVXU\DQGFRXOGLQÀXHQFH&KULVWLDQVWRGRWKHVDPH And they are a malevolent, faithless people, up to no good; and they might VXI¿FHWRLQIHFWQRWRQO\WKHVRXOVRI&KULVWLDQVEXWDOVRWKHLUERGLHVZLWKVRPH pestilential disease.


Quoted in Kenneth R. Stow, ‘Stigma, Acceptance and the End to Liminality: Jews and Christians in Early Modern Italy’ in At the Margins: Minority Groups in Premodern Italy, ed. Stephen J. Milner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p. 72. 38 Pullan, ‘Jewish banks’, pp. 53–72. 39 Benjamin I. Ravid, ‘The Venetian Government and the Jews’, in Davis and Ravid, The Jews, p. 30. 40 +LHURQ\PR)HUXI¿QRTXRWHGLQ&KDPEHUVDQG3XOODQVenice, p. 345.

Shakespeare and Venice


The Marranos presented the disconcerting image of overtly Christian bodies, practising what had become thought of as a Jewish offence, and even containing within themselves the contagion of Jewish ethnicity. Once safely categorized (literally ‘rebadged’), as Jewish, they could be safely quarantined in the Ghetto, and their offensive ¿QDQFLDOSUDFWLFHVUHOHJDWHGWRWKRVHDOUHDG\EH\RQGWKHRORJLFDOUHGHPSWLRQ In his discussion of the Venetian Ghetto, Richard Sennett describes the Jews as compelled to live under the restrictive and oppressive conditions of a forced segregation, with strict limitations set on their participation in social life: ‘the right to do business in the city did not bring a more general freedom. The Jew who contracted as an equal lived as a segregated man’.41 For Sennett, the primary motivation of this policy was an obsessive Christian anti-semitic phobia, rooted in the body and extrapolated to the domains of society and the economy: ‘Christians were afraid of touching Jews … the Jewish body was unclean … the touch of the Jew GH¿OHV¶42 Venice quarantined the Jews into the Ghetto in the belief that ‘they were isolating a disease that had infected the Christian community’ (p. 215). According to Sennett, The Merchant of Venice misrepresents Venice by showing Jews and Christians interacting: ‘In the real Venice, where Shakespeare set his play, much of the action of the story would have been impossible’ (p. 215). Antonio’s dinner invitation, which is declined by Shylock, could never really have been extended: A real moneylender was let out of the Ghetto … at dawn … By dusk the Jew was obliged to return to the cramped Ghetto; at nightfall its gates were locked, the shutters of its houses that looked outward closed; police patrolled the exterior. (p. 215)

In Sennett’s account the Jews were prisoners of the state, and the Ghetto a Kafkaesque fortress described in language that foreshadows the Nazi death camps: ‘Imprisoned inside, the Jews were left to themselves, an abandoned people’ (p. 234). Sennett grudgingly admits that the Jews were not merely passive victims of WKLVDSDUWKHLGEXWJHQHUDWHGRXWRIWKHLUFRQ¿QHPHQWWKHLURZQVHQVHVRILGHQWLW\ and of community. ‘The Jews made new forms of community life out of their very segregation’, he says, and even ‘gained a certain degree of self-determination’ (p. 216). They enjoyed genuine security on occasions when the city protected them from Christian mobs. But this identity was merely, in Sennett’s closed Foucaldian system, the internalization of an external mechanism of repression. Venetian Christians sought to create a Christian community by segregating those who were different, drawing on the fear of touching alien, seductive bodies. Jewish identity became entangled in that same geography of repression … the space of repression became incorporated into their own sense of their community. (p. 231)


Sennett, Flesh and Stone, p. 215. Ibid., pp. 215–16. Strangely, Sennett has nothing to say of Jewish purity laws and prohibitions on contact with Gentiles. 42

Jew and Moor


Here subversion is always contained: anything positive that could be seen as emerging from the Ghetto, any signs of an independent Jewish culture, would be for Sennett merely symptoms of a forced accommodation, in which the Jews ‘internalized the oppressor in making community out of a space of oppression’ (p. 249). McPherson also argues that beneath what he calls the ‘myth’ of ‘fair treatment’ for the Jews of Venice: There was always a dark and shameful discrimination against Jews, both in the historical Venice and in the Venice of the play.43

‘Discrimination’ refers to the sartorial, spatial and economic restrictions under which the Jews lived. It is unclear whether ‘discrimination’ here means simply an enforced differentiation, or the kind of ‘discrimination’ that we have come to understand as racism. The sources quoted by McPherson on dress codes, accommodation and employment for the Jews are quite neutral and descriptive, DQGLWLVWKHFULWLFZKRDGGVLQÀDPPDWRU\ODQJXDJHLQRUGHUWREULQJWKHHYLGHQFH up to the level of ‘discrimination’: ‘The Jews were forced to live in the Ghetto, and nowhere else, and they were literally locked in every night’ (p. 64). McPherson FDOOV LW WKH µ¿QDO LQVXOW¶ WKDW WKH -HZV KDG WR IXUQLVK WKH PRQH\ WR SD\ IRU WKH *KHWWRZDWFK7KLVV\VWHPDWLFµGLVFULPLQDWLRQ¶LVVXI¿FLHQWLQ0F3KHUVRQ¶VYLHZ to justify Shylock’s hatred: The ignominy of wearing special clothing, being locked in segregated quarters at night, and being virtually prevented from practising all trades but one, would have made hatred like Shylock’s understandable. (p. 66)

Yet counterpoised to all the evidence that the Ghetto institutionalized an endemic civic racism, erecting a defensive wall between Christian Venice and a people seen as toxic and contagious, there is abundant contrary evidence to the effect that the Ghetto provided what European Jews needed most of all in those times, which was protection; that the Jews were very much a part of the economy and society of Venice, interacting continually with the Christian majority; and that segregation DOORZHG WKH -HZV D VSDFH RI WKHLU RZQ LQ ZKLFK -HZLVK FXOWXUH FRXOG ÀRXULVK To see the walls of the Ghetto as an instrument of violent coercion is to forget WKHLUHI¿FDF\LQNHHSLQJRXWWKHNLQGRI&KULVWLDQPREVWKDWUHJXODUO\SHUVHFXWHG Jews everywhere else in Europe. In 1689 Daniel Rodriga, a representative of the Sephardic Jewish merchants, petitioned the Senate to grant a charter to a group of -HZVZKRZLVKHGWRVHWWOHLQ9HQLFH7KHSURSRVDORXWOLQHGWKHFRPPHUFLDOEHQH¿WV that would accrue to Venice, but also stipulated rights of security and freedom for the Jews themseves: commercial freedom, ‘security in person’, ‘security according to their religion’, and security against arbitrary arrest or expulsion in the event of war. The eventual partial granting of this request by the Senate demonstrates that in early modern Venetian society there could be agreement between state and 43

McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, p. 63.

Shakespeare and Venice


aliens on the importance of contract, of mutuality and reciprocity of obligations and privileges. Strangers could request protection of the state, and the state was willing to grant it.44 Venetian patrician Marin Sanudo voiced a liberal tolerance which was clearly a possible stance for free-thinking Venetians. He casts scorn on those who rail in the Senate against ‘the sons of Israel and the swindles they perpetrate’. If he were still a VHQDWRUKHVD\VKHZRXOGWDNHWRWKHÀRRURIWKH6HQDWHDQGVKRZWKDWµWKH-HZVDUH as necessary as bakers in this town in particular, for the general good, citing the law and what our ancestors always did, who advised having Jews to lend at interest’.45 Between Sanudo’s enlightened tolerance and the ravings of the anti-semitic clerics who recommended that Jews ‘should live their stinking lives in some stinking place, separate from Christians’, lay a wide range of possible opinions, principled, pragmatic and prejudiced. In 1603, in some highly opinionated REVHUYDWLRQV$OYLVH6DQXGRQRQHWKHOHVVUHÀHFWHGWKLVGLYHUVLW\RIRSLQLRQ Because Venice having invited every Levantine and Western Jew to come to this city with the promise that, regarding customs duties and navigation, they will be treated like Venetian citizens and will never be harrassed by any magistrate on account of their religion, so many of these treacherous people have arrived that now the Rialto square at the usual hour is reduced to such a pass that the yellow hats are more numerous than the Christians, to the great amazement of the many nations that come to this city … .46

Alvise Sanudo was speaking on behalf of a group of Venetian merchants opposing the granting of monopolistic privileges to the Jews. Though hostile to these µWUHDFKHURXVSHRSOH¶KLVZRUGVFRQ¿UPWKDWWKH9HQHWLDQSURPLVHRIIUHHGRPIRU DOLHQV KDG EHHQ KRQRXUHG VXI¿FLHQWO\ WR DWWUDFW ODUJH QXPEHUV RI -HZV ZKRVH presence on the Rialto was obtrusive enough to disgust him, and to startle the foreign visitors. He disliked them, but they were there, and they were there because 9HQLFHKDGLQYLWHGWKHPDQGWKH\KDGIRXQGLWERWKVDIHDQGSUR¿WDEOHWRDFFHSW the invitation. ‘These Jews’, observed Sansovino, … through the business of lending money, are very rich, and would rather live in Venice than in other parts of Italy because violence and tyrrany are not used on them as elsewhere, and they are secure in their every need concerning their wealth … Because they repose in a singular peace, they enjoy this country as if it were the Promised Land.47

Richard Sennett’s nightmare vision of the Ghetto as a kind of proto-concentration camp housing ‘an abandoned people’ is also historically inaccurate. The Ghetto

44 45 46 47

Charter of the Jewish Merchants, Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 346–9. Sanudo quoted in Calimani, Ghetto, p. 35. Quoted in Calimani, Ghetto, p. 126. Sansovino, Venetia, p. 193.

Jew and Moor


was designed as a permanent home, not a half-way house to the Final Solution.48 µ7KH *KHWWR¶ DV 6WRZ SRLQWV RXW µZDV LQWHQGHG WR FRQVHUYH D GLI¿FXOW -HZLVK presence, not to anticipate expulsion’.49 The Ghetto existed because Venice needed the Jews, and it could not use them without interacting with them. These interactions, though clearly not equal, were two-way, with Jews emerging from the Ghetto more freely than Sennett indicates, and with Venetian intellectual DQG FXOWXUDO LQÀXHQFHV SHUPHDWLQJ LQWR WKH *KHWWR$W WKH VDPH WLPH SUHFLVHO\ because, unlike comparable Jewish quarters, which were the norm in European FLWLHVWKH*KHWWRGLGSURYLGHDGHOLPLWHGDQGFRQ¿QHGVSDFHVSHFL¿FDOO\PDUNHG out as ethnically and spiritually different, the Ghetto provided the ground for the construction of ‘a new Jewish cultural space’.50 7KH*KHWWRZDVKRPHWRWKH-HZVRI9HQLFH:KHQ/HRQ0RGHQDLGHQWL¿HGE\ Janet Adelman51 as possibly the ‘learned rabbi’ with whom Thomas Coryate debated religion, in a premonitory dream imagined separation from his beloved son, it was in terms of his departure from the Ghetto.52 At the deepest level of dream-psychology the Ghetto was home, and outside was elsewhere, someone else’s space. Although they were prohibited from owning houses, the Jews clearly took custodianship of the Ghetto’s accommodation, and adapted it to suit their needs. They were able as tenants to gain a privileged status that allowed them to convey rented property within the Ghetto.53 The partitioning of living spaces to accommodate greater numbers of course contributed to the cramped conditions of which both Jews and neighbours complained. But this overcrowding, as Calamini observes ‘contrasted strangely with the spaciousness and opulence of the prayer-houses, attesting not only to the generosity and commercial success of the latest arrivals, but also to the importance of the synagogue as a gathering-place in the daily life of the Jews’ (p. 135). Limited personal space was compensated by the larger public and community spaces freed by concentrated residential accommodation, and this is obviously something the Jews wanted. When Shylock, in despair after Jessica’s betrayal, arranges to meet his friend Tubal, it is not at either of their houses, but ‘at our synagogue’, a general place of meeting and association for the Jewish community: 48

Discussing the later uses of ‘ghetto’ in Germany and Eastern Europe, Ravid observes WKDWWKHµJKHWWRHVRIHDUOLHUGD\VZHUHGHVLJQHGWRSURYLGHWKH-HZVZLWKDFOHDUO\GH¿QHG permanent place in Christian society’. They were not ‘merely a temporary stage on the planned road to total liquidation’. Ravid, ‘The Venetian Ghetto’, p. 282. 49 Stow, ‘Stigma’, p. 76. 50 5REHUW%RQ¿Oµ$&XOWXUDO3UR¿OH¶LQ'DYLVDQG5DYLGThe Jews, p. 169. 51 Janet Adelman, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 52 ‘I dreamed that he said to me, “I have taken a house for myself outside the ghetto”. , UHVSRQGHG ³6KRZ PH ZKHUH VR WKDW , PD\ FRPH DQG ¿QG \RX´ +H DQVZHUHG ³, GR QRWZDQWWRWHOO\RXIRU,GRQRWZDQW\RXWRFRPHWR¿QGPH´¶The Autobiography of a Seventeenth Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena’s Life of Judah, trans. and ed. Mark R. Cohen (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 112. 53 See Calimani, Ghetto, p. 135.

Shakespeare and Venice


Go Tubal, and meet me at our synagogue; go, good Tubal, at our synagogue, Tubal. (3.1)

Shylock’s repetition of the phrase ‘our synagogue’ plangently invokes a special space in which Jews could meet to share their troubles. But ‘our’ synagogue may even be there to distinguish one place of worship, the German synagogue or scola grande todesca,54 founded in 1528, from the ‘diverse Synagogues … at the least seven’ noted by Thomas Coryate within the Ghetto.55 7KH-HZVDOWHUHGWKHVWUXFWXUHRIWKHEXLOGLQJVWRPDNHWKH*KHWWROHVV¿UPO\ sealed off from Venice. They increased the number of entries and quays that opened all around the outer perimeter of the enclosure, with or without the permission of the Council of Ten. These made many of the ghetto’s public and private spaces accessible by boat or from the surrounding alleys.56

They also opened up windows low down by the water, portals that ‘gave ample opportunity for Jews to violate the enclosure that was an essential premise of the ghetto’.57 In Coryate’s famous story of his dispute with the ‘learned Jewish Rabbin’, which takes place inside the Ghetto, he is rescued from a crowd of angry Jews by the appearance of Sir Henry Wotton’s gondola, ‘passing under the bridge’ by the entrance. Coryate comically represents his escape as a rescue from hostile territory. But since transport in Venice is primarily by water, the Jews had as much access to the canals as did Sir Henry.58 Eventually, as Calabi puts it, the Ghetto was ‘no longer just a refugee shelter for a minority group … it had evolved into an urban environment in which daily life was a rich tapestry woven from points of primary exchange and places of work’.59 This ‘tapestry’ was very much a Jewish product, though it was illustrated and FRORXUHGE\DZLGHUUDQJHRILQÀXHQFHV7KHDVVXPSWLRQWKDWWKH*KHWWRSURYLGHG DQLQYLRODEOHVHJUHJDWLRQFDQHDVLO\EHGHULYHGIURPUHDGLQJWKHOHWWHURIRI¿FLDO policy. In reality, however, things were by no means so simple: ,IZHJLYHFUHGHQFHWRWKHRI¿FLDOGHFUHHVUHSHDWHGO\HQDFWHGE\WKH9HQHWLDQ magistracies, Jews and Christians should have been almost totally segregated. In actual fact, Jews and Christians had frequent contact in the course of their daily lives.60 54

Ibid., p. 133. Coryate, Crudities, p. 231. 56 Donatella Calabi, ‘The “City of the Jews”’, in Davis and Ravid, The Jews, p. 32. 57 Ibid. 58 Coryate, Crudities, pp. 233–4. The neighbouring canals were of course patrolled at night. Calabi reads this story differently, as revealing ‘the importance that the limited options for entry and exit can assume for those who are inside’. Calabi, ‘City’, p. 32. 59 Ibid., p. 39. 60 Calimani, Ghetto, p. 142. 55

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‘Nothing, including the ghetto, was hermetically sealed’.61 Christians went to the Ghetto to hear Jewish sermons preached in the synagogues,62 and Jews drew learning from the circumambient Christian culture. ‘Christian culture and study of WKHFODVVLFVDOVR¿OWHUHGLQSDVWWKHJKHWWRJDWHV¶63 Thus there was ‘strong interaction between the Jewish and the Christian worlds’ (p. 142), which in turn produced ‘a strong cultural dualism … for the ghetto walls were a permeable barrier’ (p. 144). Historian Benjamin C.I. Ravid also argues that the seclusion of the Ghetto did QRWSUHFOXGHFXOWXUDODVZHOODVFRPPHUFLDOWUDI¿FEHWZHHQWKH-HZVDQG9HQLFH The establishment of ghettos did not … lead to the breaking off of previous Jewish contacts with the outside world … an investigation of the cultural life inside the ghetto of Venice and the extent to which external trends penetrated it … leads to a revaluation of the alleged negative impact of the ghetto in the intellectual and cultural spheres.64

Thus the Ghetto was both segregated and integrated, a space ‘separate from the surrounding society while at the same time a part of it’.65 Jewish districts in Rome and Padua and Florence, though distinct from Christian urban territory, did not have this degree of separate interiority. The Ghetto walls functioned as a border in provoking the sense of ‘a new Jewish cultural space’, even a ‘holy space’.66 The walls of the Ghetto, suggests Stow, substituted for those of the Holy City, Jerusalem, and helped to make the Ghetto into an arena for purely Jewish activity:67 ‘The Jewish space’ as Calamani calls it: ‘the scene of all Jewish life’.68 To this extent then the Ghetto was distinctly separate, other, a place for those whom Venetian society did not want in its midst. As such it could readily represent a space of demonized difference. But since the space was also open, accessible and visible to residents and travellers, it was possible to see into it, and to recognize both alterity and commonality, otherness and kinship. The Ghetto could function as the city’s opposite, but also as its counterpart, a Venetian microcosm of the universal microcosm that was Venice. Thomas’s account of the Ghetto clearly exposes this dual role of the Ghetto as difference and similitude. The Ghetto is an ‘Iland’, ‘inclosed round about with water’,69 like Venice itself. There the Jews are ‘distinguished and discerned from the Christians’ by their headgear, red hats 61

Stow, ‘Stigma’, p. 83. William Bedell, chaplain to Henry Wotton, preferred Jewish sermons to those of the Friars and Jesuits. ‘An English Protestant Looks at Venetian Religious Life’, Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 195–6. 63 Calimani, Ghetto, p. 142. 64 Ravid, ‘The Venetian Ghetto’, p. 283. 65 %RQ¿Oµ&XOWXUDO3UR¿OH¶S 66 Stow, ‘Stigma’, p. 84. 67 Ibid. 68 Calimani, Ghetto, p. 132. 69 Coryate, Crudities, p. 230. 62

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DQG\HOORZWXUEDQV&RU\DWHH[SHFWHGWR¿QGWKH-HZVDQVZHULQJWRWKLVDJHQGD of difference, and conforming to stereotype: to say someone looks like a Jew, he says, is to denote a ‘warp-faced fellow’ or a ‘frantic and lunatic person’ (p. 232). %XWKH¿QGVWKH-HZVµHOHJDQWDQGVZHHWIHDWXUHG¶WKHZRPHQµEHDXWLIXODVHYHU I saw’(p. 233). In terms of religion, the Jews were not only very pious, but of a reformist persuasion, eschewing idolatry and observing the Sabbath. Venice itself, Coryate says, is called by many a ‘little Christendom’ (p. 141) but he prefers to call it a ‘little Jerusalem’. The Ghetto could clearly be seen as a little Jewish Jerusalem, within the larger universal Jerusalem that was Christian Venice. In Coryate’s description, the Ghetto, though ‘distinguished and discerned’ from Venice, starts to look more like a model for Venice itself: wealthy, attractive, full of ‘goodly and proper men’ and ‘beautiful women’ (pp. 232–3), pious but not papist. The Ghetto was also a model cosmopolitan society, since the Jews inhabiting it came from many different countries and represented different ethnic groups: ‘a community of great diversity’.70 Before its colonization by the Jews the ‘ghetto’ area had obviously been occupied by immigrants, ‘frequented by many peoples of every language and country’.71 The distinct Jewish communities, German, Western and Levantine, the ‘three Nations’, says Calimani, ‘differed widely in all their cultural characteristics’.72 A variety of tongues was heard in the ghetto. Hebrew chants and Mediterranean dialects were superimposed on the colorful tones of Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, and Greek, along with the argot spoken by some of the Polish and German refugees and with the many Italian dialects: a true Babel of people and tongues … .73

Here the Ghetto is nothing less than an ‘ideal type’ of Venice itself, cosmopolitan, multi-cultural, ethnically diverse: a diverse population gathered into one place for the common purpose of mutual enrichment. Calimani writes of the ‘close parallel between the development of the Jewish community and that of the Venetian Republic’: Jewish Venice represented the sum of many communities: German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Levantine. Each of these groups preserved its own religious traditions; they lived separately, enjoyed different privileges, and had distinct HFRQRPLFIXQFWLRQV7KH\ZHUHRIWHQLQFRQÀLFWHYHQZKLOHWKH\ZHUHMRLQHGLQ a single community organization.74


Calabi, ‘City’, p. 46. Sansovino quoted in Calimani, Ghetto, p. 130. 72 Calimani, Ghetto, pp. 132–3. 73 Ibid., p. 133. 74 ,ELGSS±µ3HRSOHKDYHRIWHQREVHUYHGDQDI¿QLW\EHWZHHQ9HQHWLDQVDQG Jews – a common aptitude for money-making, a similar sense of wry humour, a shared feeling of national exclusion’. Morris, Venice, p. 85. 71

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Ghetto and city: opposites or counterparts? Venetian Jews and Venetian Christians: separate, yet similar; other, yet the same; alien, yet of a common family, the seed of Abraham. In this mirror-imaging of sameness-in-difference we can see clearly what Calimani called ‘the strong tie between the destiny of Venice and that of her Jews’.75 $OWKRXJK WKH\ ZHUH FRQ¿QHG WR WKH JKHWWR WKHLU UHVLGHQFH LQ WKH FLW\ ZDV legally recognized. Their situation was one of precarious stability, charged with tension, but it was a good one compared to that of Jews elsewhere in Italy and Europe, and the fame of the Venetian ghetto spread to the most remote corners of the Diaspora.76

Shylock is a Jew, and Shakespeare’s portrayal positions him exactly at the intersection of Jewish religious and ethnic tradition, the modern capitalist economy and the tolerant but inequitable culture of early modern Venice. The Merchant of VenicePD\QRWPHQWLRQWKH*KHWWREXWWKH¿FWLRQDO6K\ORFN¿WVHDVLO\LQWRWKH cosmopolitan urban culture the historical Ghetto facilitated. Othello does not have WKHVDPHGH¿QLWLRQRILGHQWLW\DQGKLVHWKQLFLW\KDVEHHQPXFKKDUGHUWRSLQGRZQ In Shakespeare’s time the term ‘Moor’ could mean any one of a number of things. A Moor could be, generically, an African: as Michael Neill observed, the term could be ‘extended to refer to Africans generally (whether white, black or “tawny” 0RRUV ¶ RU LQ D PRUH OLPLWHG VHQVH GH¿QH µWKH LQKDELWDQWV RI WKH ZKROH 1RUWK African littoral’. It could be used very loosely, by ‘promiscuous extension’, to signify ‘almost any darker-skinned peoples – even, on occasion, those of the New :RUOG¶RUXVHGLQLWVPRVWSUHFLVHWRSLFDODSSOLFDWLRQWRµUHIHUTXLWHVSHFL¿FDOO\WR the Berber-Arab people of the part of North Africa then rather vaguely denominated as “Morocco”, “Mauritania”, or “ Barbary”’.77 It could also be used as a religious LGHQWL¿HUWRVLJQLI\DGHYRWHHRIWKH,VODPLFIDLWKD0XVOLP Audiences and readers have however grown accustomed to thinking of Othello not just in terms of a blackness associated with sub-Saharan Africa, but also with the transatlantic slave trade. In the course of the play’s stage and screen history, 2WKHOOREHFDPHLQGHOLEO\DVVRFLDWHGZLWKWKHQRQ0XVOLP$IULFDQWKURXJKGH¿QLQJ performances by black African-American actors.78 Because Othello himself talks about having been a slave, the play became caught up, anachronistically, with the subsequent history of the slave trade to the Americas and the West Indies. Virginia Mason Vaughan says that Othello’s accounts of his own enslavement, ‘set against the context of the English slave trade, resonate with meaning’.79 75

Calimani, Ghetto, p. 116. Ibid., p. 38. 77 Michael Neill, ‘“Mulattos”, “Blacks” and “Indian Moors”: Othello and early Modern Constructions of Difference’, Shakespeare Quarterly 49:4 (Winter 1998), p. 364. 78 See Lois Potter, Shakespeare in Performance: Othello (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). 79 Vaughan, Othello, p. 69. 76

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Laurence Olivier even gave Othello a West Indian accent, suggesting he went a very long way round to reach Venice.80 ‘The Moor came into scholarly discussion as an “African”’, says Emily C. Bartels, ‘not co-incidentally in the era of the civil rights movement, when “Africa” was providing an empowering collective base for black power and pride’.81 There is nothing intrinsically improper in such appropriations, but we can see the disadvantage in Othello’s ambiguous status EHLQJVLPSOL¿HGLQWKLVUHWURVSHFWLYHHQOLVWPHQWWRDPRGHUQSROLWLFDOFDXVH While in the West, Othello’s identity became mapped along the slave-trading routes between Europe and the Americas, in the Middle East, Othello is, DQG DOZD\V KDV EHHQ DQ µ$UDE¶ 7KH YHU\ ¿UVW WUDQVODWLRQ DQG SURGXFWLRQ RI D Shakespeare play in Arabic was of Othello in Egypt in 1884. The Arab Othello (At-Allah, or ‘Utayl, as he is called in different translations) has never taken that journey to the West.82 Fairly clear distinctions among the ethnic differences found in Africans were certainly made in the sixteenth century, from Hakluyt onwards. George Abbott, in the comically titled A Brief Description of the Whole World, distinguished ‘blackish Moors’ from ‘exceedingly black Negroes’, and Leo Africanus contrasted Mediterranean ‘white or tawny Moors’ from sub-Saharan ‘Negroes or black Moors’.83 Iago associates Othello with Mauritania in north-west Africa, locale of the Muslim Berber tribes that dominated North Africa and conquered Spain in the Middle Ages (hence the name ‘Barbary’ to describe north-west Africa). The other Shakespearean Moor to be found in Venice, who appears in The Merchant of Venice as one of Portia’s suitors, is ‘a tawnie Moore’, the Prince of Morocco. In the theatre, writes Andrew Gurr, ‘Moors from the Barbary coast were certainly shown on stage as “tawny” or “olive-coloured”’.84 So the signs seem to point to Othello as a north African Moor, and implicitly at least by origin as a Muslim. The handful of black residents targeted in Elizabeth’s proclamation against ‘Negars and blackamoors’ were clearly different from the Arabs, led by Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, who as the embassy from Barbary visited London in 1600–1601. When Iago compares Othello to a ‘Barbary horse’, the term of comparison is an Arab steed; and the abusive term ‘barbarian’ is exactly that used by Elizabeth’s courtiers of the Arab diplomats. µ,V2WKHOOR¶DVNV%DUWHOVµUHDOO\D³EODFNPDOH´LQKLV¿UVWLQFDUQDWLRQ«FDQ we assign him a “black ethnicity” when he and his audience do not?’


Othello, dir. Stuart Burge (London: BHE Films, 1965). Emily C. Bartels, Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), p. 10. 82 Ferial Ghazoul, ‘The Arabization of Othello’, Comparative Literature (1998), p. 1. 83 Quoted by Norman Sanders in his edited text Othello (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 11. 84 Andrew Gurr, ‘A Black Reversal’, Shakespeare 4.1–4 (2008), p. 138. 81

Jew and Moor


And in the aftermath of 9/11, were we to revive the morally freighted dichotomy between African and Arabian embodiments of Othello, the one (African) long imagined by critics, actors and producers as the more savage, the other (Arabian) the more noble, would the Arabian Moor still come out on top?85

‘The association of Moors with Africa’, Bartels admits, emanated from a ‘connection to American history’ (p. 11). And this ‘Occidentalism’ has been pervasive in readings of Shakespearean ethnicity. ‘Until recently’ says Daniel Vitkus in a seminal essay: Historicist analyses of Shakespeare’s texts have tended to read representations of the Other according to a teleological historiography of Western domination and colonization. Stephen Greenblatt’s location of Shakespearean drama in the FRQWH[WRIDQDVFHQWFRORQLDOLVPFORVHO\IROORZHGE\WKHÀRRGRIµ1HZ:RUOG¶ VFKRODUVKLSWKDWPDUNHGWKH¿YHKXQGUHGWKDQQLYHUVDU\RI&ROXPEXV¶YR\DJHWR the Indies, established and maintained the critical practice of reading all English Renaissance texts as the products of a strictly proto-imperialist culture that looked across the Atlantic towards its American colonies-to-be.86

Othello’s Africanization belongs to this Atlantic paradigm. Scholars and critics strongly concerned with contemporary issues of race have been inclined to look for Othello in only one direction: westwards. To consider Othello wholly or primarily in relation to west or central Africa, to transatlantic slavery, even to America, is to endorse this Anglocentric limitation. But if we locate our Moor ¿UPO\DVGLG6KDNHVSHDUHZLWKLQWKHKLVWRULFDOVRFLHW\RI9HQLFHWKHQWKHLGHQWLW\ Othello gathers around him becomes less western or central African, less ‘black’, less Atlantic; and more north African, more Arabic, more Muslim – in a word, more Venetian. This ‘re-orientation’ of Othello is explicitly invited by the kind of geographical VKLIW FLWHG E\ 9LWNXV ZKLFK KDV DOUHDG\ IRVWHUHG D ÀRXULVKLQJ QHZ VFKRODUVKLS exploring the interconnections between Europe and the Middle East. Some years ago, Lisa Jardine’s Worldly Goods: a New History of the Renaissance put trade and LQWHOOHFWXDOH[FKDQJHEHWZHHQ(XURSHDQGWKH0XVOLPZRUOG¿UPO\DWWKHKHDUWRI the Renaissance. Around the same time Nabil Matar’s Islam in Britain, 1558–1685 GHVFULEHGWKHLQÀXHQFHRI0XVOLPWKRXJKWDQGFXOWXUHLQHDUO\PRGHUQ(QJODQG ‘By emphasizing the dependence of Renaissance artists on materials and aesthetic practise from the East’, writes Gerald MacLean, ‘and by unveiling the allure that Islam held for many Christians at the time, Jardine and Matar not only dislodged the traditional Eurocentric perspective but also rendered it untenable’.87 85

Bartels, Speaking of the Moor, p. 9. Daniel Vitkus, ‘Turning Turk in Othello: the Conversion and Damnation of the Moor’, Shakespeare Quarterly (1997), p. 146. 87 Gerald MacLean, ‘Introduction’ to his edited volume Re-Orienting the Renaissance: Cultural Exchanges with the East (London: Palgrave, 2005), p. 5. 86

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Matar’s later book Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery LOOXPLQDWHGWKHUHFLSURFDOFRQWDFWDQGFRPPHUFHWKDWÀRXULVKHGEHWZHHQ(QJODQG DQG WKH 0XVOLP ZRUOG 7KLV FRPPHUFH DV 0DF/HDQ DI¿UPV WKRXJK KLWKHUWR undervalued, was critically constitutive of the ‘Renaissance’: 0DQ\ RI WKH DUWLVWLF VRFLDO UHOLJLRXV SKLORVRSKLFDO VFLHQWL¿F WHFKQLFDO and cultural developments that distinguished the period depended upon the movement and exchange of ideas, skills and goods between what have come to be thought of as separate spheres: East and West.88

This new ‘re-orientated’ history of the period, MacLean argues, is critically important today. Not only does it reveal the ‘powerful connection and mutual LQÀXHQFHVWKDWOLQNHG(DVWZLWK:HVWEHIRUHWKHFUHDWLRQRIERUGHUVWKDWWRGD\ZH take for granted’; it also demonstrates the long cohabitation between Christianity and Islam that preceded the current ‘clash of civilizations’: ‘Christianity and Islam were not invariably locked in battle or mutual disregard’.89 Furthermore this new history relativizes the borders presupposed by contemporary belief in the implacable opposition of Christian and Islamic civilizations. MacLean calls for the interrogation of ‘what all too often seem to be settled certainties, such as the FOHDUERUGHUGHPDUFDWLQJ(DVWIURP:HVW>DQG@WKHLQHYLWDELOLW\RIFRQÀLFWEHWZHHQ Islam and Christianity’. William Dalrymple endorses this view, speaking of the ‘urgency’ of the historical work entailed in ‘overturning a misreading of history that has impacted in a very fundamental and visible way on contemporary politics’.90 In tandem with this re-orientated history of Europe, there is currently a new wave of interest in Venice’s relationship with Islam, marked by the exhibition Venice and the Islamic World, which showed in New York, Paris and Venice, 2006–2007. From this perspective, Venice emerges as precisely the appropriate location in which to stage encounters between Europe and Islam, since Venice was ‘the threshold of Europe and the Ottoman Empire’,91 Europe’s gateway to the Near and Middle East, ‘a natural funnel of intercourse between east and west’,92 and the ‘hinge’ between Christian and Muslim worlds. One of the main reasons for the long-standing European perception of Venice as a border city is the fact that Venice enjoyed strong commercial and cultural relations with the Islamic world, on occasion even opting to safeguard this special relationship 88

MacLean, ‘Introduction’, p. 1. Ibid., p. 2. William Dalrymple adds, ‘Throughout the mediaeval period, Christians and Muslims continued to meet as much in the context of trade and scholarship as they did RQWKHEDWWOH¿HOG¶µ)RUHZRUGWKH3RURXV)URQWLHUVRI,VODPDQG&KULVWHQGRP$&ODVKRU Fusion of Civilizations?’ in MacLean, Re-orienting, p. xiv. 90 Ibid., pp. xii–xiii. 91 Julian Raby, ‘The Serenissima and the Sublime Porte: Art in the Art of Diplomacy’, in Stefano Carboni (ed.), Venice and the Islamic World 828-1797 (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 15. 92 Morris, Venice, p. 11. 89

Jew and Moor


at the risk of offending Christian allies.93 As Stefano Carboni notes, ‘an almost perfect balance and interaction of religious esprit, chameleonic diplomacy, and an unsentimentally practical mercantile system’ made Venice into ‘the respected trading and political partner of the Near East’.94 International relations were ruled by a kind of ‘pragmatism’ (p. 16), based on an effort to maintain commercial friendships wherever possible with both Christendom and Islam: the Venetians kept up trade with the Muslims even during the Crusades, and notoriously used the Fourth Crusade to plunder Christian Byzantium. In fact the Venetians, according to Carboni, were entirely at home in the Levant and the Middle East, since they did not really see the orient as ‘other’ at all (p. 16). Venice’s fortunes were linked to the Islamic world from at least the eighth century, when Venetian merchants began trading with Alexandria, a business that HYHQWXDOO\WXUQHG9HQLFHLQWRDQHQWUHSRWIRUWKHLPSRUWDWLRQRISUR¿WDEOHOX[XU\ goods such as carpets and textiles into Europe. Silks, spices, ceramics, pearls, crystal ewers and precious metals were shipped in from the East and supplied to (XURSHDQ PDUNHWV µ7KH9HQHWLDQV GHDOW FKLHÀ\ ZLWK WKH SHRSOHV RI WKH 0LGGOH East’, drawing on the trade routes that ‘converged out of Turkestan and Persia, Afghanistan and Arabia upon the seaports of the Levant, where the Venetians maintained their own great khans and warehouses’.95 Without this Muslim trade, Venice would never have become, as it did become for several centuries, a VLJQL¿FDQWZRUOGSRZHU9HQLFHµOLYHGE\WKHHDVWHUQFRPPHUFH¶96 and her trading economy was tipped into a long-lasting but irrevocable decline by setbacks in that commerce with the East: the Muslim capture of Constantinople in 1453, and the opening up of a trade route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498. In turn the Muslims held Venice in high esteem: the republic was the only Christian city to appear on Ibn Khaldun’s fourteenth-century world map.97 Even Venice’s own myth of origin links Venice with the Islamic world. According to the legend, two Venetian merchants stole the bones of St Mark from Abassid Alexandria in 828, where the churches were about to be demolished by the ‘Saracens’ to build a new mosque, and brought them to Venice. The basilica of San Marco, which as visitors often remark now resembles a mosque more than a Gothic cathedral, became their mausoleum.98 In works by Venetian painters such as Bellini, Mansueti and Carpaccio, St Mark is depicted alternately in Venetian and in Alexandrian scenes. The Eastern trade formed the basis for cultural exchange, and culturally Venice ZDVSURIRXQGO\LQÀXHQFHGE\WKH,VODPLFZRUOGµ7KURXJKRXWWKH&UXVDGHVWKH 93 As Morris says, Venice ‘traded indiscriminately with Christian and Muslim, in GH¿DQFHRIJKDVWO\SDSDOSHQDOWLHV¶Venice, pp. 11–12. 94 Stefano Carboni, ‘Moments of Vision: Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797’, in Carboni, Venice and the Islamic World, p. 15. 95 Morris, Venice, p. 171. 96 Ibid., p. 11. 97 Ibid., p. 12. 98 See Carboni, ‘Moments of Vision’, pp. 13–15.

Shakespeare and Venice


9HQHWLDQV«NHSWXSDSUR¿WDEOHWUDGHZLWKWKHLU0XVOLPFRXQWHUSDUWVUHVXOWLQJLQ a great many Arabic words surviving in Venetian dialect, and a profound Islamic LQÀXHQFH RQ 9HQHWLDQ DUFKLWHFWXUH¶99 John Ruskin had shown that Venetian architecture borrowed liberally from Muslim art and design. Deborah Howard’s monumental Venice and the East demonstrates conclusively and in enormous GHWDLO WKH GHFLVLYH LQÀXHQFH RI WKH ,VODPLF :RUOG RQ 9HQHWLDQ DUFKLWHFWXUH LQ the Renaissance.100 )URP WKH ODWH ¿IWHHQWK FHQWXU\ 9HQHWLDQ SXEOLVKHUV SULQWHG Muslim treatises on medicine, philosophy, astronomy and mathematics. These LQFOXGHGPDQ\$UDELFWH[WVLQ/DWLQDQG,WDOLDQWUDQVODWLRQ7KH¿UVWSULQWHGWH[W of the Qu’ran was published in Venice in 1537–38.101 -XVWDV6K\ORFNSRVVHVVHVJUHDWHUFODULW\RIHWKQLFDQGFXOWXUDOGH¿QLWLRQWKDQ does Othello, so Venice’s relation to Judaism, embodied in the Ghetto, is more straightforward than its relations with Islam. By Shakespeare’s time Muslim power had passed from the Arab empire to the Ottoman Turks. As Daniel Vitkus puts it, What has often been forgotten is that while Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Dutch ships sailed to the New World and beyond, beginning the exploration and conquest of foreign lands, the Ottoman Turks were rapidly colonizing European territory. Thus, in the sixteenth century, the Europeans were both colonizers and colonized, and even the English felt the power of the Turkish threat to Christendom.102

9HQLFHZDVDWZDURQDQGRIIZLWKWKH7XUNVWKURXJKRXWWKH¿IWHHQWKDQGVL[WHHQWK FHQWXULHVDQGWKLVVHULHVRIFRQÀLFWVLVFRQGHQVHGLQWKHSORWRIOthello. Yet the republic sought to maintain trading and diplomatic relations whenever possible.103 $V-HDQ&ODXGH+RFTXHWREVHUYHVWKHUHZDVDVPXFKDI¿QLW\DVKRVWLOLW\EHWZHHQ these great historical rivals: Venetians were familiar with the Turks … as a result of trade, cultural connections and military or political domination … Turks and Venetians both shared a reputation for tolerance and a fairly liberal welcome for persecuted religious minorities, such as Protestants and Jews driven out of Spain … both states were also shrewd enough to leave the door open when it came to maintaining, and even extending, trade relations … .104 99

Dalrymple, ‘Foreword’, p. xiv. Deborah Howard, Venice and the East: the Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian Architecture 1100–1500 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). 101 The great Bishop’s throne known as ‘the Chair of St Peter’ in the Basilica con Cattedrale di San Pietro di Castello has words from the Qu’ran carved on it. 102 Daniel Vitkus, ‘Turning Turk’, p. 146. 103 Suraiya Faroqhi, ‘The Venetian Presence in the Ottoman Empire, 1600–1630’, in The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy, ed. Huri Islamoglu-Inan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 311–44. 104 Jean-Claude Hocquet, ‘Venice and the Turks’, in Carboni, Venice and the Islamic World, p. 49. 100

Jew and Moor


Venice of course contained a number of alien communities, resident in the city under VSHFL¿HGFRQGLWLRQVDQGVXEMHFWWROHJDOUHVWULFWLRQVµ7KH-HZV¶QRWHV&DOLPDQL ‘were not the … only foreigners subject to such restrictions’.105 The German PHUFKDQWVUHJDUGHGE\WKHFKXUFKDV3URWHVWDQWKHUHWLFVZHUHFRQ¿QHGLQZD\V VLPLODUWRWKHFRQ¿QHPHQWLPSRVHGRQWKH-HZVLQWKH*KHWWRWKH\KDGWROLYHLQ the German exchange house or ‘Fondaco’,106 and the gates of their Fondaco had to remain closed at night.107 The Muslim Turks were arguably less privileged, more restricted, than the Jews: )ROORZLQJ WKH FRQÀLFWV RI WKH V WKH 7XUNV WRR GHPDQGHG D UHVLGHQWLDO district like the one assigned to the Jews. But the Senate granted them only a Fondaco on the Grand Canal, known to this day as the Fondaco dei Turchi. There, too, the doors were locked at night and guarded by soldiers.108

Venetian fear and mistrust of Muslim Turks was of course greater than any DQ[LHW\DERXWWKH-HZVVLQFHWKHODWWHUKDGQRSROLWLFDODI¿OLDWLRQ while the Turks were from time to time an enemy power, and the Turkish merchants potential enemy agents. But the Turks were nonethless resident inside the city: ‘Venice was the only city, with the exception of Ancona, where there was an established presence of Turkish merchants and Ottoman subjects from domains such as the Balkans’.109 The regulations drawn up in 1621 for the Turkish Fondaco betray GHHSDQ[LHWLHVDERXWDSHRSOHZKRVHSROLWLFDODQGUHOLJLRXVLQÀXHQFHQHHGHGWR be strictly contained, and even their very presence occluded from Venetian eyes. The custodian of the Fondaco Shall be obliged to lock the doors, both to landward and to seaward, at dusk, and to open them again at sunrise, from the outside, with good and effective keys … He must keep two men on the doors … the said doorkeepers shall not allow either women or beardless persons who may be Christians to enter the exchange house at any time.110

An obsessive particularity about sealing up means of access and egress is heightened here by the need to inhibit physical interaction, and even to close off any visual contact between Muslims and Christians.


Calimani, Ghetto, p. 38. See ‘German Merchants and the Exchange House’, in Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 328. A ‘fondaco’ was basically a trading-post (cp. Arabic funduq). 107 Calimani, Ghetto, p. 38. 108 Ibid., p. 39. 109 Raby, ‘The Serenissima’, p. 94. 110 Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 350–52. The Fondaco dei Turchi is a beautiful colonnaded building on the Grand Canal, now housing Venice’s natural history museum. It contained a prayer-room. 106

Shakespeare and Venice


It shall be made impossible to see into the courtyard of the house from the landward side: either a wall shall be erected to block the view, or else all the windows and openings shall be stopped up, so that the Turks cannot be seen by their neighbours. (p. 350)

Othello in Shakespeare’s play is of course a Moor, not a Turk, and is not presented explicitly as a Muslim. Othello thinks of himself as Venetian, and is at least tolerated by others as a Venetian by necessity: he is commissioned to lead the Venetian forces in a campaign to protect Cyprus against the threat of Turkish invasion. Several early modern commentators observe that the Venetians preferred to hire foreign military leaders UDWKHUWKDQGRLWWKHPVHOYHVWRDYRLGPLOLWDU\VXFFHVVEULQJLQJSROLWLFDOLQÀXHQFHDV William Thomas put it, they feared the advent of another Caesar.111 Othello’s position vis-a-vis the Venetian state is therefore explicitly one of acknowledged alienation: he is there because he is different. He is respected, honoured, trusted, treated as the ‘noble Moor’; but he is not accepted as a Venetian. Hence, just as Venice itself displayed an XQXVXDORSHQQHVVWR2WWRPDQDQG,VODPLFLQÀXHQFHVR2WKHOORVWDQGVLQDSHFXOLDU UHODWLRQVKLSZLWKWKH7XUNVKHLVKLUHGWR¿JKW In the valedictory speech before his suicide, Othello describes himself as having in the past peremptorily killed a Turk, ‘malignant’, ‘turbaned’ and ‘circumcised’, who was beating a Venetian and slandering the Venetian state. This summary justice represents exactly the kind of ‘service’ Othello has been employed for by the Venetian state: killing those who are turbaned and circumcised, and therefore by a natural extension, malignant. But then Othello kills himself and thereby indelibly associates himself with the Other, the enemy of Venice; the stranger, the alien; the malignant, turbaned, and circumcised: the Muslim. ‘He is at once Venetian and Turk’.112 The dichotomy of ‘Venetian against Turk’ is, as Bartels puts it, both ‘done and undone by the Moor’s claim to be both the Turk and the Turk-killing defender of the Venetians’.113 $VWKHVHFRQVWLWXWLYHGLVWLQFWLRQVEOXULQWRDPELJXLW\2WKHOORGH¿QHVKLPVHOI as the internal outsider, and starts to look more like the Muslim enemy than the Christian hero. Shakespeare has focused ‘the protection of Christendom against ,VODP¶DV:DOWHU&RKHQSRLQWVRXWµRQD¿JXUHZKRZRXOGURXWLQHO\EHWKRXJKW of as a religious and political ally of the Turks’.114 And no one wants to look at him. When Brabantio asks how Desdemona could fall in love with ‘what she fear’d to looke on’, or when Lodovico orders the scene of Othello’s crime to be concealed from view, the language they deploy echoes the visual taboo active in the regulations for the Fondaco dei Turchi: The Obiect poysons Sight, Let it be hid.115 111 112 113 114 115

Thomas, History, p. 78. Cohen, ‘Undiscovered country’, p. 147. Bartels, Speaking of the Moor, p. 2. Cohen, ‘Undiscovered country’, p. 146. The Tragedie of Othello: First Folio, p. 339.

Jew and Moor


Othello and Shylock, the ‘noble Moor’ and the ‘gentle Jew’, though very different from one another, share many of the characteristics of their diasporic Venetian home. They are both strangers who are nonetheless at home, occupying spaces clearly and legally granted to them by the republic. They both exemplify the remarkable freedoms granted to foreigners by Venice; but they both abuse these freedoms and incur the state’s retaliation. They both function as polarized opposites to a norm of Eurocentric Christian culture, yet they continually shift location so as to seem on one side or another of a penetrable border. At one moment they appear just outside (the enemy at the gates), at another right inside (the enemy within). One of the reasons why Shylock and Othello display this immense ambivalence is that they represent what the Qur’an called the ‘People of the Book’: Christians, Jews and Muslims,116 all of whom worship one God, all of whom claim spiritual descent from Abraham, all of whom place a written scripture, understood as the Word of God, at the heart of the faith. And to an extent that surprises secular observers, all three versions of this scripture have much in common. The Christian Bible subsumes the Jewish scripture as the ‘Old Testament’; the Qur’an incorporates material from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. 7KH WZR PDMRU ¿JXUHV RI 6KDNHVSHDUH¶V 9HQLFH 2WKHOOR DQG 6K\ORFN DUH strangers within a European Christian commonwealth. But this is no ordinary European city, but a place that is itself strange and estranging. In his valedictory VSHHFK2WKHOORLGHQWL¿HVKLPVHOIZLWKDOOWKUHHPRQRWKHLVPV,QThe Merchant of Venice, Shylock quotes from the New Testament, and Antonio echoes the Old. When told he is to inherit Shylock’s wealth, Lorenzo says: … you drop Manna in the way Of starued people.117

The absent Shylock has mysteriously become YHWH feeding the children of Israel in the wilderness. This story is equally important in Christian theology: the Exodus SUH¿JXUHVWKH5HGHPSWLRQDQGWKHEUHDGRIKHDYHQWKHOLYLQJEUHDGRIWKH/DVW6XSSHU and the Eucharist. The story is mentioned in the Qur’an (Sura 2.54), and the idea of food delivered from heaven is at the centre of one of its chapters, ‘The Table’. The People of the Book cannot help speaking this common language, even ZKHQWKH\VSHDNRIHQPLW\DQGKDWUHGDVZKHQWKHVXSHU¿FLDO/RUHQ]RXQZLWWLQJO\ betrays the deep family kinship he shares with his bride’s Judaic heritage. Both the city of Venice and Shakespeare’s theatre show just how much commonality lies in difference, how the other is invariably connected to the self. As Brinda Charry puts it, The Merchant of Venice … by presenting us with a Muslim whose aristocratic lineage and sophistication make him akin to European aristocrats (and by giving us a Jew whose knowledge 116 Othello is not himself formally a Muslim, but the play associates him, if only indirectly, with Islamic culture. 117 The Merchant of Venice: First Folio, p. 184.

Shakespeare and Venice


of Scripture makes him akin to the Christians) the play reminds us of cultural similarities as much as it emphasize cultural difference.118

In Shakespeare’s time the People of the Book could be implacable enemies, despite their common heritage and scripture; or they could co-exist peacefully in a kinship that acknowledged and tolerated difference. Today Christians and Muslims are killing one another in Iraq and Afghanistan; Muslims and Jews are killing one another in Palestine. These enemies are common members of the same religious family, so that every war between and among these faiths is a form of civil war. The city of Venice and Shakespeare’s theatre both present paradoxes of continuity through change; disintegration and reintegration of identity; difference that resolves into greater commonality. The plays show that differences can co-exist, if the Other is acknowledged and recognized as kin. In Venice, as 0DQIUHG3¿VWHUVD\VµWKH2WKHULVQRWRQO\RXWWKHUHLWLVSUHVHQWZLWKLQRQH¶V own culture’.119 In Shakespeare’s plays, as Jack d’Amico puts it, ‘the alien is imaginatively understood’, and thus ‘mirrors those desires and energies that work from within’.120 ‘Strangely’, Kristeva said, ‘the foreigner lives within us: he is the hidden face of our identity’.121 This does not mean, however, that the foreigner is no longer foreign; otherwise there is no hospitality in such acceptance. In Shakespeare’s Venice the native and the alien can live together; or they can wage war. The latter is not, however, an inevitable corollary of the former.


Brinda Charry, “‘[T]he Beauteous Scarf ”: Shakespeare and the “Veil Question”’, Shakespeare 4.1–4 (2008), p. 124. 119 3¿VWHUµ7KHRULD¶S 120 Jack d’Amico, The Moor in English Renaissance Drama (Tampa: University of South Florida Press, 1992), p. 2. 121 Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 1.

Chapter 3

Merchant and Jew of Venice The entry for The Merchant of Venice in the Stationers Register (1598) and the title page of the First Quarto (1600) with its sinister emphasis on ‘the extreame crueltie of Shylock the Iew’, both suggest that, in the 1590s, a popular appetite for theatrical Jews was something that could safely be assumed by theatre managers, actors and writers. In subsequent historical periods, the Jew became the central ¿JXUHLQWKHSOD\IRUGLIIHUHQWUHDVRQV6KRXOGKHEH"-HZVZHUHDIWHUDOOLQFLGHQWDO to the powerful Christian trading empire of Venice, and Shylock is not of course the Venetian ‘merchant’ of the play’s Folio title. Jewish moneylender and Christian merchant have more often been critically counterpoised as polarized opposites, much as they see themselves in the play, inimically divided by race, religion and profession. But if Antonio is at the centre of the play, Shylock cannot be there as well. In the play’s more recent critical history, Jew and merchant have become PRUH FORVHO\ OLQNHG RU SDUDOOHOHG DV DI¿OLDWHG XQHTXDO SDUWQHUV LQ 9HQHWLDQ commercial enterprise, seen as an economic modelling of the future development of European capitalism. When Portia enters the Venetian court-room to defend Antonio, and asks: ‘Which is the merchant here and which the Jew?’ (4.1.70), she implies that the pair are prima facie indistinguishable and infers that both are absolutely equal before the tribunal of Venetian justice.1 Yet from the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Jews throughout Christendom had to be ‘distinguishable’ from Christians; and as we have seen, early modern reports on the Venetian Jews all describe the fact that they were required to wear some distinguishing dress or headgear. The play itself deploys equivalent references to Shylock’s ‘Jewish gabardine’. Clearly the play raises the question of how Shylock and Antonio are to be seen together, or in relation to one another, and critics have produced different answers to that TXHVWLRQ ,W VHHPV WR PH WKDW IRU IXUWKHU FODUL¿FDWLRQ WKH TXHVWLRQ QHHGV WR EH referred back again to the composite text assembled in the preceding chapters as the play’s great cultural intertext: ‘Venice’. The play opens by staging the Venice of early modern history, the ‘marketplace of the world’,2 the city whose ‘greatness has grown up through trade, based on navigation to different parts of the world’.3 Allusions abound to the Venetian galleys that sailed on trading expeditions ‘everywhere’, to ‘carry merchandise

1 Quotations and references from Mahood, The Merchant, and (Quarto) Patterson, The Most Excellent Historie. 2 Coryate, Crudities, p. 170. 3 Sanudo quoted Chambers and Pullan, Venice, p. 20.

Shakespeare and Venice


which they exchange and then bring back for other goods’ (p. 11). The merchant’s mind must, his friend avers, be concentrated on the fortunes of his merchandise: Your mind is tossing on the ocean, There where your argosies with portly sail /LNHVLJQRUVDQGULFKEXUJKHUVRQWKHÀRRG Or as it were the pageants of the sea, 'RRYHUSHHUWKHSHWW\WUDI¿FNHUV That curtsy to them, do them reverence, $VWKH\À\E\WKHPZLWKWKHLUZRYHQZLQJV ±

J.R. Mulryne has detected in ‘pageants of the sea’ a direct allusion to the Venetian PDULWLPH FHUHPRQLDO WKDW ERWK FHOHEUDWHG DQG DI¿UPHG WKH VWDWH¶V IRUPLGDEOH mastery of the oceans.4 Salerio’s imagery is all of preeminence and success. Venice is a market and an empire, a centre of trade and a bulwark of Christian power. The talk is all of money, trade, entrepreneurial adventure, of ships and cargoes, silks and spices, of debt and credit, risk and fortune. The Rialto is, in the play as it was in the historic Venice, the centre of the city, the focal point of exchange where commercial transactions are conducted, fortunes are made and lost; just as later in the play the court-room provides a dramatic model to test Venice’s reputation for justice and equality before the law. In the speeches of Antonio’s friends Solanio and Salerio, the audience is WUHDWHGWRDQHODERUDWHLPDJLQDWLYHVNHWFKRIKLVPHUFKDQGLVHLQLWVWUDI¿FDFURVV the oceans: the silks, spices and other luxury goods Antonio buys from the Far East and ships to Venice to be sold on the market, or transported elsewhere in Europe. Although, however, this language of merchandise is a poetry of distance DQGWUDI¿FRIFRPPHUFLDODFWLYLW\DQGWKHLQWHUQDWLRQDOFLUFXODWLRQRIFRPPRGLWLHV the character of the merchant is as remote as could be imagined from the pragmatic DFXPHQ HQWUHSUHQHXULDO GHFLVLYHQHVV DQG EXVLQHVV FRQ¿GHQFH WKDW FRXOG EH H[SHFWHGWRVWDQGDWWKHFHQWUHRIVXFKD¿QDQFLDORSHUDWLRQ,WLVKDUGWRLPDJLQHD great maritime commercial empire built by characters such as this. Antonio is not DVKDUSRSSRUWXQLVWLFFDSLWDOLVWEXWDJHQWOH¿JXUHRIPHODQFKRO\DQGVDGQHVV±QRW a thrusting entrepreneur but shy and withdrawn, not a repository of commercial FRQ¿GHQFHEXWDQLQGLYLGXDOGHHSO\LQKLELWHGE\DFRQGLWLRQRIH[WUHPHDOLHQDWLRQ He knows not why he is so sad, and unable to recognize the sadness in himself as himself, is estranged from self-knowledge: ‘I have much ado to know myself’. ,WLVRQO\LQDQHIIRUWWRFKHHUWKHLUIULHQGXSWKDW6RODQLRDQG6DOHULR¿OOLQ the social and economic context of Antonio’s business: his sadness, they suggest, must be connected with the risks of mercantile investment, where large amounts 4

‘This is not an image from the practical world of merchant venturing, with its risks and hardships, but one that draws its inspiration from the conception of experience we associate with pageantry’. Mulryne, ‘Docudrama’, p. 118. Mulryne detects a linguistic parallel between Salerio’s speech and a description of Henry III’s ceremonial entry into Venice in 1574 (pp. 112–19).

Merchant and Jew of Venice


RIYHQWXUHFDSLWDOQHHGWREHLQYHVWHGLQDQHQWHUSULVHIRULWWREHSUR¿WDEOH7KH merchant is obliged to spread his resources as widely as possible, producing the risk of over-extension if several vessels were to miscarry. We learn in the course of the play that this is precisely the kind of risk Antonio has most cause to fear, though here he discounts it as a present cause of sadness: My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate Upon the fortune of this present year; Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad. (1.1.42–5)

Later Antonio admits to Bassanio that he is genuinely over-extended: ‘Thou knowst that all my fortunes are at sea’ (1.2.177). Salerio’s explanation that Antonio’s mind really is elsewhere, ‘tossing on the ocean’ with his merchandise, could have been drawn directly from Marx’s theory of ‘commodity fetishism’. As the product of human labour is estranged from the human agent, Antonio’s humanity, his consciousness of his own existence, is projected externally onto the domain of economic behaviour, resulting in a fundamental loss of self. Solanio also suggests that Antonio’s ‘hopes’ and ‘affections’ must be invested in the arbitrary behaviour of the commodity, so by all accounts the merchant’s existence seems to consists largely of unease and distress: to be a merchant of Venice is to be at the mercy of risk, and susceptible to anxiety: to ‘fear / Misfortune’.5 :HDUHWKXVLQWURGXFHGWRWKHJUHDWFRPPHUFLDODQG¿QDQFLDOHPSLUHRI9HQLFH via a merchant who is preoccupied with anything but his merchandise, though VXFKDSUHRFFXSDWLRQZRXOGLQWKHYLHZRIRWKHUVFRXQWDVDMXVWL¿DEOHFDXVHRI VDGQHVV$WWKHKHDUWRIWKH9HQHWLDQWUDGLQJHPSLUHVWDQGVDVK\GLI¿GHQWDQ[LRXV individual, naively reliant on his own economic security, and suffering from a deep crisis of identity. Despite the efforts of his friends to link his private anxieties with KLVPDQLIHVWHFRQRPLFULVNV$QWRQLRUHVLVWVDGH¿QLWLYHPHUFDQWLOHFDWHJRUL]DWLRQRI his identity, and slides away from any attempt to place him in the position suggested by the play’s title, at the centre of Venetian economic and social life. This is all the more remarkable in that Antonio is the only member of the Venetian Christian community who is a merchant: there is no indication that Bassanio, Gratiano, Solanio, Salerio or Lorenzo live by trade, or indeed by any other kind of work. They are simply lords or ‘gentlemen’ who live easily on wealth of unexplained origin. Antonio is therefore decentred not only from himself and from Venice, but also from his own majority social group within the international Venetian community. Like Italo Calvino’s ‘Despina’, the Venice on which the play opens is not WKHVROLGWHUUD¿UPDRIDQHPSLUHRUWKHDVVXUHGDUFKLWHFWXUDODFKLHYHPHQWRID famous urban centre, but a place that only opens onto elsewhere. Venice is a port, giving access to the sea’s global trade routes, an access point to other places, a WUDQVLWVLWHIRUFLUFXODWLQJFRPPRGLWLHV+HUHWKHµPDUNHW¶LVDVSHFL¿FSODFHVXFK 5 McPherson relates Antonio’s sadness to ‘the decline of Venetian power and wealth’. Shakespeare, Jonson, p. 53.


Shakespeare and Venice

as ‘the Rialto’, but it is also a virtual realm coterminous only with the expanding boundaries of the known world. To be in this Venice is to be on the land’s edge, the mind estranged from present space and time, suspended in a liminal state between DQµLQYHVWHG¶SDVWDQGWKHKRSHGIRUSUR¿WRIDIXWXUHZKLFKLVDOVREHVHWE\WKH perpetual anxiety of risk. Here people live between the immediate security of what they have already gained, and the optimistic hyper-reality of what they hope to acquire in the future: but all security is undermined by the hazardous nature of economic enterprise. SALERIO. My wind, cooling my broth Would blow me to an ague when I thought What harm a wind too great might do at sea. I should not see the sandy hour-glass run %XW,VKRXOGWKLQNRIVKDOORZVDQGRIÀDWV And see my wealthy Andrew dock’d in sand, Vailing her high top lower than her ribs To kiss her burial. Should I go to church $QGVHHWKHKRO\HGL¿FHRIVWRQH And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks, Which, touching but my gentle vessel’s side Would scatter all her spices on the stream, Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks, And (in a word) but even now worth this, And now worth nothing? (1.1.22–36)

This vision of vulnerability depicts the wealth of trade as chronically exposed, open to the arbitrary onslaughts of wind and tide, reef and rock. Scholars have seized on the correspondence of name between Antonio’s ship and the San Andres, beached on a shoal in Cadiz Harbour, and captured by the Earl of Essex in 1596.6 But can any one GRXEWWKDW6DOHULR¶VSUHRFFXSDWLRQZLWKVKDOORZVÀDWVDQGVDQGEDQNVLVDGHSLFWLRQ of the Venetian lagoon? Or that his image of the merchant ship, laden with costly goods from the orient, stranded on a sandbank, mast fallen, sails collapsed, ‘vailing’ its ‘high top’ (‘vela’ is Italian for ‘sail’), to ‘kiss’ its own ‘burial’ is not a very early appearance of what later became the ubiquitous theme of ‘death in Venice’? Salerio’s fantasy links these images of maritime disaster and business failure to the particularities of everyday life: gales are suggested by breath cooling broth, sandbanks by the running of the hourglass. He then focuses on the church, to which the pious Christian merchant might be expected to repair in order to pray for the safety of his ventures. But the church of stone is a rock (Petrus), and rocks tear hulls. Mulryne is responsive to the costliness of this imagined loss, a ‘supremely self-defeating expenditure’,7 but then misses a crucial point in describing this vision 6 See for instance The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Russell Brown (London: Methuen, 1955, reprinted 1977), p. xxvi; and Mahood, Merchant, p. 1. 7 Mulryne, ‘Docudrama’, p. 121.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


as ‘the spectacularly grand but fruitless aspiration of dressing the trackless wastes of the sea in the robes of pageantry and civilization’. Annually (as contemporary accounts recorded), the Venetian people performed exactly such a ceremony, in the Doge’s performance of Venice’s ‘marriage to the sea’, symbolizing the republic’s mastery of, and dependence on, the circumambient oceans. The vision of costly PHUFKDQGLVH VFDWWHUHG RQ WKH ZDYHV HFKRHV WKDW P\WKRORJ\7KH VHD LV D ¿FNOH partner, and every trading nation knows that catastrophic business failure is as possible as extraordinary commercial success. In a moment wealth can dissipate to nothing, a costly cargo become utterly without value: ‘but even now worth this, / And now worth nothing’.8 Antonio’s love for Bassanio will be discussed later in relation to usury and religion. Here I want to focus on Bassanio’s speech about Portia, with its remarkable interweaving of economic, mythological and romance languages. Antonio opens the conversation in the language of courtly love, since Bassanio has sworn a ‘secret pilgrimage’ to Portia. The discourse is a highly conventional one, in which the approach to the lover is a sacred passage to a holy site, but it is also localized: Venice was a stopping place on the pilgrimage route to the Holy Land, and many early descriptions of the city originated, as we have seen, from pilgrims. Bassanio shifts the metaphor into the glamour of ancient mythology, identifying Portia as the Golden Fleece, and her suitors as so many Argonauts: In Belmont is a lady richly left, And she is fair and – fairer than that word Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages. Her name is Portia, nothing undervalu’d To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia. Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth; For the four winds blow in from every coast Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks +DQJRQKHUWHPSOHVOLNHDJROGHQÀHHFH Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos’ strond, And many Jasons come in quest of her. O my Antonio, had I but the means To hold a rival place with one of them, I have a mind presages me such thrift That I should questionless be fortunate. (1.1.160–75)


Venice was deeply aware, according to Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, of this paradox: ‘Nature and its elements were just as unstable as Fortune; the weather could change without warning; when black night fell danger increased; winters were harsh’. Venice Triumphant, p. 49. Mulryne comments that ‘the association between anxiety and trading may not be immediately obvious’, and attributes the anxiety to a discrepancy between achieved commercial success and its mere performance in pageantry and ceremonial. As I write this, in the midst of the economic crisis of 2008, where on a daily basis incalculable wealth is ‘now worth this / And now worth nothing’, this view seems at least naïve.


Shakespeare and Venice

Here Portia is less the holy shrine of a religious pilgrimage, and more the legendary object of a mythical quest. But the shift from Christian to Classical terminology foregrounds the manifest material wealth that gilds Portia’s attractiveness and lures so many Jasons to her perilous shores. If wealth is the primary objective, then Bassanio’s mythical quest or sacred pilgrimage can also be seen as a project of fortune hunting. Later in the play the ‘Golden Fleece’ is used to refer explicitly to both Portia’s fortune and Antonio’s mercantile wealth. GRATIANO. How doth that royal merchant, good Antonio? I know he will be glad of our success; :HDUHWKH-DVRQVZHKDYHZRQWKHÀHHFH SOLANIO. ,ZRXOG\RXKDGZRQWKHÀHHFHWKDWKHKDWKORVW ±

In Bassanio’s discourse, terms such as ‘worth’ and ‘nothing undervalued’ sit DPELJXRXVO\EHWZHHQPRUDOMXGJHPHQWDQG¿QDQFLDODVVHVVPHQWDQGµULFKO\OHIW¶ FDQRQO\PHDQWKDW3RUWLDLVKHLUHVVWRDODUJHIRUWXQH,QDQ\FDVHWKH¿QDQFLDO dimension of Bassanio’s discourse has already been highlighted in the preamble to this speech: ’Tis not unknown to you, Antonio, How much I have disabled mine estate By something showing a more swelling port Than my faint means would grant continuance. Nor do I now make moan to be abridged From such a noble rate, but my chief care Is to come fairly off from the great debts Wherein my time, something too prodigal, Hath left me gaged. To you, Antonio, I owe the most in money and in love, And from your love I have a warranty To unburden all my plots and purposes How to get clear of all the debts I owe. (1.1.121–33)

Here the topic of Portia is approached via an assessment of Bassanio’s own credit rating, as if his concern is not to gain a beautiful, loving and virtuous wife, but to settle all his debts by seizing upon her fortune. These debts, consisting mainly of money borrowed from Antonio, have been accumulated by a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption and display Bassanio could ill afford: ‘showing a more swelling port/than my faint means would grant continuance’. His behaviour has been ‘prodigal’ in a number of senses: he has sought to establish social status by means of borrowed funds; he has failed to secure a return on investment for his backers; and like the Prodigal Son of the New Testament, he has so far wasted the freely disbursed patrimony of his too generous surrogate parent (Antonio). What Bassanio presents to Antonio is simultaneously a business plan and a courtship

Merchant and Jew of Venice


suit: ‘means’, ‘rival place’, ‘thrift’, ‘fortunate’ can all be read in either a romance RUD¿QDQFLDOOLQJXLVWLFUHJLVWHU Critics have debated the question as to whether this subtle interweaving of romance, mythical and commercial languages should be read ironically, QHXWUDOO\ RU ZLWK D SRVLWLYH LQÀHFWLRQ ,V WKHUH QRW D QDWXUDO LQFRPSDWLELOLW\ between a courtship quest and a business venture, when, in Peter Grav’s words, µ¿QDQFLDO FRQVLGHUDWLRQV FRQVWDQWO\ XQGHUZULWH ERWK WKRXJKW DQG GHHG"¶9 Is not D PDUULDJH VRXJKW IRU ¿QDQFLDO JDLQ UDWKHU WKDQ SHUVRQDO GHYRWLRQ KRSHOHVVO\ compromised, illustrating Kiernan Ryan’s argument that here ‘an apparently civilized society is unmasked as premised on barbarity, on the ruthless priority of money values over human values’?10 Is Bassanio presented by Shakespeare as an adventurer, a fortune-hunter, almost a swindler? Is it the case, as Grav puts it, that ‘in Shakespeare’s Venice and Belmont, certainly a fundamental problem is that practically all aspects of interpersonal relationships seem tainted by the scent of money’.11,WLVLQGHHGGLI¿FXOWWRDYRLGWKDWSHUFHSWLRQRILQFRPSDWLELOLW\EHWZHHQ romantic and mercenary motivations that has dominated western culture since, in the course of the seventeenth century, the new ideal of ‘companionate marriage’ gradually replaced the dynastic and property transactions of the mediaeval and early modern period. Moreover, in the Shakespearean drama the companionate norm of free romantic choice rather than parentally arranged property settlement LVGRPLQDQWVWURQJO\DI¿UPHGLQWKHWZRSOD\VXQGHUVFUXWLQ\KHUHZKHUHERWK Portia and Desdemona choose their partners (though one has the providential blessing, the other the outraged disapproval, of her father). But ‘this is Venice’, and the cultural norms in operation are not necessarily those of Shakespeare’s England. In appealing to his relationship with Antonio, Bassanio speaks of ‘love’ and ‘money’ as aspects of the same thing: To you, Antonio, I owe the most in money and in love. (1.1.130–31)

Both Antonio’s willingness to lend or give, and Bassanio’s sense of indebtedness, can be read as direct rather than indirect expressions of love. The romantic and religious pilgrimage of courtship, and the mythologized economic quest for fortune, can be seen unproblematically as aspects of the same enterprise. In his DQHFGRWHDERXWWKHWZRDUURZV%DVVDQLRGH¿QHVWKHFRXUWVKLSSURMHFWWR$QWRQLR as analogous rather than contrary to a business enterprise, a ‘hazard’ comparable to the risk of Antonio’s mercantile ventures. A lifestyle of conspicuous display based on borrowed capital seems here to be the norm, as it was for the Elizabethan aristocracy, not the exception. There is also a religious dimension to this problem, to be discussed in more detail below, and opened up here by the use of the 9 Peter F. Grav, Shakespeare and the Economic Imperative: ‘What’s aught but as ’tis valued’? (London: Routledge, 2008), p. 92. 10 Kiernan Ryan, Shakespeare, 3rd edition (London: Palgrave, 2002), p. 20. 11 Grav, Economic Imperative, p. 84.


Shakespeare and Venice

word ‘prodigal’. In Christian terms ‘prodigal’ cannot be read simply as a negative PRUDOL]DWLRQVLQFHWKHSDUDEOHRIWKH3URGLJDO6RQLQ/XNHMXVWL¿HVWKHSURGLJDOLW\ of the child who wastes everything, rather than the unremarkable service of the child who loyally adheres to the family business. … you do me now more wrong In making question of my uttermost Than if you had made waste of all I have … . (1.1.154–6)

The parable is also of course a parallel to the great Christian narrative of fall and UHGHPSWLRQWKURXJKWKHFRVWO\VHOIVDFUL¿FHRIWKH6DYLRXUZKRJLYHVHYHU\WKLQJ via the kenosis of Incarnation and Passion. In responding to Bassanio’s needs, Antonio also speaks a language in which there is no division between love and money, purse and person, the offering of both body and goods: My purse, my person, my extremest means Lie all unlock’d to your occasions. (1.1.137–8)

In a classic essay on The Merchant of Venice, W.H. Auden emphasized the distinction between the play’s two places, Venice and Belmont: The action of The Merchant of Venice takes place in two locations, Venice and Belmont, which are so different in character that to produce the play in a manner ZKLFKZLOOQRWEOXUWKLVFRQWUDVWDQG\HWSUHVHUYHDXQLW\LVYHU\GLI¿FXOW«12

In the initial shift from Venice to Belmont, reader and spectator cannot but be conscious of difference. We move from a world of men (the only female in Shakespeare’s Venice is Jessica) to one dominated by women; and from a domain of trade to a demesne of landed property. Antonio is no more than a steward of his wealth, which has to be ventured abroad to furnish a living; while Portia, notwithstanding her subjection to masculine parental control through her father’s will, is ‘lord’ and ‘master’ of her own house, property, estate and wealth. In the traditional landed society of Belmont, family means obligation, and parental authority bears on the child even after the parents have died. Belmont is ruled by the will of the father, and steeped in the past. In Belmont, experience of the present is framed within that strong sense of responsibility to the past, and present conversation echoes the language of those who are no longer here. In Venice, there is no sense of family at all among the Christians. The Christian characters have neither fathers nor mothers, and occupy a world of nuclear individuals free from family dependence or obligation. Best not to be a father in Venice, since if you are one – Old Gobbo, or Shylock – you are likely to be abused and deserted, UDWKHUWKDQWUHDWHGZLWK¿OLDOREHGLHQFH7KLVYLUWXDODEVHQFHRIJHQHUDWLRQVDOVR strengthens the impression that Venice is a world without a past, one in which 12 W.H. Auden, ‘Brothers and Others (1963)’, in Laurence Lerner (ed.), Shakespeare’s Comedies: an Anthology of Modern Criticism (London: Penguin, 1967), p. 143.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


SUHVHQWH[SHULHQFHDQGIXWXUHDVSLUDWLRQÀRXULVKLQDURRWOHVVGLVORFDWHGPHGLXP of perpetual contemporaneity. Nonetheless, as Auden acknowledges, despite these emphatic markers of difference and differentiation, ‘Belmont is related to Venice’ (p. 143). Catherine Belsey characterizes Belmont as an alternative to Venice: ‘a refuge for eloping ORYHUV ZKR ÀHH WKH SUHFDULRXVZRUOG RI FDSLWDODQG LQWHUHVWDQG WUDGHWR ¿QG D haven of hospitality’.13 But the two locations are not discrete societies but aspects of the same one: both are Venice, although in the one, merchants trade and Jews practice usury, while in the other, cultivated gentry enjoy the sophisticated leisure of their stable landed estates. Christian Venetians move easily between the two, as Bassanio crosses to Belmont to pay suit, and Antonio is welcomed to Portia’s KRXVH 3RUWLD RQ KHU ¿UVW DSSHDUDQFH FRPSODLQV RI D µZHDULQHVV¶ WKDW SDUDOOHOV Antonio’s ‘sadness’. Antonio’s destiny is subject to the accidents of trade, while Portia’s depends on a lottery, her future husband-to-be selected by the choosing of a casket. 7KHPRVWVLJQL¿FDQWSDUDOOHOEHWZHHQ9HQLFHDQG%HOPRQWOLHVLQWKHFRQFHSWV of risk or ‘hazard’, which are continually cross-referenced across the two locations by the use of a common language. The lottery by means of which Portia’s husband is to be chosen is a game of ‘hazard’, in which both the suitor (who will either win or lose all hope of future marriage) and Portia take an enormous risk. Despite Nerissa’s assurance that the casket-choice is providential, guaranteed to reconcile accident and design and deliver the ‘right’ suitor, the play cannot be staged without some sense of Portia’s being exposed to the random caprice of arbitrary chance. Suppose the wrong suitor chooses rightly? Just as, in Venice, people are called upon to risk everything, whether that is their capital on the seas, or their wealth in a loan to a needy friend, so in Belmont both heiress and suitors risk everything on repeated throws of the proverbial dice. ‘The uncertainty of the merchant profession’, observes Platt, ‘is connected to the uncertainty of the quest for Portia: both involve ventures and hazards’.14 The ‘prodigality’ seen in Bassanio is matched by the motto inscribed on the leaden casket: ‘who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath’. The other caskets tempt with promises of desire and deserving; what men want to own, or what they feel they are owed. The leaden casket invites risk, urges us to hazard everything in a complete and costly self-surrender. Bassanio’s choice could be said to enfold the romantic idealism of Belmont with the economic risk-taking of Christian Venice: the lady and the Golden Fleece, the treasure-laden argosy with portly sail, prove in this culture to EHLQGLVWLQJXLVKDEOHREMHFWVRIGHVLUH$V*UDYSXWVLWDFRPPRQ¿VFDOODQJXDJH VHUYHVWRµHVWDEOLVKFRPPRQJURXQGEHWZHHQWKHZRUOGVRI¿QDQFHDQGURPDQFH between Venice and Belmont’.15 ‘This is Venice’, nor are we out of it.

13 14 15

Catherine Belsey, ‘Love in Venice’, Shakespeare Survey 44 (1991), p. 41. Peter Platt, Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), p. 76. Grav, Economic Imperative, p. 97.


Shakespeare and Venice

Auden makes an interesting distinction between Venice and Belmont in terms of their respective treatments of time. Though we are not told exactly how long the period is before Shylock’s loan must be repaid, we know that it is more than a month. Yet Bassanio goes off to Belmont immediately, submits immediately on arrival to the test of the caskets, and has just triumphantly passed when Antonio’s letter arrives to inform him WKDW6K\ORFNLVDERXWWRWDNHKLPWRFRXUWDQGFODLPKLVSRXQGRIÀHVK%HOPRQW in fact, is like one of those enchanted places where time stands still. (p. 143)

,Q9HQLFHWLPHH[HUWVDUHDODQGWDQJLEOHSUHVVXUHRQKXPDQH[LVWHQFHVLJQL¿HG clearly by the time limits placed on loans, and the chronological computation of interest. In Belmont, time seems alternately to stand still, or to move forward abruptly through symbolic moments such as a suitor’s exercise of choice. In a world dominated by ritual, time is discontinuous rather than linear. In a moment, one is transformed from hopeful suitor to disappointed loser, or, in the fortunate Bassanio’s case, to triumphant winner. In Belmont, stage time is occupied by the rituals devised around moments of choosing (such as the long speeches of Morocco DQG $UDJRQ  %HIRUH DQG DIWHU GLVDSSHDU LQWR LQVLJQL¿FDQFH RU UDWKHU UHVROYH into timeless states of unchangeable being – hopeful, then forever disappointed; aspirant, then eternally happy. For a moment, at least. Portia would like to delay the moment of Bassanio’s choosing to put off the inexorable moment of decision: I pray you, tarry, pause a day or two Before you hazard … I would detain you here some month or two Before you venture for me. (3.2.1–2, 10–11)

Here Portia tries to cheat destiny by switching the clock from Belmont to Venice time: from a time in which the moment of choice splits the world inexorably into lost past and achieved (or unachieved) future; to a time of days and hours, in which delay can seem to create freedom by deferring decision, but in which the clock of destiny is always inexorably ticking. Belmont time must progress by seismic upheavals, abrupt discontinuities in linear process. Later, in the trial-scene, as we shall see, Portia substitutes Belmont time for Venice time: the temporal dimension of ritual and magic, of sudden transformations and rites of passage, is imposed upon the clock-bound world of Venetian law and commerce. Once again the distinction between Venice and Belmont collapses. It is only in Shylock’s world that time proceeds by uninterrupted linear progression, essential for the careful counting of days and months, for the purposes of calculating interest and determining the dates for foreclosure on loans. For the Venetian Christians, time proceeds as it does in Belmont, qualitatively rather than quantitatively, by quantum leaps of discontinuity rather than gradual progression, because their time is dominated by risk and hazard. The Venetian merchant lives between the dislocated states of immediate success, future anticipation and the danger RI DEVROXWH GLVDVWHU H[DFWO\ DV GR WKH URPDQFH ¿JXUHV RI IDLU\WDOH %HOPRQW

Merchant and Jew of Venice


$QWRQLR¶VSUHFLSLWDWHFROODSVHIURP¿QDQFLDOVHFXULW\LQWREDQNUXSWF\DQGSHULORI his life is the sort of thing that happens in both Venice and Belmont. 7KH WKLUG VFHQH RI $FW , FRPSOHWHV WKH SOD\¶V WULSDUWLWH FRQ¿JXUDWLRQ E\ introducing, alongside the merchant of Venice and the heiress of Belmont, Shylock, WKH-HZRI9HQLFH)URPKLVYHU\¿UVWZRUGVµWKUHHWKRXVDQGGXFDWV¶±6K\ORFNLV presented unmistakably as a Venetian moneylender: a Jew, who lends money at interest, by open, legalized dealing, on security of property or person, and whose VHUYLFHV DUH VXI¿FLHQWO\ QHFHVVDU\ WR 9HQHWLDQ &KULVWLDQV WR PDNH RQH RI WKHP wait patiently, or impatiently, for his answer. Shylock does not seek out Christian business or society: the Venetians come to him. Bassanio is nettled by what he takes to be a slight against Antonio: SHYLOCK. Antonio is a good man. BASSANIO. Have you heard any imputation to the contrary? (1.3.11–12)

Shylock’s riposte is a characteristic remark: My meaning in saying he is a good man is to have you understand me that he is VXI¿FLHQW ±

Moral virtue or worth of character is none of his business: he is concerned only ZLWK$QWRQLR¶V¿QDQFLDOµVXI¿FLHQF\¶&ULWLFVKDYHIUHTXHQWO\GHVFULEHG6K\ORFN¶V manner of speech as painstakingly literal, insistently repetitive, always careful to spell out meaning with punctilious exactness. In fact Shylock continually ‘uses’ language in a double sense, employing pun and wordplay to generate multiple perspectives. His initial use of ‘good’ seems to mean admirable, trustworthy, and even likeable. But he has no intention of offering such a judgement on Antonio: despite the fact that much of the merchant’s capital is known to be already at sea, he is ‘good’ for the loan. Marc Shell calls this feature of Shylock’s discourse ‘verbal usury’, the manipulation of language to produce an excess of meaning that can make for ambiguity or ambivalence of speech.16 Under pressure from Bassano’s eagerness, Shylock’s equilibrium is shaken, and angrily he voices a language of racial exclusiveness: Yes, to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet, the Nazarite, conjured the devil into. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. (1.3.27–30) 16

Marc Shell, Money, Language and Thought: Literary and Philosophical Economies from the Medieval to the Modern Era (Berkeley: University of California Press), p. 49. Shell’s argument depends in part on puns (‘use’, ‘ewes’, ‘Iewes’) that are evident only typographically, not aurally, so would not function in the theatre.


Shakespeare and Venice

This manifesto of cultural difference prepares the way for Antonio’s entrance, and IRU6K\ORFN¶V¿UVWPDMRUVSHHFK±PDUNHGE\DVKLIWIURPSURVHWRYHUVH±LQZKLFK he expresses the complex inter-relations of race, religion and economics: SHYLOCK. [Aside] How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian; But more, for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis, and brings down The rate of usance with us here in Venice. If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. He hates our sacred nation, and he rails Even there where merchants most do congregate, On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift, Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe If I forgive him! (1.3.33–44)

:LWKLQWKH¿UVWIHZPLQXWHVRIKLVVWDJHSUHVHQFH6K\ORFNVHHPVKDYHDQVZHUHG fully to all the anti-Semitic stereotypes of the Middle Ages, within which the -HZV ZHUH FRQFHLYHG RI DV WKH PXUGHUHUV RI -HVXV DV LQ¿GHOV ZKR VWXEERUQO\ resisted the revelation of God in Christ; as miserly and anti-social, mercenary and treacherous (every Jew being a Judas); as evil, associated with the devil; and as capable of sacrilegious atrocity such as the abduction and ritual cannibalism of Christian children.17 Shylock is preoccupied with money and sees his relations to other people as FRQVLVWLQJRI¿QDQFLDOWUDQVDFWLRQV+HDGRSWVDQDWWLWXGHRIH[FOXVLYHQHVVLQKLV social and domestic life, shunning contact with those regarded by his religion as ‘unclean’. He hates all Christians, and particularly Antonio, out of a mixture of cultural and economic animosities. The vindictive malice that comes to the surface on Antonio’s entrance – ‘If I can catch him once upon the hip, / I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him’ – forms the subtext of the ‘merry bond’, and hints at the Jews’ legendary reputation for cannibalism. The later comparison of human and animal meat in terms of relative market values may also provoke the idea that both can be fed on. $SRXQGRIPDQ¶VÀHVKWDNHQIURPDPDQ ,VQRWVRHVWLPDEOHSUR¿WDEOHQHLWKHU $VÀHVKRIPXWWRQVEHHIVRUJRDWV ± 17 In this respect The Merchant of Venice has been read in diametrically opposite ways: by James Shapiro as effectively (not necessarily intentionally) anti-Semitic, and by Martin Yaffe as pro-Jewish but anti-Shylock. Adjudicating these interpretations, Thomas Luxon concludes that ‘Shakespeare lends his astonishing imaginative power to support some very sophisticated and elaborate versions of Protestant anti-Jewish polemic’. Thomas H. Luxon, ‘“A Second Daniel”: The Jew and the “True Jew” in The Merchant of Venice’, Early Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (1999), p. 37.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


When Shylock greets Antonio with ‘Your worship was the last man in our mouths’ (1.3.53), the expression raises the haunting spectre of Jewish cannibalism.18 At the same time it is readily apparent that Shylock is being constituted by RWKHUVLQWRWKLVDUFKHW\SDO¿JXUHUDWKHUWKDQIRUPLQJWKDWLGHQWLW\IRUKLPVHOIRU rather that his dramatic role is shaped by an energy of resistance, rather than from an instinct of self-fashioning. He appears as the calculating usurer because that is the social function assigned to him by Bassanio, just as it was for the Jews of 9HQLFHQHHGHGEXWRI¿FLDOO\GHVSLVHGE\WKH&KULVWLDQPDMRULW\7KH&KULVWLDQGRHV not show to advantage in this exchange. Bassanio is borrowing unscrupulously to satisfy his needs, but it is another, Antonio, who ‘shall become bound’. Bassanio is trying to seal a commercial transaction between the Jewish usurer and a Christian merchant who very publicly takes a very high moral stand against usury. Antonio did, it is true, urge his friend to use the full capacity of his credit, which should be ‘racked to the uttermost’, an image of torture which lies uncomfortably between Shylock’s resentment and Antonio’s hatred. But for Bassanio to act as middleman and to place Antonio in the position of indebtedness to Shylock is, to say the least, compromising. In the light of this Christian unscrupulousness and hypocrisy, Shylock’s obduracy can be interpreted as a legitimate resistance to the pressures exerted on him by men who would rather have nothing to do with him. When Shylock accepts Antonio’s surety – ‘I think I may take his bond’ – Bassanio responds indignantly: ‘Be assured you may’. Shylock’s reply: ‘I will be assured I may’ is masterly in its double entendre. Bassanio means ‘reassured’, while Shylock is looking for what we would now call ‘insurance’, security of his capital. Is this Christian civility and enthusiasm pitted against Jewish calculation and malice, or the resistance of a persecuted minority to the high-handed hypocrisy of those who despise and yet wish to make use of their services? The invitation of Shylock to dinner also seems hypocritical, obviously aimed at placating the usurer and facilitating the deal. Shylock responds with DQ DI¿UPDWLRQ RI UDFLDO DQG UHOLJLRXV H[FOXVLYHQHVV WKDW LV FRQVRQDQW ZLWK WKH traditional stereotype and yet is also perfectly consistent with the multi-cultural constitution of Venice, in that it permits independent private belief and custom in the context of an open involvement in, and compliance with, the general conditions of social life. Exclusiveness is applicable to certain private activities – (‘I will buy with you’) but not to others (‘I will not eat with you’). This balance of commonality and difference was of the very essence of the republic’s culture

18 This myth seems even more bizarre when we consider that Jewish religious life ZDVYHU\PXFKFHQWUHGRQDQLPDOVDFUL¿FH DVFOHDUO\VWLSXODWHGE\WKHVWRU\RI$EUDKDP DQG,VDDF ZKLOH&KULVWLDQLW\UHLQWURGXFHGWKHQRWLRQRIKXPDQVDFUL¿FHYLDWKH(XFKDULVW Shell makes a parallel point: ‘The apparent commensurability between persons and purses that this enactment reveals turns out to be more typical of Christian law, which allows human beings to be purchased for money, than Jewish justice and practice, which disallow it’. Money, p. 55.


Shakespeare and Venice

of tolerance, as it is of any multi-cultural society. The only alternatives in such a hybrid community would be total segregation, or compulsory integration: the tyranny, or the abolition, of difference. Shylock’s hatred of Antonio is expressed in personal, economic, racial and religious terms. Antonio is enveloped in a history of persecution and resistance. Antonio, claims Shylock ‘hates our sacred nation’, thus Shylock must hate him in return as a racial and religious duty: ‘Cursed be my tribe / If I forgive him’. %\ UHIHUULQJ WR -HZV DV ERWK µQDWLRQ¶ DQG µWULEH¶ 6K\ORFN LGHQWL¿HV &KULVWLDQ animosity as ethnic hatred; but the tribe is also ‘sacred’, so there is also a religious dimension to the reciprocal dislike. Shylock never shows any sign of a wish to ‘Judaize’, to convert gentiles to Judaism, but the Christians are unceasingly determined, both in jest and in earnest, to see Shylock undergo a forced conversion to Christianity. The position is exactly that revealed in Thomas Coryate’s dialogue with the rabbi in the Ghetto. Within their protected ‘Jewish space’, the Jews are permitted their own religious beliefs and forms of worship, and are more than happy to converse with Coryate on matters of Christian theology. But Coryate’s evangelical zeal, and refusal to acknowledge any validity at all in Judaism, drives them to anger. While the Jew acknowledges Jesus as a true prophet, though not divine, the Christian insists on bullying the Jew into an acceptance that without conversion he faces eternal damnation. The exchange sounds less like a contest EHWZHHQLQ¿GHOLW\DQGWUXWKDQGPRUHOLNHDVWDOHPDWHEHWZHHQUHDVRQHGIDLWKDQG EOLQG ELJRWU\ 1HLWKHU WKH ¿FWLRQDO$QWRQLR QRU WKH UHDOOLIH &RU\DWH FRXOG HYHU accept that there might be legitimate differences of racial and ethnic culture, and of religious belief, in a multi-cultural society. Antonio does not restrict his hostility to verbal and physical abuse, but extends it into business dealing: He lends out money gratis, and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. (1.3.36–7)

Antonio has not of course become rich by lending out money gratis, but has presumably, through such acts of deliverance, cemented relationships with other business men, who would then perhaps join him in commercial partnerships and merchant ventures, all sharing proportionately in the same risk. Shylock the -HZLVKXVXUHULVNHSW¿UPO\RXWVLGHWKLVQHWZRUNDQGVXFKLQWHUYHQWLRQVGDPDJH his business. Antonio’s strategic undermining of Shylock’s legitimate business dealing, coupled with the physical and verbal violence he publicly displays to Shylock, amounts to persecution. The public slights offered to the Jew may be aimed primarily at his business (‘my moneys and my usances’) but they take the form of personal insults and racial indignities (‘spit upon my Jewish gabardine’). Shylock endures, for ‘sufferance is the badge of all my tribe’. That ‘badge’ is also ZRUQDVDPDQGDWRU\VLJQL¿HURI-HZLVKQHVVLQLWLDOO\LQ9HQLFHD\HOORZFLUFOH later the red hat or yellow turban. Far from denying these allegations of racial violence, Antonio threatens to continue his campaign of victimization.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too (1.3.123–4)

Clearly, Shylock is looking out for an advantage over Antonio, but it is the latter ZKR¿UVWLQWURGXFHVWKHLGHDRID¿QDQFLDOWUDQVDFWLRQVHDOHGLQHQPLW\UDWKHUWKDQ friendship: ANTONIO. If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not As to thy friends, for when did friendship take A breed for barren metal of his friend? But lend it rather to thine enemy, Who if he break, thou mayst with better face Exact the penalty. (1.3.124–9)

The basis for Antonio’s hatred is of course a moral distinction between different kinds of business dealing that in a modern capitalist economy would be very hard to separate. Shylock is a usurer: that is, he lends money, on security of property RUSHUVRQIRUD¿[HGWHUPZLWKLQWHUHVWDFFUXLQJIURPWKHGDWHRIWKHORDQ,QWKH event of forfeiture the usurer keeps the property, or has legal purchase on the person (e.g., by imprisonment for debt). Usury is clearly proscribed by passages in the Old Testament (Exodus and Leviticus), while Deuteronomy gives conditional permission: ‘Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother … Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury’ (23:19–20). The debate on usury acted out in The Merchant of Venice deploys these traditional ethical and religious objections, derived from Aristotle’s Politics and the Old Testament. Antonio regards usury as immoral and detestable, and would never practice it himself. Christians also lend money, as does Antonio, and presumably would expect to get it back (or they would be bankrupt themselves). In practice, such lenders added a premium to the principal at the end of the loan, as distinct from charging interest from the moment the loan is taken out. The GLVWLQFWLRQ EHWZHHQ WKHVH WZR IRUPV RI ERUURZLQJ VHHPV D YHU\ ¿QH RQH WRGD\ (though Muslim banks still operate in the latter way to avoid ‘usury’, forbidden by Islam). Today in the Western capitalist economy, there is no moral distinction EHWZHHQ XVXU\ DQG VSHFXODWLRQ EHWZHHQ ZKDW ZH ZRXOG QRZ FDOO ¿QDQFH DQG venture capital. When Antonio challenges Shylock to lend him money, not in friendship but in enmity, he echoes the Aristotelian objection to usury, that money being a ‘barren’ thing should not breed more money, but also use Shylock’s own Judaic tradition to persuade him to grant the loan: … when did friendship take A breed for barren metal of his friend? But lend it rather to thine enemy …

As Shylock is forbidden by Jewish law to lend to a friend, then let him lend to Antonio as to a stranger.


Shakespeare and Venice

7KH EXVLQHVV RI WKH PHUFKDQW LV LGHQWL¿HG ZLWK XQLYHUVDO IULHQGVKLS WKDW RI WKH XVXUHU ZLWK HQPLW\7KH IRUPHU LV UHJDUGHG DV GLVLQWHUHVWHG DQG VHOÀHVV WKH ODWWHU JUDVSLQJ DQG VHO¿VK7KH H[FKDQJH RI PRQH\ IRU JRRGV LV VHHQ DV DQ activity that enriches not only the merchant, but the life of the community as a whole: fertilizing, enriching, fruitful; while the exchange of money for money is VHHQDVVWHULOHZDVWHIXOSUR¿WOHVV6K\ORFN¶VGHIHQFHRIXVXU\LVFRXFKHGLQWKH form of a parable, using the story of Jacob and Laban’s sheep, which he reads as justifying commercial opportunism and the generation of an ‘excess’ for the investor comparable to the interest the usurer takes from loans. Antonio rejects this argument, insisting that this was ‘a venture Jacob served for’, in other words a venture entailing risk, and subject to the arbitrement of chance or providence. Thus to Shylock, Jacob is the archetypal usurer, to Antonio an embryonic merchant capitalist. Both opponents read the same scripture to produce different meanings justifying their respective commercial practices. In general critics have accepted that Antonio and Shylock can be thought of as counterparts rather than opposites, both representing an activity essential to the growth of the capitalist economy, at its most advanced in the Venice of Shakespeare’s time. Though they are business rivals and competitors, enemies RI WUDGH DQG ¿QDQFLDO GHDOLQJ WKH\ DUH LQ PDQ\ ZD\V YHU\ PXFK DOLNH /LNH Shylock, Antonio dislikes masques and feasting. In a carefree and pleasure-loving society, he pays a sad part. His melancholy, his loneliness, his sense of difference and isolation, all set him apart from his own society and link him to his mighty opposite, Shylock. Antonio is isolated from the community of Christians, not least by his sexuality. His initial sadness is clearly linked to his love for Bassanio (it is said of him that he ‘only loves the world for him’, 2.8.50). He is not a lover of women, and is pointedly left out of the general celebrations of marriage at the play’s conclusion. When in the opening scene Antonio and Bassanio have been left alone by the other characters, Antonio offers himself to Bassanio in naked though equivocal language: ‘My purse, my person, my extremest means / Lie all unlock’d to your occasions’. ‘Purse’ and ‘person’ are both commercialized and sexualized, the lover ¿JXUHGDVDULFKVRXUFHDQGGLVEXUVHURIVHPHQ µSXUVH¶ VFURWXP DQGPRQH\7KH extremities of both body and wealth are offered unstintedly to the loved one, both willingly opened, ‘unlocked’, for the other’s penetration. Antonio offers himself in an unreserved commitment to a friend whose heterosexuality will clearly direct his emotional life elsewhere. As a homosexual man, Antonio is again linked with Shylock. In the Divina Commedia Dante placed usurers and sodomites in the same circle of hell, on the basis that both sins represented an ‘unnatural’ way of doing a ‘natural’ thing. It is natural to create wealth and prosper, but unnatural to make money breed money; it is natural for sexual opposites to combine in procreation, but unnatural for members of the same sex to combine in unproductive intercourse. Othello compares his marriage to Desdemona to a bargain:

Merchant and Jew of Venice


The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue; 7KDWSUR¿W¶V\HWWRFRPH¶WZHHQPHDQG\RX ±

The usurer forces money to breed unnaturally, and the sodomite wastes his seed in a barren transaction between similitudes. In both cases the ‘natural’ method RIFRPELQDWLRQSURGXFHVDWKLUGWKLQJRIIVSULQJRUSUR¿WZKLOHWKHµXQQDWXUDO¶ SURGXFHV QRWKLQJ QHZ RU GLIIHUHQW 7KH µSUR¿WOHVV XVXUHU¶ RI WKH Sonnets is of course the homosexual male lover. In two passages of reported action, closely juxtaposed within a single scene, (2.8), these two characters are polarized into a dialectical relationship of identity and opposition: SOLANIO. I never heard a passion so confused, So strange, outrageous, and so variable, As the dog Jew did utter in the streets: ‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! the law! my ducats and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, Of double ducats, stolen from me by my daughter! And jewels – two stones, two rich and precious stones, 6WROHQE\P\GDXJKWHU-XVWLFH¿QGWKHJLUO She hath the stones upon her and the ducats’. (2.8.12–21) … SALERIO. A kinder gentleman treads not the earth. I saw Bassanio and Antonio part: Bassanio told him he would make some speed Of his return: he answered ‘Do not so. Slubber not business for my sake, Bassanio, But stay the very riping of the time; And for the Jew’s bond which he hath of me, Let it not enter in your mind of love. Be merry, and employ your chiefest thoughts To courtship, and such fair ostents of love As shall conveniently become you there.’ And even there, his eye being big with tears, Turning his face, he put his hand behind him, And with affection wondrous sensible He wrung Bassanio’s hand; and so they parted. (2.8.36–50)

The loss, in each case, of wealth and affection, is identical. Having eloped with a Christian, Jessica is lost to her father, and a share of his wealth with her. Antonio is committing the equivalent of all his wealth to assist Bassanio into a relationship which will inevitably introduce estrangement into their accustomed intimacy. The merchant and the usurer are polarized into a diametrical opposition, which suggests both analogy and difference. If we read the comparison in terms of


Shakespeare and Venice

RSSRVLWLRQ ZH ¿QG D GLVWLQFWLRQ EHWZHHQ D PDQ ZKR SXWV ORYH RQ D OHYHO ZLWK money (‘My ducats and my daughter’), who cannot separate human from material ORVVDQGDPDQZKRKDYLQJDOUHDG\JLYHQLQ¿QDQFLDOWHUPVHQRXJKWRUHQGHU him vulnerable to bankruptcy, and having yielded up his lover to the embraces of DZRPDQFDQ\HW¿QGLWSRVVLEOHWRJLYHPRUH And yet the relationship between Antonio and Bassano, expressing itself through giving and indebtedness, is just as clearly framed in economic terms as that between Shylock and Jessica. Love and money are equally closely interconnected. The witnesses who report these twin cameos invoke them as representing a clear moral difference between Shylock ‘the dog Jew’ and Antonio, than whom ‘a kinder gentleman treads not the earth’. But the play’s poetic language does not endorse this absolute distinction, suggesting a more telling parallelism. Both men are isolated, culturally and sexually, in their grief. The usurer exposes himself to the humiliation of Christian Venice; the sodomite turns his back on his friend, to hide his unmanly sorrow, but also to offer the other man the reverse ‘extremity’ of his body. A later scene shows Shylock standing his ground against Christian mockery in a Venetian public place, which he then converts with the help of fellow-Jew Tubal, into a recognizably Jewish space analogous to the Venetian Ghetto: SHYLOCK. Why there, there, there, there! A diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfurt! The curse never fell upon our nation till now, I never felt it till now. Two thousand ducats in that, and other precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear; would she were hearsed DWP\IRRWDQGWKHGXFDWVLQKHUFRI¿Q1RQHZVRIWKHPZK\VR"$QG,NQRZ not what’s spent in the search. Why, thou loss upon loss – the thief gone with so PXFKDQGVRPXFKWR¿QGWKHWKLHIDQGQRVDWLVIDFWLRQQRUHYHQJHQRUQRLOO luck stirring but what lights o’ my shoulders; no sighs but o’ my breathing; no tears but o’ my shedding! (3.1.66–76)

As a Tedeschi Jew, Shylock clearly has business connections in Germany and has bought precious stones in Frankfurt. We have no means of knowing whether these were for his own personal use, like the turquoise ring given to him by his wife Leah, or simply investments in portable property convenient for itinerant traders. Venice was certainly a centre of the jewellery trade, and the wealth of gems visible there often remarked by travellers and visitors. Here Shylock’s share of the Venetian treasury has been stolen from him, but by his own daughter, so his recourse to legal redress is virtually non-existent. In his despair he utters one of those great lines of Jewish lament for which the play is famous: ‘The curse never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it till now’. Personal bereavement and ¿QDQFLDOORVVDUHOLQNHGWRDZKROHKLVWRU\RIUDFLDOH[SURSULDWLRQDQGSHUVHFXWLRQ The two Jews talk of Antonio’s losses at sea, so cementing Shylock’s plan of revenge against the merchant closely to the loss of his daughter. At the end of the scene the Jews agree to meet again at ‘our synagogue’, a phrase which, I have

Merchant and Jew of Venice


suggested above, could assume the knowledge that there were several places of ZRUVKLSLQWKH9HQHWLDQ*KHWWRDQGUHIHUVSHFL¿FDOO\WRWKHscola grande tedeschi. We know of course that the plays do not mention the Ghetto, but in an earlier scene Shylock clearly describes his dwelling as a place set apart, with its own separate culture and ambience: What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica, Lock up my doors, and when you hear the drum $QGWKHYLOHVTXHDOLQJRIWKHZU\QHFN¶G¿IH Clamber not you up to the casements then Nor thrust your head into the public street To gaze on Christian fools with varnished faces; But stop my house’s ears – I mean my casements – Let not the sound of shallow fopp’ry enter My sober house. (2.5.27–35)

6K\ORFNZDVQHLWKHUWKH¿UVWQRUWKHODVWSHUVRQWRIHDUWKHGDQJHURXVGLVVLPXODWLRQ of the Venetian mask, and he is surely right to distrust the covert intrigue that hides behind the raucous merriment of carnival. Just as the Venetian Ghetto provided a separate Jewish space, so Shylock hopes to close the interior of his ‘sober house’ against the dangerousness of the world outside. The scene comparing the grief and loss of Shylock and Antonio is separated by Bassanio’s choice of caskets from a parallel scene, showing Antonio already arrested at Shylock’s suit, and under conduct of his gaoler. Just as Shylock and Tubal are free to occupy the public spaces of Venice, although their true racial, cultural and religious ‘home’ is elsewhere, in a place apart (the Ghetto), so Antonio here has only temporary freedom of the streets, since his new residence is the debtor’s prison. As Shylock was subjected to Christian abuse, so Antonio now HQGXUHV6K\ORFN¶VHWKQLFDOO\LQÀHFWHGDQLPRVLW\ I’ll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool, To shake the head, relent, and sigh, and yield To Christian intercessors! (3.3.14–16)

Just as Shylock seeks the refuge of the Jewish quarter and its synagogue, so Antonio seeks a resolution of his plight in his religion, graphically envisaging for himself the lineaments of martyrdom, the heart torn out of his body as in contemporary executions for religious treason: These griefs and losses have so bated me 7KDW,VKDOOKDUGO\VSDUHDSRXQGRIÀHVK To-morrow to my bloody creditor. (3.4.32–4)

Here, as later more explicitly in the trial-scene, Antonio offers himself in a supreme VDFUL¿FHZKLFKSDUDOOHOVWKH&KULVWLDQ5HGHPSWLRQWKHVDFUHGKHDUWGHOLYHUHGRYHU to discharge the debt of sin:

Shakespeare and Venice


… he repents not that he pays your debt. For if the Jew do cut but deep enough I’ll pay it instantly with all my heart. (4.1.275–7)

Faced with Shylock’s implacable enmity and his insistence on Antonio’s performance of his contract, the merchant is forced to acknowledge that the Jew has both personal FDXVH DQG FRPPHUFLDO ODZ RQ KLV VLGH 6K\ORFN LV MXVWL¿HG LQ KDWLQJ $QWRQLR because Antonio has systematically sabotaged his perfectly legal business: ANTONIO. Let him alone. I’ll follow him no more with bootless prayers. He seeks my life, his reason well I know: I oft delivered from his forfeitures Many that have at times made moan to me; Therefore he hates me. (3.3.19–23)

In itself, of course, such business interference may be unfair, even unethical, but it is not criminal, and would certainly not incur the death penalty. Salerio think the Doge will inevitably set the contract aside, since it is so clearly unreasonable and disproportionate; but as Antonio points out, more is at stake here than his own life and liberty: SALERIO. I am sure the Duke Will never grant this forfeiture to hold. ANTONIO. The Duke cannot deny the course of law; For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, ’Twill much impeach the justice of the state, 6LQFHWKDWWKHWUDGHDQGSUR¿WRIWKHFLW\ Consisteth of all nations. (3.4.26–31)

This much-quoted passage serves as a judicial and commercial manifesto for Venice. The very basis of the city’s survival, let alone its wealth and prosperity, is international trade. It is in the best interests of that international trade that members of other nations should be able to stay and practice their business safely and unhindered: Nick Potter calls this ‘the commodity that “strangers” have to promote the circulation of commodities’.19 If the Doge were to show manifestly unfair preference to a Christian Venetian, then the justice of the state would be compromised, ‘impeached’, revealed as a sham, and the Venetian economy would suffer in consequence. In terms of commercial law and contract, Shylock’s position is, at this point in the play, unassailable and protected. 19

Potter in Holderness, Potter and Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History, p. 163.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


It is indeed the principle of legal equality, constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens of Venice irrespective of race, colour or creed, that enables Shylock to pursue his barbaric suit as far as he does. It is, as Nick Potter pointed out, a ‘cruel paradox’ that the laws of Venice permit equally, to all individual citizens, freedoms which can then be used to deprive other citizens of that same freedom, or even of life itself: As Thomas notes, the condition of ‘libertee’ stretches even to those who ‘beleeuest in the diuell’ … What happens when the guarantee of ‘libertee’ protects those who want to deprive others of their ‘libertee’?20

In the trial scene, Portia refers to the suit as ‘strange’, a word that combines the meanings of unusual, disturbing and alien. But the equity of Venetian law appears (initially at least) to protect the ‘stranger’, the alien, even in the pursuit of a manifestly ‘strange’ suit. Notwithstanding this glancing reference to Shylock’s status as an alien, which clearly becomes much more important later in the trial, Portia in her guise as a lawyer is careful to maintain the semblance that she views the combatants with an impartial eye, seeing not a Christian merchant and a Jewish usurer, but two individuals who are wholly equal before the law. 7KH'RJHDVSUHVLGLQJMXGJHGRHVQRWDW¿UVWVLJKWVHHPTXLWHVRHYHQKDQGHG since he refers to Antonio by name (‘What, is Antonio here?’) and to Shylock as ‘the Jew’ (‘Go one, and call the Jew into the court’). He also deploys the loaded word ‘strange’, characterizing Shylock’s behaviour as alien, in addition to peculiar: Shylock, the world thinks, and I think so too, That thou but lead’st this fashion of thy malice To the last hour of act, and then, ‘tis thought Thou’lt show thy mercy and remorse, more strange Than is thy strange apparent cruelty. (4.1.17–21)

The Doge invites Shylock to renounce his position as a ‘stranger’, and to enter the moral consensus of Christian Venice: And where thou now exacts the penalty, – :KLFKLVDSRXQGRIWKLVSRRUPHUFKDQW¶VÀHVK Thou wilt not only loose the forfeiture But, touch’d with human gentleness and love, Forgive a moiety of the principal, Glancing an eye of pity on his losses, That have of late so huddled on his back, Enow to press a royal merchant down And pluck commiseration of his state )URPEUDVV\ERVRPVDQGURXJKKHDUWVRIÀLQW From stubborn Turks, and Tartars, never train’d 7RRI¿FHVRIWHQGHUFRXUWHV\ We all expect a gentle answer, Jew. (4.1.23–34) 20

Ibid., p. 162, quoting William Thomas, History, p. 83.


Shakespeare and Venice

If Shylock could be touched by the universal values of ‘human gentleness and love’, in observing the merchant’s losses, he would be prepared not only to ‘lose the forfeiture’, but even to cancel part of the original debt. Business failure and ¿QDQFLDOORVVDUHSRVVLELOLWLHVIRUDOO9HQHWLDQVZKRVKRXOGWKHUHIRUHV\PSDWKL]H with one another and share their reciprocal misfortunes. Such compassionate empathy could be avoided only by those outside the Christian community, such as ‘stubborn Turks’, Muslims who have no instinct of Christian mercy and forgiveness. As an inhabitant of Christian Venice, though a Jew, Shylock is offered SDUWLFLSDWLRQLQWKHEHQH¿WVRILWVFLYLOL]DWLRQ The corollary, however, is that Shylock’s failure to concur must mark him out DVDQRXWVLGHUDQLQ¿GHOZKROLNHWKHVWXEERUQ7XUNVWDQGVRXWVLGHWKH&KULVWLDQ community of human gentleness and love. If Shylock is not merely pretending to pursue the suit to its inevitably fatal end, then his motives are clearly those of a hostile alien. The closing line of the Doge’s appeal contains a decisive pun: We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.

µ*HQWOH¶ LV LGHQWL¿HG ZLWK µ*HQWLOH¶ WKH -HZ LV FKDOOHQJHG WR JLYH QRW MXVW D ‘merciful’ but a Christian answer to the court’s appeal. Shylock does not make the trial into a clash of religions, but the Christian characters do. Each time Shylock is invited to join the Christian community and subscribe to its values, the discourse of invitation can be read as a reminder of his unequal cultural status. ‘How shalt thou hope for mercy’, asks the Duke, ‘rendering none?’ Shylock’s reply – ‘What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong?’ – maintains the legal terminology, but seems to polarize Jewish law against Christian forgiveness, an opposition prominent in the later Christian gospels, and thereby to accede to the transfer of the question from the realm of justice to that of belief. If mercy is conceived of as the dominant value of Christianity, then the Duke is offering Shylock an unacceptable Christian solution to the problem. In addition the Duke shows a sensitivity to Antonio’s losses that is not extended to Shylock’s; and urges the usurer to transgress his own commercial ethics by cancelling the loan altogether. Shylock tries to ignore religion as irrelevant to the matter in hand, and adheres tenaciously to the validity of his contract, asserting his rights to claim restitution from the defaulting debtor, and consulting the document itself (the ‘bond’) on more than one occasion. The contract was freely entered into by Antonio, and Venice protects Shylock’s rights as the injured party. SHYLOCK. I have possessed your Grace of what I purpose, And by our holy Sabaoth have I sworn To have the due and forfeit of my bond. If you deny it, let the danger light Upon your charter and your city’s freedom! (4.1.35–9)

Merchant and Jew of Venice


Although here at the outset, Shylock claims to have taken an oath ‘by our holy Saboath’ (Hebrew for ‘the hosts of heaven’, or perhaps an error for ‘Sabbath’). He does not refer at all thereafter to his Judaism, even though his Jewishness is D FRQVWDQW SUHRFFXSDWLRQ RI WKRVH ¿OOLQJ FRXUWURRP DURXQG KLP +H PDNHV QR mention of the damage he has sustained at Antonio’s hands, by the undermining of his business interests and the humiliation of his person, and does not refer to the abduction of his daughter and the theft of his property, even though he is asked to explain his animosity towards Antonio. You’’ll ask me why I rather choose to have $ZHLJKWRIFDUULRQÀHVKWKDQWRUHFHLYH Three thousand ducats. I’ll not answer that – But say it is my humour: is it answered? (4.1.39–43) … So can I give no reason, nor I will not, More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing I bear Antonio, that I follow thus A losing suit against him. Are you answered? (4.1.59–62)

Shylock admits to personal animosity, but refuses to give any explanation for it, though were he to do so, the Doge would have to either support him, or declare racial persecution valid in Venice. Shylock suppresses the whole question of motive and with it the wider issues of race and economics that have generated the DFWLRQLQWKH¿UVWSODFHDQGIRFXVHVH[FOXVLYHO\RQKLVERQG$OOKHDVNVIURPWKH court is that his contract be upheld. This is Shylock’s legal strategy, and it is an intelligent one, given the judicial context. Though he is proceeding on the basis of a law that offers universal protection, Shylock does so from the position of a ‘stranger’ rather than that of a citizen of Venice. If you deny it, let the danger light Upon your charter and your city’s freedom. (4.1.37–8) «,I\RXGHQ\PH¿HXSRQ\RXUODZ There is no force in the decrees of Venice. I stand for judgment. Answer: shall I have it? (4.1.101–3)

Shylock speaks not of his own charter, his own city’s freedom or law, but of someone else’s: your charter, the freedom of your city, your law. In other words, Shylock is fully aware that this is not a simple application of the law to a contractual dispute, as it would be if the parties were fully equal Venetian citizens, but a test case which stretches the tolerance of the law to its full extent. An alien is claiming legal compensation from a Christian, so the demand for universal equality is launched from a position of cultural subjugation that in turn denies the equality claimed. Despite his continual iteration of the legal argument – the contract has been breached and the penalty is forfeit – this is a Jew seeking redress from a Christian court. Once again Shylock has accepted the negative valuation of himself implicit in the Venetian constitution, and clearly recognizing the Duke’s


Shakespeare and Venice

overtures as detrimental to both his interests and his political identity as a Venetian Jew and moneylender, willingly assumes the categorization of alien that lies as a threat behind the offer of inclusion in civil society. As we have seen, the Doge regards Antonio as a fellow citizen, and the Jew as an alien who displays marked features of the legendary vices of his race: DUKE. I am sorry for thee; thou art come to answer A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, Uncapable of pity, void and empty From any dram of mercy. ANTONIO. I have heard Your Grace hath tane great pains to qualify His rigorous course; but since he stands obdurate And that no lawful means can carry me Out of his envy’s reach, I do oppose My patience to his fury, and am armed To suffer with a quietness of spirit The very tyranny and rage of his. (4.1.3–13)

Antonio sees himself as having innocently come within reach of Shylock’s diabolical snare (‘his envy’s reach’), and deprived of legal remedy, can only invoke the saintly virtues of patience and ‘quietness of spirit’. In the course of the SURFHHGLQJV6K\ORFNIXO¿OVWKHFODVVLFUROHRIWKHGHYLOLVKVFKHPLQJYLQGLFWLYH bloodthirsty Jew. Though this is not a trial, Antonio stands on trial like Christ before Pilate, offering to lay down his life for a friend. Ecce homo. The legendary hard-heartedness of the Jews goes back to early Christian polemics in which they were characterized as stubborn, stiff-necked, refusing to accept the clear revelation of redemption in Christ; and of course manifestly cruel in their torturing and H[HFXWLRQRI-HVXV7KHWULDOVFHQHORFDWHV6K\ORFN¿UPO\LQWRWKLVDQWL6HPLWLF tradition. Shylock rejects Christian salvation, even echoing the notorious bloodlibel from the gospel of St Matthew (‘His blood be upon us, and upon our children’) when he says ‘My deeds upon my head!’. He appears as the mercenary usurer, and as the betrayer, having tricked $QWRQLRLQWRWKHÀHVKERQG+HLVDVVRFLDWHGLQMHVWDQGHDUQHVWZLWKWKHGHYLO DQG KLV SODQ LV QRW MXVW WR NLOO$QWRQLR EXW WR ULWXDOLVWLFDOO\ FDUYH RXW KLV ÀHVK in an obscene sacrament that recalls all the bizarre fantasies of Jews murdering Christian children to sprinkle their blood on the Passover bread. Shylock’s cruelty is also a kind of forced conversion of Antonio, as James Shapiro has shown, a circumcision, taking literally what St Paul says about circumcising the heart rather than the body. Another version of the same idea from the possible source The Orator   VKRZV WKH -HZ FDOFXODWLQJ KLV SRXQG RI ÀHVK DV WKH ZHLJKW of the Christian’s ‘privie members’, ‘supposing that the same would altogether weigh a just pound’. Circumcision by extension becomes castration as well

Merchant and Jew of Venice


DVULWXDOPXUGHU7KHODQJXDJHXVHGE\6K\ORFNEHIRUHWKHÀHVKERQGZDVVHDOHG± ‘I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him’ – now comes home in its interweaving of Old Testament language and imagery, the Mosaic Law, vengeance, cannibalism DQG ULWXDO PXUGHU 6K\ORFN WKH -HZ LV DWWHPSWLQJ WR UHVWDJH WKH &UXFL¿[LRQ His offences are the legendary crimes of his race. ‘His blood be upon us, and upon our children’. But of course Shylock is not a Jew from a mediaeval Passion Play: he is the Jew of Venice. Though not a citizen of Venice, his profession is an integral part of the Venetian economy, and he can amass substantial wealth. He can openly profess his ethnic identity as a Jew, and openly practice his faith, worshipping in his synagogue. Above all, he can claim the same legal right to enforce his side of a contract as could any Venetian citizen. An. The Duke cannot deny the course of law …

The apparent universality of Venetian justice in practice permits Shylock to VWDQGIRUMXVWLFHDJDLQVWWKH'RJHWKH0DJQL¿FRHVWKHHQWLUH&KULVWLDQPHUFKDQW community. In the course of the play’s action Shylock is permitted to speak on behalf of what we would now regard as basic human rights and liberties: freedom of conscience and faith, the rights to equality, dignity and respect. He is placed in a position where he is able to expose Christian hypocrisy, and to confer dignity on Judaic culture and tradition, as when he speaks of the ring given to him by his betrothed, Leah. He pronounces a striking and unheard-of challenge to slavery, and upholds the cosmopolitan law of Venice (‘Venice the Just’) that was so much admired at the time. Why is it then that the so-called ‘trial’ scene, though technically not a trial of Antonio, becomes a genuine trial of Shylock? How is it that this modern liberal state, renowned for its tolerance, produces from its HTXLWDEOHDQGWROHUDQWOHJDOSURFHVVHVWKH¿JXUHRIDGHPRQL]HGPHGLDHYDO-HZ" 7KURXJKRXW WKH ¿UVW KDOI RI WKH WULDO 6K\ORFN LV FRQWLQXDOO\ DVVXUHG WKDW KH is an equal in the eyes of the law and is continually offered the opportunity of renouncing his suit and embracing the common values of Venetian civilization. But the offer is invariably couched in the language and imagery of the dominant Christian culture, which appears unwilling to embrace Shylock’s otherness, and concede true equality to his alien status. He would be acceptable only as a Christianized Jew, in effect a ‘Marrano’ who is prepared to renounce his race, religion and beliefs along with his legal action against Antonio. This undercurrent of racial inequality is forcibly accentuated by the continual current of racial abuse WKDW ÀRZV TXLWH XQFKHFNHG E\ WKH SUHVLGLQJ OHJDO DXWKRULWLHV IURP $QWRQLR and Gratiano: ANTONIO. I pray you, think you question with the Jew … You may as well do anything most hard As seek to soften that – than which what’s harder? – His Jewish heart. (4.1.70, 78–80)


Shakespeare and Venice GRATIANO. Not on thy sole, but on thy soul, harsh Jew, Thou mak’st thy knife keen. But no metal can, No, not the hangman’s axe, bear half the keenness Of thy sharp envy. Can no prayers pierce thee? (4.1.123–6) … O, be thou damn’d, inexecrable dog, And for thy life let justice be accused! (4.1.128–9)

Portia, as the lawyer Balthasar, seems to propose exactly the same solution, and to speak the same language: ‘Then must the Jew be merciful’. She also seems to cite the opposition between Judaism and Christianity as religions respectively of justice and mercy. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation … . (1.4.193–6)

If she is speaking here of Christian salvation, then the Jew can scarcely expect to SDUWLFLSDWHLQLWVEHQH¿WVDQG3RUWLDZRXOGEHSURSRVLQJWKHVDPHVROXWLRQDVWKH Doge: that Shylock renounce his Jewish faith as well as giving up his suit. But ‘tarry a little’. By using the phrase ‘none of us’, Portia enfolds Shylock into a common Judaeo-Christian family. The language of justice, mercy and salvation LVRQO\D&KULVWLDQODQJXDJHEHFDXVHLWZDV¿UVWRIDOOD-HZLVKRQH7KH&KULVWLDQ ideas of human depravity and grace invoked here by Portia, though extensively theorized by St Paul, are derived from the Old Testament. ‘Salvation’ is just as important in Judaism as in Christianity, though it means something different. The importance of mercy as a counterweight to inexorable justice pervades the Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian; one of the most insistent themes of the Old Testament is the continual cry of Israel to God for undeserved forgiveness. Thus Portia’s offer to Shylock is an ecumenical one, synthesizing the values of Judaism and Christianity into a common ethical language: PORTIA. The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway. It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself, And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

Merchant and Jew of Venice


When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. (4.1.180–96)

‘My doctrine shall drop as the rain, and my speech shall still as the dew, as the shower upon the herbs, and as the great rain upon the grass’ (Deut. 32.2). The ‘mercy’ invoked here is as Jewish as it is Christian. Portia appeals to a common Judaeo-Christian intercession when she says: ‘we do pray for mercy, / And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render / The deeds of mercy’. The Paternoster or Lord’s Prayer was of course based on Jewish prayers such as the Kaddish and Shema, and Portia’s words here have an exact counterpart in the apocryphal book of Sirach: One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man, which is like himself: and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins? (Ecclesiasticus 28.4–5)

This great speech on the quality of mercy, so often read as a Christian manifesto to challenge Jewish legalism, draws also on Deuteronomy and Ecclesiasticus, the Hebrew scriptures, where God’s mercy ‘drops as the rain’, ‘distils as the dew’ (Ecclesiasticus 35.20–1; Deuteronomy 32.2). It is the Jewish concept of rachamim she is celebrating, as much as the Christian concept of mercy.21 Portia’s speech takes us to the very heart of the play, and to the centre of the dramatic action. This is the point of no return, in which Shylock genuinely has the opportunity to put a stop to his suit, draw back and agree to the court’s terms. He has a real choice, because the solution proposed draws on his own religious and cultural traditions as well as those of his Christian opponents. At this point Shylock has the option of releasing his captive and thereby showing more magnanimity than the slave-owning Venetians, who have no intention of manumitting their purchased slaves. He could renounce his claim to the forfeited loan, and thereby prove that money is not of supreme importance to him. He could emerge victorious from the legal process, enriched by the compensation Bassanio offers, and show himself morally superior to his enemy Antonio, by returning mercy for hatred. All this could be achieved without any need to renounce his faith or yield up his right to be treated equally by Venetian commercial law. Shylock could leave the courtroom as a victor. Nothing would protect him from a resurgence of ethnic hatred, but his position in Venice, and the protection Venice is obliged to afford him, would be more, rather than less, secure as a consequence of that moral victory.

21 M.M. Mahood notes the ‘Hebrew resonance’ here, and cites Psalm 143.2 and Eccles. 28.2.


Shakespeare and Venice

Once Shylock goes past this point, he has lost the game. He could remain ‘the Jew of Venice’, but he prefers to lapse back into a demonized identity as the Jew of Matthew’s Gospel: My deeds upon my head! ‘His blood be upon us, and upon our children’. (Matthew 27.25)

This invocation of the notorious blood-libel is usually understood as Shylock reverting to type, or revealing that ingrained Jewish enmity that has never been very far from the surface in his speech and behaviour. But given the context, we can see this as Shylock choosing to assimilate to the atavistic demonic identity rather than assume that of the liberal modern citizen offered by Portia. Shylock has the opportunity to seize control of the action and to reverse its story of inveterate Jewish enmity pitted against Christian hatred. But he passes up that opportunity, and Portia has no choice but to proceed to give him the ‘law’, the ‘justice’, he asks for. Portia leads Shylock almost to the point of Antonio’s death, with her assurance that his suit is legally unassailable, and then with her famous injunction to pause – ‘Tarry a little’ – produces a devastating dramatic reversal, which sets the action spinning off in a completely opposite direction. The law still gives Shylock the right to exact his penalty: but other statutes render the exaction of the penalty a criminal offence. These laws, unlike the law protecting the cosmopolitan freedom of commercial exchange, are designed to protect the Venetian citizen against the hostile actions of racial and cultural outsiders: 7DNHWKHQWK\ERQGWDNHWKRXWK\SRXQGRIÀHVK But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods $UHE\WKHODZVRI9HQLFHFRQ¿VFDWH Unto the state of Venice. (4.1.304–8)

The subsequent directive to cut off no more than ‘a just pound’ seems to be part RI WKH VDPH ODZ SURWHFWLQJ &KULVWLDQ ÀHVK DJDLQVW WKH QRQ&KULVWLDQ HQHP\7R subvert the law that treats all men equally, Portia invokes a law designed explicitly to treat them unequally. If the situation were reversed, the Jew would not by the same law be protected against the Christian. Finally, Portia reveals her bottom-line defence of Antonio, which is a conspiracy law targeted directly at the outsider: It is enacted in the laws of Venice, If it be proved against an alien That by direct or indirect attempts He seek the life of any citizen, The party ’gainst the which he doth contrive Shall seize one half his goods, the other half Comes to the privy coffer of the state, And the offender’s life lies in the mercy Of the duke only, ’gainst all other voice.

Merchant and Jew of Venice


In which predicament I say, thou stand’st; For it appears by manifest proceeding That indirectly, and directly too, Thou hast contrived against the very life Of the defendant; and thou hast incurred The danger formerly by me rehearsed. (4.1.344–57)

The ‘trial’ thus begins with a deadlock of competing economic interests, in which there is no rational appeal beyond the validity of contract, and in which the protection afforded to contract by Venetian law binds the judicial authorities in a helpless subjection to the most literal legalism. Shylock’s position as an alien is DFNQRZOHGJHGEXWLVQRWSHUPLWWHGWRLQÀXHQFHKLVULJKWVDVDVXLWRU7KH'RJH appeals to Shylock on the basis of a universal morality, where the dominant values are mercy and forgiveness, and offers Shylock the opportunity of incorporation into a harmonized political economy where Jews would rationally forfeit their legal rights in the interests of the public good, and into a Christian ethical world of reciprocal forgiveness and mutual sympathy. Shylock’s refusal of this offer – a resistance in which the determined fundamentalism of religious faith and the stubborn reality of economic forces are joined – renders this solution unacceptable. Portia offers Shylock an entirely different solution, by drawing on the intertwined traditions of Judaism and Christianity and inviting Shylock to acknowledge that what Jews and Christians have in common can transcend the accidents of their mutual opposition. Even though, as the denouement of the trial demonstrates, Portia is fully capable from the outset of exposing the true criminality of Shylock’s proceeding, the Jew could at that point have been amply compensated in exchange for his cancellation of the contract. Having failed in the attempt at incorporation, Portia openly proceeds to use the power of Christian nationalism against him. Underlying the operational multi-culturalism of that cosmopolitan Venetian law, which Shylock believed would facilitate the judicial murder of Antonio, lies a legal structure designed to protect Christian Venice against aliens. It is within the harsh scope of this inequitable justice that Shylock has placed himself. The preceding discussion is not an exercise in what used to be called ‘character-criticism’, though it attributes to the characters motives inferred from their dramatic language and stage actions. Nor is it purely a piece of dramatic criticism, though it is based on theatrical possibilities implicit in the script and available for exploitation by the actors. It is rather an essay in cultural criticism, in that it presupposes as the basis of the play’s poetic medium a complex and sophisticated understanding of Venice as cultural intertext. Thus for instance I do not see The Merchant of Venice as a play which, like Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, reproduces in any simple way the stereotypes and prejudices of mediaeval anti-Semitism, though they are undoubtedly at work in the play. Nor should it be read simply as a satirical or sardonic critique of Venetian Christian culture, though it casts a harsh light on many aspects of Christian behaviour. Shakespeare’s Venice is a genuinely cosmopolitan and multi-cultural society in which differences of belief, behaviour, custom and morality are broadly tolerated. Like the Venice of

Shakespeare and Venice


sixteenth-century report, Shakespeare’s city is composed of a plurality of individuals who are distinguished by difference, and notwithstanding Venice’s legendary UHSXWDWLRQIRUVRFLDOXQLW\GRQRWQDWXUDOO\FRKHUHLQWRDXQL¿HGFRPPRQZHDOWK The play shows that this kind of multi-cultural society is a possibility, but one of a fragile and vulnerable kind, whose stability is threatened by the very tolerance and liberality that characterize its openness and variety, and facilitates its economic success. People are theoretically free to do what they want, and in this case what one person wants is to effect the death of another. The alien, the foreigner, the Jew, is accepted in this Venice, accorded his own space, and permitted his own customs and cultures within that space. Nevertheless, he is not allowed, either by Venetian law or by the comic morality of the play, to commit a criminal act that would be as much an offence by the commandments of his own morality, as it is in the ethical code RIWKRVHZKRMXGJHKLP7KHPLQRULW\¿JXUHKRZHYHUVXEVWDQWLDOKLVJULHYDQFHV cannot be permitted to exact a violent retribution against the majority. Critics who defend Shylock, whether via a sympathetic reading of his role in the play, or out of a respect for the terrible history of Jewish persecution, tend to darken the conditions provided for the Jews in Venice and to ignore the real disproportion between the largely verbal violence offered to Shylock by some members of the Christian majority, and the intent to commit judicial murder that comes within Shylock’s grasp, and which he seems fully prepared to pursue. For instance McPherson says of the Venetian Jews: The ignominy of wearing special clothing, being locked in segregated quarters at night, and being virtually prevented from practising all trades but one, would have made hatred like Shylock’s understandable.22

Is it ‘understandable’ for a man who has been spat on to retaliate by cutting out his assailant’s heart?23 Shakespeare’s analysis of Venice in The Merchant clearly exposes the µP\WK¶RIWKHOHJHQGDU\FLW\DVD¿[HGDQGVWDEOHVRFLDOXQLW\,KDYHSUHYLRXVO\ rehearsed some of the arguments common in criticism of The Merchant of Venice to the effect that the play’s resolution, in which the tables are turned on Shylock and the threatened Christian majority emerges victorious, calls into question the ‘myth’ of Venice as a haven of liberty, tolerance and equality before the law. As Peter Platt puts it, In the myths of Venice that Shakespeare would have encountered, la Serenissima … helps to evaporate tensions, resolve contradictions and stabilize boundaries. Shakespeare’s Venetian plays are sceptical of such harmony … .24 22

McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, p. 66. The issue of ‘proportionality’ is paramount in the current (January 2009) devastating attack by Israel on the Palestinian population of Gaza, a retaliation for years of smaller (but deadly) terrorist attacks from Hamas. 24 Platt, Paradox, p. 58. 23

Merchant and Jew of Venice


However, this not necessarily a wholly negative scepticism. The co-existence of a SOXUDOLVWLFDQGPXOWLHWKQLFSRSXODWLRQLVDQRWRULRXVO\GLI¿FXOWPRGHORIFRPPXQLW\ to achieve and maintain. It survival depends on strict toleration of difference, which PD\RUPD\QRWHQWDLOPXWXDOUHVSHFWRUDI¿QLW\,WGRHVQRWUHTXLUHWKHHOLPLQDWLRQ of difference (such as forced conversion of Jews), which would be contrary to its dominant values; but neither can it permit the cultivation of difference to the point where a minority is able to exercise unreasonable and arbitrary power over the majority culture, or vice versa. Members of the majority may express their hatred of the minority, but they are not legally allowed to trespass on minority rights to security of person. If Antonio were to follow up his verbal abuse by attempting to remove Shylock’s heart, he would probably be tried and executed, as was Gabriel Emo, the Venetian captain who perhaps thought he could get away with an act of piracy against the Turks.25 Similarly the liberty allowed to an ‘alien’ such as a Jew cannot be extended to the visiting of violence on a Venetian Christian. Shakespeare’s Venice is not, pace Richard Sennett, a repressive state in which the ethnic minority is forced to exist in a condition of cruel subjugation. It is a society where freedom of expression is tolerated, even when such expression gives voice to racial animosity. Both Christians and Jews in this Venice are able to trade insults of the kind now subsumed under the Orwellian term ‘hate crime’. However, such a commonwealth depends absolutely on compromise, negotiation, and pragmatism. It is perpetually vulnerable and exposed to the kind of self-assertion that breaks the fragile unity of a republic founded in reciprocal tolerance between citizen and VWUDQJHU:KHQWKLVKDSSHQV9HQLFHPXVWUHWDOLDWHRUDOORZLWVHOIDQGLWVGH¿QLQJ culture of tolerance, to be destroyed. Contarino makes this clear: There cannot be a multitude without the same bee in some vnitie contained; the ciuill society … will be dissolued, if the multitude become not one by some measure of reason.

The unity must remain one even at the cost of some diminishment of multiplicity. It could be argued that the punishment of Shylock shows no ‘measure of reason’ but is rather an arbitrary lashing out of retributive justice against an alien who has threatened the majority social group. But it should be remembered that the punishment – partial dispossession and forced conversion – is proportionate to the crime Shylock attempted against Antonio’s life. Shylock’s life, though legally forfeit to the state and vulnerable to the ultimate penalty of capital punishment, is spared and pardoned. 7KH ¿QDO VFHQH RI The Merchant of Venice LV RIWHQ UHDG DV D ÀDJUDQW demonstration of the power that has defeated Shylock, celebrating restoration, reconciliation and unity. All the Christian characters return to Belmont from Venice, as the Venetian merchants, in Dudley Carleton’s sour observation, forsook trade for landed property and gentility of status. Identity is restored, disguises thrown off, the cast is organized predominantly into heterosexual couples, marriage aligning 25

Chambers and Pullan, Venice, pp. 95–7.

Shakespeare and Venice


WKHPLQWRDQRUGHUO\FRQ¿JXUDWLRQ%XW3RUWLDDUFKLWHFWRI6K\ORFN¶VVXEMXJDWLRQ is not by any means in a triumphant frame of mind. PORTIA. That light we see is burning in my hall. How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. (5.1.89–91)

Still thinking of Belmont as her own house (later she adjusts this to ‘our house’, 139) Portia appropriates the candle as a symbol of her own recent action in redeeming Antonio from her husband’s debt. Fynes Moryson tells a story he hears about an image of the Blessed Virgin: ‘A Merchant of Venice saued from shipwracke, by the light of a candle in a dark nighte, gaue by his last will to this Image, that KLVKHLUHVIRUHXHUVKRXOG¿QGDZD[HFDQGOHWREXUQHEHIRUHWKHVDPH¶26 Portia too is the ‘little candle’ (recalling perhaps her opening phrase, ‘My little body is aweary of this great world’, 1.2.1–2) shining brightly in a world of unrelieved GDUNQHVV:K\VRPRGHVWDFHOHEUDWLRQRIKHUDFKLHYHPHQW"3RUWLDUHWXUQVWR¿QG her house occupied by other people, and her own status as an independent woman surrendered to a husband. Triumph is underscored by melancholy and loss: NERISSA. When the moon shone we did not see candle. PORTIA. So doth the greater glory dim the less: A substitute shines brightly as a king Until a king be by, and then his state Empties itself, as doth the inland brook Into the main of waters. (5.1.93–7)

Portia’s entry into the state of marriage is anticipated as an eclipsing of her powers by the ‘king’ (‘lord’ and ‘governer’) to whom she has entrusted and committed herself and her previous status. As soon as the ‘king’ arrives, on Bassanio’s return, KHUSHWW\EULJKWQHVVZLOOIDGHLQWRLQVLJQL¿FDQFHKHUDXWKRULW\ZLOOµHPSW\LWVHOI¶ as a stream disappears into the sea, or as the River Brenta empties itself into the Venetian waterways. ‘When they go to Venice’, notes Coryate, ‘they passe downe the Riuer secundo cursu; when they returne they goe DGXHUVRÀXPLQH’.27 In this community, power is relative, not autonomous. Social groups intersect with one another, as the Venetian canals transect the city. On this archipelago of islands, no man is an island. By echoing the theme of kenosis, of self-emptying, Portia aligns herself with Antonio, the merchant who gave everything for his friend, and with Shylock, the usurer who has had everything stripped from him. All Venetians share the same differences. 26 27

Moryson, Itinerary, p. 79. Coryate, Crudities, p. 157.

Chapter 4

Moor and Whore of Venice The ‘Venetian’ credentials of Othello DUHDW¿UVWVLJKWOHVVFRQYLQFLQJWKDQWKRVH of The Merchant of Venice. Most of the action of Othello does not even take place in Venice, but rather on Cyprus, which was formerly a Venetian possession but by WKHWLPHRIWKHSOD\¶VFXUUHQF\ZDV¿UPO\LQWKHKDQGVRIWKH2WWRPDQ7XUNV7KXV Othello forlornly or ironically reprises an earlier history of Venetian success, when the republic bravely fought off the Turkish threat, in a time when that success had already long since been reversed. While The Merchant of Venice deals with VSHFL¿FDOO\9HQHWLDQPDWWHUVRI¿QDQFHUDFHSROLWLFDOIUHHGRPUHOLJLRXVOLEHUW\ and civil law, Othello can be read as a domestic tragedy of jealousy and betrayal, of a kind relatively independent of time and place. In addition, as I suggested above, Shylock’s ethnicity and religion, his Judaism, are far more thoroughly and explicitly contextualized into Venice than is Othello’s cultural identity, which is often regarded as of that generalized character typical of Renaissance approaches to Africa and Africans, at best ambiguous on questions of ethnic origin and religious faith. There is no detailed adumbration of Othello’s cultural background, as there is of Shylock’s Judaism. Finally, in terms of dramatic language and poetic texture, there is much more Venetian detail on the surface of The Merchant than is evident in the case of Othello. Every scene of The Merchant needs to be imagined and dramatized in a Venetian house, or street; on the Rialto or in the synagogue; in DSDOD]]RRUDVWDWHFRXUWURRP9HQLFHLWVHOIDVWKHVRXUFHRI¿QDQFLDODQGSROLWLFDO systems, of ethical conventions, of social mores, continually sets the scene around the characters and the action, providing a shaping and informing context for the human comedy. Much of Othello can by contrast seem relatively placeless. Here the forensic instruments of tragedy penetrate deeper into the individual consciousness, closer into the territory of relationship, further into the strange twilight world of human misunderstanding. Here the social environment seems to UHFHGHLQVLJQL¿FDQFHOLNHWKHWKUHDWIURPWKH7XUNLVKQDY\DVWKHSV\FKRORJLFDO ZDOOVFORVHDURXQGWKHGRRPHGFRXSOHDQGWKH¿QHO\GUDZQFRQWRXUVRIKXPDQ feeling come into ever closer and more revealing focus. In fact, Othello FDQ EH OLQNHG DV OHDVW DV ¿UPO\ DQG FORVHO\ WR WKH9HQHWLDQ cultural intertext as can The Merchant, if not more so. The play’s entire story is derived, with unusual completeness, from Geraldi Cinthio’s Heccatomithi, published in Venice in 1566. The seventh of this collection of novellas provides the plot of Othello, being the tale of a Moorish Captain who is duped by his ‘Ensign’ into suspecting his Venetian wife, and eventually murders her. The plot of the play turns on Venice’s wars with the Turks, and the fate of the disputed territory of Cyprus, which lies of course in the eastern Mediterranean, then deep inside the space of Ottoman power, ‘in the middest’, as Richard Knollys wrote in his


Shakespeare and Venice

General History of the Turks, ‘of the sworne enemies of the Christian religion’.1 James I was particularly interested in Turkish history and published a poem Lepanto (1591) commemorating the famous Venetian victory over the Turks. Knollys’s General History of the Turks was dedicated to James. In addition, Shakespeare was probably indebted to Thomas’s Historie of Italy and to Lewkenor’s translation of Contarino’s De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorum for Othello, as he was for The Merchant of Venice. This strongly coloured Venetian context suggests that the cultural intertext of Venice may be deeply implicit in the poetic texture of the tragedy of Othello, and no less constitutive of its meaning than the more obvious and explicit Venetian allusions that formally articulate The Merchant to its primary urban source. If this is the case, then the Venetian subtext needs to be excavated by a more searching analysis of the dramatic and poetic text of Othello. I will deal initially with those aspects of the play that have been uncontroversially received as deriving from the Venetian context and then go on to suggest some less familiar lines of inquiry. Othello is, as both the titles of the printed editions and the entry in the Stationer’s Register acknowledges, the ‘Moor of Venice’, a coupling recognized by many scholars as a contradiction, in that a Moor could be ‘in’ Venice but not ‘of’ it. When, near the end of the play, Othello claims to have ‘done the state some service’, the assertion links him to Venice but also separates him from it. He has assisted, from the outside, a state that is not wholly his, of which he is not a citizen. ‘Othello may serve Venice and be devoted to it, but he is not “of” it’.2 Othello thinks of himself, and the play thinks of him, as something other than a ‘Venetian’. In this respect he can be compared with Shylock, who claims access to legal and political institutions and processes (‘your charter’, ‘your city’s freedom’) that are nonetheless not his. Othello certainly thinks of himself as an outsider. But his status within the political and social systems of Venice is very high indeed. As we have seen, the Venetians preferred to appoint foreign mercenary generals to lead their armies, wishing to avoid any confusion of political and military power. The Venetians, said Contareno, ‘held it a better course to defend their dominions … with foreign mercenary soldiers, than with their homeborn citizens’. As Norman Sanders observes, not even Othello’s most hostile critic, Iago, ever questions his right, as a non-Venetian, to command, and admits he is the best general available to meet the Turkish threat: ‘Another of his fathom they have none / To lead their business’. Desdemona’s father Brabantio,who shares Iago’s racism, has nonetheless clearly considered Othello ‘only as a distinguished soldier’,3 until by marrying his daughter he brings the alien Other too close for comfort. So far, yet no further: Brabantio may love Othello and often invite him to his house as an honoured

1 Richard Knollys quoted in Platt, ‘Mervailouse Site’, p. 138. Cyprus is still of course partitioned into Greek and Turkish enclaves. 2 Potter, Holderness, Potter and Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History, p. 193. 3 Sanders, Othello, p. 11.

Moor and Whore of Venice


guest, but he draws the line at the prospect of his daughter’s ‘miscegenation’ with a man of colour. Modern readings of Othello tend to presuppose that the ‘Moor of Venice’ must have an inevitably subaltern relationship with the Republic, a relationship that in some way parallels European and American slavery and imperialism. ‘Othello can be colonized by Venice’, writes Virginia Mason Vaughan, ‘but he can never become wholly Venetian’.46XFKUHDGLQJVLQHYLWDEO\HQFRXQWHUGLI¿FXOWLHVLQQHJRWLDWLQJ the fact that Othello clearly occupies, in Venice, a position of acknowledged and XQTXHVWLRQHGOHDGHUVKLS+HNQRZVKHLVVDIHIURP%UDEDQWLR¶VRI¿FLDOFRPSODLQWV on account of his proven value to the Republic: My services which I have done the signiory Shall out-tongue his complaints.(1.2.18–19)5

Othello traces his lineage from ‘men of royal siege’, of high rank and status, and it is his marriage to Desdemona that has placed him within the power of those he clearly regards as his inferiors: But that I love the gentle Desdemona, I would not my unhoused free condition 3XWLQWRFLUFXPVFULSWLRQDQGFRQ¿QH For the sea’s worth. (1.2.25–7)6

Othello’s status, embodied in his achievements and abilities as a successful mercenary soldier, is independent of Venice, but acknowledged by Venice. This individual and autonomous identity as a ‘condottiere’ or soldier of fortune is of more value to him than ‘the sea’s worth’, a phrase usually understood to refer to the lost treasures of the sea-bed, but in the Venetian context more likely to allude to the fabulous wealth accessible to Venetian merchants from maritime trade. In his own eyes Othello is not only not subject to Venice, he is superior to it; and that assertion is only endorsed by Venice’s manifest valuing of his military abilities. Iago of course regards Othello, or claims to regard Othello, from a racist perspective as member of an inferior caste, bestial, vicious, degenerate. Brabantio echoes his racism, asserting that Othello cannot be allowed to get away with his abduction of Desdemona, as this would indicate a usurpation of Venetian sovereignty by a racial inferior: If such actions may have passage free Bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be. (1.2.98–9)


Vaughan, Othello, p. 22. Quotations from Sanders, Othello, and (Quarto) Murphy, The Tragoedy of Othello. 6 The Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice also claims nobility (2.1.6) and LQVLVWVWKDWKLVSRVLWLRQLQDQLQWHUQDWLRQDODULVWRFUDF\UHQGHUVKLPHOLJLEOHIRUDKLJKSUR¿OH interracial marriage: ‘I do in birth deserve her’ (2.7.32). 5


Shakespeare and Venice

The authority of Venetian government is associated nationalistically with Venetian HWKQLFLW\ WKUHDWHQHG KHUH E\ WKH VSHFWUH RI XQGXH LQÀXHQFH ZLHOGHG E\ RQH RI ORZHUFDVWHDQGUHOLJLRXVLQ¿GHOLW\µ3DJDQ¶PXVWLQWKLVFRQWH[WPHDQDVLWRIWHQ means, ‘Muslim’.7 But the views of Iago and Brabantio do not truly represent Othello’s real value to Venice. Apart from the fact that they speak, in any case, out of personal animosity, their insular nationalism and racism are clearly out of line with Venice’s multi-cultural constitution, and certainly out of line with the strategic prioritities of actual Venetian statesmen confronted by the threat of a Turkish invasion: DUKE. Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you Against the general enemy Ottoman. (1.3.48–9)

7KH7XUNLVKÀHHWLVDWKUHDWWRQDWLRQDOVHFXULW\DWKUHDWDJDLQVWWKDWUHOLDQFHRQ protection of person and property implied by Brabantio when he says: This is Venice; My house is not a grange. (1.1.106–7)

Brabantio enjoys an urban security quite different from the exposed vulnerability of the ‘grange’, the country manor. Later he issues an order to alert the ‘speciall 2I¿FHUVRIQLJKW¶  8 responsible for policing Venice through the hours of darkness. The threat from the Turks is ‘general’, affecting all Venetians, but only the ‘valiant Othello’ has the capability of meeting it. Othello is familiar with the IRUWL¿FDWLRQVRI&\SUXV ODWHUZHVHHKLPLQVSHFWLQJWKHµZRUNV¶ DQGE\UHSXWDWLRQ KHLVWKHFRPPDQGHUEHVW¿WWHGWRGHIHQGLWµ7KHIRUWLWXGHRIWKHSODFH¶VD\VWKH Duke, ‘is best known to you’; and even though there is a perfectly good local RI¿FHULQSODFHµRSLQLRQ«WKURZVDPRUHVDIHUYRLFHRQ\RX¶2WKHOORFDQRQO\ be described as smug when he pulls rank on Brabantio by observing that he is urgently needed in ‘some present business of the state’, and if he is arrested: +RZPD\WKH'XNHEHWKHUHZLWKVDWLV¿HG" 

Although the Duke allows time for Brabantio’s complaint to be heard and listens to both Othello and Desdemona arguing that she should accompany her husband, he is clearly irritated to impatience by the encroachment of private disputes onto weighty matters of state. Desdemona talks of her request as something of political 7 Shakespeare’s Henry IV, speaking of a projected crusade to liberate Jerusalem from WKH0XVOLPVUHVROYHVWRµFKDVHWKHVHSDJDQVLQWKRVHKRO\¿HOGV¶Henry IV, Part One, 1.1. 8 The Tragoedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, ed. Andrew Murphy (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995), p. 46. This is the reading given in the Quarto text, and is presumably based on Shakespeare’s reading of Lewkenor. The Folio’s editor or proof-reader misunderstood the Venetian reference and changed the word to ‘might’. Quarto readings are occasionally more ‘Venetian’ than the Folio’s.

Moor and Whore of Venice


VLJQL¿FDQFHDELGIRUIUHHGRPXQGHU9HQLFH¶VOLEHUDOFRQVWLWXWLRQµOHWPH¿QGD charter in your voice’; and Othello also refers to the matter as one of tolerance and generosity, Venice’s political liberty translated into cultural freedom: ‘to be free and bounteous to her mind’. Let Desdemona go or stay, says the Duke, but let’s get on with it: ‘Th’affair cries haste’. Othello’s judgement that his importance to the state renders him virtually invulnerable to the animosity of even an LPSRUWDQW9HQHWLDQFLWL]HQSURYHVMXVWL¿HGDQGDVDFRXSOHZKRKDYHFRQWUDFWHG a ‘mixed marriage’, Othello and Desdemona are clearly entitled to full tolerance of movement and action under Venice’s legendary liberty, her undiscriminating ‘charter’ of personal freedom. Othello as ‘Moor’ is not, then, a ‘noble’ Oriental with an all too explicable propensity to ‘savagery’ of behaviour, as he tends to be portrayed when contextualized into early modern Africa or the environment of modern colonialism. Located in his Venetian context, he appears as one whose social value consists precisely in the very fact that he is not an integral part of the Venetian community, not a merchant or a politician or a wealthy grandee like Brabantio. Venetian tolerance is the instrument by means of which the Republic draws to itself foreign skills and abilities it does not inherently possess, or declines to provide: the ¿QDQFLDO FDSDELOLW\ RI WKH -HZV RU WKH PLOLWDU\ SURZHVV RI D YDOLDQW 0RRU7KH Venetian state promises to such aliens more than mere tolerance: it offers them a legitimate, valued and to some degree respected place within the social, economic and political community. And though such aliens are clearly the object of racial prejudice and ethnic hatred on the part of individual conservative and nationalistic Venetians, they are not hated politically by Venice itself, as the Jews were hated by the Third Reich or Africans by American slavery. At least, not until they transgress the limits of tolerance and undermine their own positions within the state, by conspiring to murder, or by actually murdering, Venetian citizens. Modern post-colonial readings, preoccupied with real histories of persecution DQGLQWROHUDQFHDUHLQHYLWDEO\GLVSRVHGWRSRVLWLRQ¿JXUHVVXFKDV6K\ORFNDQG Othello as victims of the structural inequalities built into institutional racism. If a state such as Venice appears to have embraced such minorities into an inclusive community, then such inclusion is likely to be read as no more than an appearance masking an underlying intolerance. But if Venice was a genuinely multi-cultural society that permitted a space, albeit restricted and unequal, to minorities such as Jews and Moors, then these post-colonial models are likely to prove unhelpful, SDUWLFXODUO\ZKHQWKH\DUHH[WHQGHGWRVHHNMXVWL¿FDWLRQIRUWKHFULPLQDODFWLRQVRI Shylock and Othello as understandable forms of violent resistance to oppression and persecution. Closer examination indicates that those who despise Othello do so as much for his independence and freedom as for his origins or colour. Roderigo tells Brabantio that his daughter has allied herself to ‘an extravagant and wheeling stranger / Of here and everywhere’. Othello is presented as a nomadic and itinerant ¿JXUH HOXVLYH DQG XQUHOLDEOH XQSUHGLFWDEOH DQG YDJDERQG 2QH NQRZV QRW whence he came, or whither he is going; he has been everywhere and nowhere.

Shakespeare and Venice


Later, Iago uses the same language of unrestricted itinerancy, calling Othello an ‘erring barbarian’: errant as well as meaningless (from the Greek barbaros, an unintelligible babble, the equivalent of blahblahblah), a wandering Arab crossing and recrossing the desert wastes.9 Othello emerges from these characterizations as fascinatingly mercurial by comparison with the settled stability of traditional Venetian life. And yet of course this spirit of vagabond errancy, this coming and going, is also of the essence of Venice itself. The wanderer is the only one who ¿QGVKLVSODFHWKHUHWKHIRUHLJQHUWKHRQO\RQHZKRLVWUXO\DWKRPH Iago in the same breath calls Desdemona a ‘super-subtle Venetian’, suggesting VRPHWKLQJ ¿QHO\ZURXJKW DV ZHOO DV VXSHUQDWXUDOO\ FXQQLQJ %XW ZKHQ &DVVLR praises Desdemona, it is in a poetic language that curiously coheres in its use of circularity with these descriptions of Othello: Hail to thee, lady! And the grace of heaven, Before, behind thee, and on every hand Enwheel thee round. (2.1.85–7)

Cassio’s whole speech here is a prayer for Othello’s safe landing, petitioning ‘Jove’ to ‘swell his sail with thine own powerful breath’, guiding his ship to harbour: ‘that he might bless this bay with his tall ship’ (2.1.79). Desdemona, already landed, is greeted as ‘the riches of the ship’ safely disembarked, ‘come on shore’ (83). Again the allusion is to a ship laden with precious cargo, which might well be a privateer loaded with booty, but might equally well be a merchant ship unloading its riches onto the Venetian quays. A continuity is implied between the divine wind that is to guide Othello’s ship, and the ‘quick pants’ of passion he will enjoy with Desdemona; indeed, her body is the bay to be blessed with his µWDOO VKLS¶ 7KLV DIÀDWXV RI GLYLQH DQG KXPDQ ORYH LV WKHQ HOHYDWHG LQWR WKH full-blown Marianism of Cassio’s extravagant hymn of praise to Desdemona, who in an almost Dantesque emblem forms the centrifuge of a spinning orbit of grace: ‘the grace of heaven / Enwheel thee round’. If Othello is the restless spirit of Venetian extravagancy, Desdemona is the stable centre around which he orbits, the still point of a turning world.10 He is the adventurer, she the prize; he is the voyage, she the destination; he is the quest, she the Golden Fleece that lies at the end of it. Later, resisting Iago’s suggestive innuendos, Cassio styles Desdemona ‘perfection’ (2.3.24). Together the ‘erring barbarian’ and the ‘super-subtle Venetian’ eloquently represent a mythology of Venice that is also a true self-consciousness of the serene city, beautiful and inviolable queen of the seas. As we shall see, the Venice of the cynics and pragmatists, Iago and Emilia, is also a true Venice, co-existent with the EHDXWLIXOLGHDORI2WKHOORDQG'HVGHPRQDEXWDOVRWUDJLFDOO\LQFRQÀLFWZLWKLW 9

‘We say: at night an Arabian in my room, / With his damned hoobla-hoobla-hooblahow …’. Wallace Stevens, ‘Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction’. Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Vintage, 1990). 10 In Cassio’s Catholic language the Blessed Virgin and Venice, Heaven’s Holy Queen and the Queen of the Seas, coalesce into one.

Moor and Whore of Venice


When Othello and Desdemona meet on Cyprus, the dialogue they exchange develops the nature and quality of their relationship in similar terms. In Act 1, ZKHQWKHORYHUVDSSHDUEHIRUHWKH'XNHWKH\ERWKGH¿QHWKHPVHOYHVLQWHUPVRID relation to the other’s ‘mind’. ‘I saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ (1.3.248), says 'HVGHPRQDDI¿UPLQJDQLQZDUGNQRZOHGJHRIKHUKXVEDQGIURPWKHSHUVSHFWLYH of his own self-consciousness. She sees him not as others see him (black, perhaps, intimidating, strange), but as he sees himself, and she loves him accordingly. Othello urges acquiescence in Desdemona’s request to accompany him, not to please himself, but to ‘be free and bounteous to her mind’: to respond to her GHVLUHZLWKDQHTXLYDOHQWLQWHQVLW\WRUHFRQ¿JXUHWKHZRUOGVRLWKDUPRQL]HVZLWK Desdemona’s ‘mind’. OTHELLO. O my fair warrior! DESDEMONA. My dear Othello! OTHELLO. It gives me wonder great as my content To see you here before me. O, my soul’s joy, If after every tempest come such calms, May the winds blow till they have wakened death, And let the labouring bark climb hills of seas, Olympus-high, and duck again as low As hell’s from heaven. If it were now to die, ’Twere now to be most happy; for I fear, My soul hath her content so absolute That not another comfort like to this Succeeds in unknown fate. (2.1.174–84)

+HUHWKH\¿UVWH[FKDQJHLGHQWLWLHVH[WHQGLQJWKHLGHDWKDWHDFKEHLQJLVHQIROGHG within the other’s: he calls her a ‘warrior’, she calls him her ‘dear’. Othello thinks of them as both delivered from the tempest, so that their re-encounter is a miraculous thing of ‘wonder’ as well as an occasion of ‘joy’. The imagery of tempest and billow, wind and wave, is suggested immediately by their stormy passage from Venice, but like Cassio’s speech discussed above, creates an image of existential calm inside the apocalyptic storm of living. Inside that moment of VWLOOQHVVWKHH\HRIWKHKXUULFDQH2WKHOOR¿QGVDSHUIHFWEOLVVLQH[SUHVVLEOHH[FHSW WKURXJK D ODQJXDJH RI DHVWKHWLF H[WUHPLW\ DQG DEVROXWH EHDXW\ +H LV VWXSH¿HG DV ZDV 7KRPDV &RU\DWH RQ KLV ¿UVW HQWU\ LQWR 9HQLFH ZKHQ WKH FLW\ µGLG HXHQ amaze or rather rauish my senses’.11 Death seems the only appropriate succession to such a moment – ‘now more than ever seems it rich to die’ – since the return to life inevitably entails a diminution of intensity. Othello is rendered literally speechless – ‘I cannot speak’ – and in trying to articulate the inexpressible, 11

Coryate, Crudities, p. 171. Platt, ‘Mervailouse Site’, p. 131.

Shakespeare and Venice


introduces the key word ‘stop’ to explain the curtailment of his eloquence. His sense of absolute joy silences him: ‘it stops me here’. Breath and life, speech and motion, cease; stop. Then, slowly, life starts up again and begins the inevitable drift from the transcendent towards the mundane: ‘Come, let us to the castle’. The dangerous quality of this risky investment in the absolute is apparent even in that return to the everyday, but also in Othello’s romantic death-wish, and in the intensity with which each lover seeks to enter the being of the other. Desdemona’s assertion that she can see Othello ‘in his mind’ sits alongside an abject submission to the force of the other’s being: My heart’s subdued Even to the very quality of my lord. (1.3.246–7)

Desdemona’s spirit submits to what she perceives as Othello’s essential being, his ‘very quality’. This is the Folio reading: the Quarto text puts it more bluntly: My heart’s subdued, Even to the utmost pleasure of my Lord … .12

Desdemona thinks she knows Othello’s ‘very quality’, but she has yet to learn what for him constitutes ‘utmost pleasure’. Similarly, his courteous regard for the ‘freedom’ and ‘bounty’ of Desdemona’s mind presupposes that such liberty of feeling is oriented solely towards him and converts to something quite different once he begins to suspect that she may have been ‘free’ and ‘bounteous’ towards another man. Later Desdemona’s ‘liberal heart’ and ‘liberal hand’ (3.4.34, 42) EHFRPH IRU 2WKHOOR SULPD IDFLH HYLGHQFH RI LQ¿GHOLW\ PDQLIHVW FDXVHV RI possessiveness and suspicion. ,WZRXOGQRWEHGLI¿FXOWWRDUJXHWKDWWKLVGUDPDWLFDFWLRQDQGWKLVSV\FKRORJLFDO denouement could be taking place absolutely anywhere – Cyprus, London, Aleppo – and that the Othello/Desdemona relationship is not attached in any VSHFL¿FZD\WRWKHLQWHUWH[WRI9HQLFH,QIDFW9HQLFHLVQHYHUYHU\IDUDZD\IURP the poetry of this play. The absolute beauty of Desdemona that takes Othello’s breath away is the breathtaking beauty of Venice itself, invariably rediscovered at the end of some uneasy voyage, the beauty that ‘did euen rauish me’, as Coryate puts it, ‘both with delight and admiration’.13 A beauty impossibly poised on the brink of chaos, inexplicably unperturbed by the tempestuous sea that surrounds it. ‘So glorious a Virgin’:14 a chaste beauty inviolable, unpenetrated, incongruously XQLPSDLUHGE\WKHFRQWLQXRXVKXPDQWUDI¿FWKDWFULVVFURVVHVLWVLPPDFXODWHERG\ ‘I call it mayden’, said Coryate, ‘because it was neuer conquered’.15 This is Venice, 12 13 14 15

Murphy, Tragoedie of Othello, p. 56. Coryate, Crudities, p. 157. Ibid., p. 160. Ibid., p. 158.

Moor and Whore of Venice


as early modern travellers saw her, as visitors see her still, and as Shakespeare, I think, heard of her from others: radiant, lovely, unravaged by the continuous circumambient movement of which she forms the unmoving centre.16 A woman, 'HVGHPRQDµSHUIHFWDQG«SHHUOHVV¶DQGDFLW\6HUHQLVVLPDµDPDWWHURILQ¿QLWH maruel’.17 Both alike ‘so lovely fair … that the sense aches at thee’. &OHDUO\ WKH DI¿DQFH RI 2WKHOOR DQG 'HVGHPRQD LV D FURVVFXOWXUDO rapprochement unthinkable in Shakespeare’s England but countenanced by 6KDNHVSHDUH¶V9HQLFH7KHSOD\JRHVIXUWKHUKRZHYHUWKDQVLPSO\UHÀHFWLQJWKLV unusual social possibility. What Venetian multi-culturalism does to difference is to render it negligible, if not invisible. Since all races, colours and creeds are theoretically equal under the law, one man is much the same as another, be he Venetian, Hebrew or Moor; black, white or tawny; Christian, Jew or Muslim. This most positive interpretation of Venetian universalism is also its most dangerous, since to minimize difference is not to abolish it, but only to occlude it. Desdemona FRQVLVWHQWO\XQGHUYDOXHV2WKHOOR¶VRWKHUQHVVDQGKHDFFHSWVKHUXQTXDOL¿HGORYH as transcendent of difference. Each overestimates the individual capacity of one person to know another, and the root of that misperception lies not just in the extreme romanticism of their passion, but in the liberal universalism of Venetian FXOWXUH7RLJQRUHGLIIHUHQFHWRXQGHUHVWLPDWHWKHVLJQL¿FDQFHRIVWUDQJHQHVVWR assimilate the foreigner, is to trespass onto dangerous ground. Desdemona’s ‘perfection’ proves fatally attractive to Othello. In her sleeping IRUPKH¿QGVDQLPDJHRIWKDWXQLPSDLUHGSXULW\WKDWPXVWEH¿[HGDQGDUUHVWHG before it admits the penetration of other bodies. He cannot bear to mark the immaculate surface of … that whiter skin of hers than snow And smooth as monumental alabaster … . (5.2.4–5)

… and so chooses suffocation as his method of murder. Desdemona can retain her absolute perfection only while sleeping or dead; awake, she becomes again an agent of liberality, promiscuously offering the freedoms of her heart and KDQG WR RWKHU PHQ 2WKHOOR¶V ¿[DWLRQ RQ WKH GHDWKOLNH REMHFW RI GHVLUH LV explicitly necrophilic: I will kill thee And love thee after. (5.2.18–19)


‘Venice had never been penetrated by an enemy, and on a more literal level, the ¿HUFHO\SURWHFWHGYLUJLQLW\RI9HQHWLDQGDXJKWHUVZDVOHJHQGDU\¶3ODWWµ0HUYDLORXVH6LWH¶ p. 136. Platt notes that Venice is often described as a virgin (e.g., by Coryate and Contarino) and many writers refer to Venetian male protection of female chastity, including Coryate and Sansovino. See Platt’s note 45, p. 136. 17 Contarino, Commonwealth, p. 1.

Shakespeare and Venice


The rapture of passion and the rage of murder, the breath taken and the taking of breath, are linked together by the word ‘stop’: OTHELLO. I cannot speak enough of this content; It stops me here … (2.1.187–8) … there lies your niece, Whose breath indeed these hands have newly stopped. (5.2.200–201)

After the murder Othello expresses his radical idealization of Desdemona in the image of a perfect jewel, a gemstone of absolute and uncompromising beauty: If heaven would make me such another world Of one entire and perfect chrysolite, I’d not have sold her for it. (5.2.143–5)

‘Had she been true’ that is, he insists, still believing her to have been false. So this image of a world made new from a pure and single stone is already lost and unattainable, a despairing nostalgia for a vanished vision. The world remade as precious stone is of course the vision of St John the Divine, the heavenly city of the Apocalypse. Chrysolite is one of the stones on Aaron’s breastplate in Exodus, and one of the foundations of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. The metaphor expresses completeness, perfection, purity, unity and an eternal and immutable sacred beauty. This is what Othello took Desdemona to be, in herself: not a type or image of the ideal, but the form itself. In reality, however, her transcendent beauty of body and mind necessarily co-existed, as does any human perfection, with WKHURXWLQHWUDI¿FDQGLWHUDWLRQRIRUGLQDU\OLIH9HQLFHPD\KDYHEHHQDµ)D\HU maiden’, but she was one whose ‘glorious beautie’ ‘cals unnumbered swarmes from each forriegn nation’.18 Desdemona’s failure to measure up to the ideal is for Othello an unforgivable sin: he must kill her to preserve his own honour and the absolute perfection of his vision. If Desdemona is not the heavenly virgin of Cassio’s annunciation – ‘Hail to thee, lady!’ – then she can only be her contrary, the woman clothed in scarlet: That cunning whore of Venice That married with Othello. (4.2.88–9)

There is no via media. Thus ‘Moor’ and ‘whore’ of Venice have more than DVVRQDQWDODI¿QLW\7KHLUOLIHWRJHWKHUFRXOGKDYHH[LVWHGLQWKHEULJKWUHÀHFWLRQ of that heavenly fantasy; but that possibility is now lost forever, and Othello glimpses the divine city receding from his sight as he falls towards his moral nadir, VRRQ WR WXPEOH WKURXJK WKH ÀLPV\ ÀRRU RI WKLV ZRUOG LQWR DQ LQ¿QLWH VSDFH RI unending deprivation.


I. Ashley, prefatory poem in Contareno, Commonwealth, A4r.

Moor and Whore of Venice


Both Othello and Desdemona represent the city whose name becomes coupled with theirs, the deluded ‘Moor’ and the innocent ‘whore’ of Venice. Desdemona is also Venice, a city cunningly formed from homogenous materials into an aesthetic XQLW\WKDWVXJJHVWVWKHVKDSLQJ¿QHVVHRIDUWUDWKHUWKDQWKHSUDFWLFDOVFLHQFHRI architecture, or the material craft of building. Of all cities, Venice may be imagined as composed of ‘one entire and perfect chrysolite’, as if fashioned from one of the gemstones that were traded, and are still traded, in its luxury markets. Fynes Moryson noted in Venice a Ducall cap with a ‘chrysolite set in the midst’.19 Just as Othello’s ‘another world’ invokes the world made new in the Book of Revelation, so Venice seemed to many observers another Jerusalem, exquisitely fashioned into an artistry commensurate with its holiness as the sacred place of God. But this apparently transcendent beauty rested on unstable foundations of mud and slime; its pristine unity was transected by innumerable waterways; its subtle artistry was formed from the boisterous circulation of commodities around the bustling markets of the globe. It is impossible to think of Venice as crafted out of precious stone without simultaneously considering the market value of the materials used. Buying and selling, getting and spending, exchanging and accumulating, these are the mundane commercial processes that go to make up the substance of this nonetheless still and always miraculous ‘New Jerusalem’. It is worth noting that Othello is incapable of integrating this complex, diverse DQGLQWHUQDOO\¿VVXUHG9HQLFHLQWRKLVLPDJLQDWLRQ,PDJHVRIWKHPXGDQGVOLPH which permeate the city are inseparable in his mind from a violent disgust at the idea of sexual promiscuity. I had rather be a toad And live upon the vapour of a dungeon Than keep a corner in the thing I love For others’ uses. (3.3.272–5)

This damp region of Othello’s mind is a sticky cloacal swamp heaving with amphibious life, ‘a cistern for foul toads / to knot and gender in’. An ‘honest man’ is one who has a horror of mud, and associates it with vice and shame, one who ‘hates WKHVOLPH7KDWVWLFNVRQ¿OWK\GHHGV¶,QWKLVGLVWRUWHGYLVLRQWKHEULOOLDQWMHZHO of aesthetic and moral purity denies any relationship with the stench and slime of ordinary human functions; and Othello’s Venice hovers like an airy mirage above the VWLQNLQJVHZDJH¿OOHGFDQDOVWKDWLQUHDOLW\UHSUHVHQWWKHFLW\¶VOLIHEORRG Othello’s plan for murdering Desdemona is consistent with this idealism. Following his original in Cinthio’s story, he thinks initially of stabbing and poison: If there be cords, or knives, 3RLVRQRU¿UHRUVXIIRFDWLQJVWUHDPV I will not endure it. (3.3.389–91)

19 Moryson, Itinerary, p. 81. One of Calvino’s Venices is a ‘jewel-city’, ‘made of the stuff of crystals’. Calvino, Invisible Cities, pp. 111, 60.


Shakespeare and Venice

Nevertheless, he then persuades himself, through his lyrical meditation on the ÀDZOHVVEHDXW\RI'HVGHPRQD¶VERG\WKDWKHPXVWHPSOR\VRPHPHWKRGFDSDEOH of preserving her form intact. In the Heccatomithi, the Captain and his Ensign jointly plot a much cruder domestic crime, in which the wife is lured into another room and beaten to death with a sock full of wet sand. The murderers then seek to cover their traces by causing the ceiling to collapse onto the wife’s dead body. Both the improvized weapon, and the attempt at concealment, have a distinctly Venetian character to them, since the sandbars of the lagoon are the city’s natural defences against the sea, and since the idea of the waterborne city collapsing in on itself has, as we have seen, always haunted the mythology of Venice. Othello’s suffocation of Desdemona could be described as a more poetic version RIWKHRULJLQDOPXUGHUVLQFHWKHVDQG¿OOHGVRFNLVDOVRGHVLJQHGWRDVVDVVLQDWH without breaking the skin, and without manifest bruising. But the insistence on killing without scarring is persistently present in the play, since as long as Othello has been contemplating Desdemona’s death, he has dwelt on images of suffocation and drowning, envisaging Desdemona smothered in ‘suffocating streams’, or together with his murderous thoughts ‘swallow[ed] up’ in the Pontic sea of his homicidal will. In the end, he kills her by a kind of dry drowning, since the acquatic element has become for him synonymous with the uncontrollable messiness of human nature: She was false as water! (5.2.134)

In Cinthio, it is only a domestic interior that collapses, as the ceiling is brought down onto the victim’s body. In Othello’s fantasy, the entire universe begins to collapse: It is the very error of the moon: She comes more nearer earth than she was wont … . (5.2.110–11)

Between the microcosm of Cinthio’s falling plaster and the macrocosm of Othello’s eerily descending moon, lies Venice itself, perfectly beautiful, but eternally poised to collapse in on itself in a cataclysmic undulation. As I demonstrated at the very beginning of this book, Venice always exists in an incongruous and paradoxical dualism between binary opposites. She is always YLUJLQ DQG ZKRUH MHZHO DQG PXGÀDW SHUIHFW FKU\VROLWH DQG VHHG\ PDUNHWSODFH 7ROLYHVXFFHVVIXOO\LQ9HQLFH6KDNHVSHDUH¶VSOD\VKRZVLWLVHVVHQWLDOWR¿QGD balance between these oppositions. They do exist in the play, particularly in the ¿JXUH RI &DVVLR ZKR LV VXI¿FLHQW RI DQ LGHDOLVW WR ZRUVKLS 'HVGHPRQD LQ WKH language of courtly love, and enough of an innocent to be duped by Iago; but he is also a drunken brawler, and the cynical client of the prostitute Bianca. For the most part, however, the Venice of Othello is split between idealism and cynicism, virtue and vice, perfectionism and opportunism. On the one side, the naive courtly lover; on the other, the scheming machiavel. The city’s failure to integrate its internal divisions is the root of its tragedy.

Moor and Whore of Venice


Iago is of course the presiding spirit of this other Venice, where anything can EHERXJKWDQGVROGHYHU\WKLQJKDVLWVSULFHDQGQRWKLQJEXWÀLPV\FRQYHQWLRQ stands between the unscrupulous malcontent and the object of his will. An innocent is a gull to be duped; a virtuous woman a whore in the making. ‘Whether he is praising Venice the Maiden or denigrating Venice the Whore, Iago is working to sully Desdemona in Othello’s eyes’.20 Suspicion of the basest motives here constitutes a universe of mistrust: everyone should be betraying everyone else, and if they happen not to be, Iago will invent the fantasy of a convenient adulterous liaison. I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets +H¶VGRQHP\RI¿FH,NQRZQRWLI¶WEHWUXH Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety. (1.3.368–72)

It is not merely Othello’s gullibility that makes Iago’s case so persuasive, for he draws liberally on the mythology of Venice as a place of intrigue, cheating and betrayal: I know our country disposition well: In Venice they do let God see the pranks They dare not show their husbands. (3.3.203–5)

Lack of evidence for this universal depravity is merely an effect of its successful concealment: Their best conscience Is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown.

7KHLQYLVLEOHLVE\GH¿QLWLRQRSHQWRPLVWUXVWWKDWZKLFKFDQQRWEHVHHQSUREDEO\ does not exist: Her honour is an essence that’s not seen: They have it very oft that have it not.

Iago’s wife Emilia, though not a party to her husband’s vicious and murderous plotting, nonetheless shares his cynicism. Desdemona cannot believe in the existence of a woman who would betray her husband. Emilia exposes the naivety of this belief, and invokes, to justify the lightness of women, the vagaries of men. Since men commit adultery, lock up their wives and beat them without restraint, women should have recourse to some compensatory vengeance. In asserting this demand for female equality, albeit based on an equal right to immorality, Emilia sounds an echo of Shylock:


Platt, ‘Merveilouse sight’, p. 141.

Shakespeare and Venice


… though we have some grace Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell, And have their palates both for sweet and sour As husbands have … Then let them use us well; else let them know The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. (4.3.85–90, 98–9)21

Othello does indeed strike Desdemona, in public, and the action is reprimanded by Lodovico as a gross violation of civic decorum: LODOVICO. My lord, this would not be believed in Venice, Though I should swear I saw’t. (4.1.232–3)

Desdemona cannot believe that women could be unfaithful, but Lodovico cannot believe that a man would beat his wife. Here Othello sets himself outside Venetian manners, and reveals a savage otherness that people ignore at their peril. Lodovico sees him in an entirely new light and begins to question the solid reputation he bears in Venice: Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate &DOOVDOOLQDOOVXI¿FLHQW"«:KDW6WULNHKLVZLIH" ±

Desdemona however, to her cost, draws no such conclusion. Emilia wishes she had never seen Othello. DESDEMONA. So would not I: my love doth so approve him That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns – … have grace and favour in them. (4.3.18–20)

The lady encircled by the grace of heaven has become the pathetic and pitiable battered wife, returning abjectly to her violent husband. She even tries to exculpate him from the guilt of her own murder: EMILIA. O, who hath done this deed? DESDEMONA. Nobody; I myself. (5.2.123–4)


Emilia uses a Venetian economic allusion to symbolize sexual licence – when husbands ‘pour our treasures into others’ laps’, while Thomas wrote in the same sexual terms of the city’s trade: Venice is ‘an open lap to receive the trade of all nations’. Sexual promiscuity and unfettered trade both characterize this open city.

Moor and Whore of Venice


Both Othello and Desdemona are idealists, among those who, in Nick Potter’s words, ‘refuse to accept the world as it presents itself’.22 The world in question is of course a particular world, Venice. Potter’s argument is that Venice’s denial of difference, her ‘pragmatism’, provides no middle ground between opposites on which people can truly meet and recognize one another. This diplomatic disallowing of otherness … does not permit the growth of a fully intercursive relationship in which the possibilities of discussion and translation may be developed, but works actively WRNHHSVHSDUDWHWKHGLIIHUHQFHVLWGH¿QHV S

In fact, possibilities for the mediating territory of such intercursive middle ground occur everywhere in Shakespeare’s Venice. In Othello, they appear in Cassio, in Emilia, even in Bianca: in those characters who can live amongst differences, without troubling to idealize their way out of them into some abstraction, whether of unblemished purity or of universal depravity. Just as, in The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s great speech on mercy demonstrates the potentiality of unity-indifference, by invoking the common ground of religious tradition, so in Othello we are continually shown the commonalities that lie beneath and belie the antagonism of difference. &RQVLGHU2WKHOOR¶V¿QDOVSHHFKKLVVXLFLGHQRWH OTHELLO. Nothing extenuate, Nor set downe ought in malice. Then must you speake, Of one that lou’d not wisely, but too well: Of one, not easily Iealious, but being wrought, Perplexed in the extreame: Of one, whose hand (Like the base Iudean) threw a Pearle away Richer then all his Tribe: Of one, whose subdu’d Eyes, Albeit vn-vsed to the melting moode, Drops teares as fast as the Arabian Trees Their Medicinable gumme. Set you downe this: And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant, and a Turbond-Turke Beate a Venetian, and traduc’d the State, I tooke by th’throat the circumcised Dogge, And smoate him, thus.23

This is the Folio text, so here Othello compares himself not to a base ‘Indian’ but a base ‘Judean’. Most modern editions, though following the Folio, choose the Quarto reading ‘Indian’, which means American Indian, by a general agreement

22 23

Potter in Holderness, Potter and Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History, p. 195. Quoted from The Tragedie of Othello: First Folio, p. 338.


Shakespeare and Venice

based on a range of sources, going back to the correspondence of Amerigo Vespucci.24 A turn of the letter gives a spin to the globe. Othello is comparing himself not to some anonymous Amerindian, but to Judas, the only Judean among the disciples; Judas who betrayed Jesus, ‘the pearl of great price’, and lost the kingdom of heaven; Judas who killed himself, as Othello is about to do. In his image of the Arabian tree ‘weeping Medicinable gum’ Othello associates himself with the Arabic Middle East, but at the same time continues the Christian references: the secretion referred to is myrrh, one of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child and intended as anointment for burial. Which is Othello? Loyal Venetian Christian; treacherous Judean betrayer; Islamic enemy of the state? How can he be all three? Like Venice itself, Othello’s identity is unstable, ‘double’,25 metamorphic. ‘Metamorphic Venice is the cause of metamorphoses in those who come into too close contact with her’.26 ‘Are we WXUQHG7XUNV"¶KHDVNVZKHQKH¿QGV&DVVLRGUXQNDQGEUDZOLQJ OTHELLO. Why, how now, ho! From whence ariseth this? Are we turn’d Turks, and to ourselves do that Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites? For Christian shame, put by this barbarous brawl. (2.3.150–53)

Editors gloss Othello’s meaning as ‘since divine intervention has prevented the Turks from killing us, we should not do their job by killing one another’. But clearly ‘what heaven hath forbid the Ottomites’ is alcohol, so the issue here is that drunken Christians show to distinct disadvantage by contrast with sober and religious Muslims. In any case, there is much more to ‘turning Turk’ than just assuming a role the Turks happened to be playing or not playing. The phrase speaks of a widespread racial and cultural anxiety, that was partly about fear of Islamic power, the expanding Ottoman Empire; but also (and more so) about the fear of people turning into the enemy. Turning Turk is not just fraternization, but actual conversion to Islam, which of course was happening, forced, opportunistic or genuine, wherever the Muslims met with military success. Often in Shakespeare’s Venice, we are confronted with things that appear to be opposites, and yet can easily change places or turn into one another. The Merchant of Venice has also been read as a play about turning, transformation, conversion. After agreeing to Shylock’s bond Antonio says ‘Hie thee, gentle Jew’, then explains ‘This Hebrew will turn Christian, he grows kind’. ‘Gentle’ puns of course on ‘Gentile’, non-Jew or Christian. In The Merchant both Jessica and Shylock undergo conversion, voluntary and forced, to Christianity. Portia, Nerissa and Jessica are all transformed by love and disguise. Jessica says her husband has ‘made [her] a Christian’, and 24 Rodney Poisson, ‘Othello’s “Base Indian”: a Better Source for the Allusion’, Shakespeare Quarterly 26 (Autumn 1975), pp. 462–6. 25 Platt ‘Mervailouse Site’, p. 146. 26  3¿VWHUµ7KH3DVVLRQ¶S

Moor and Whore of Venice


her father is forced to follow suit. Portia says of her love for Bassanio, ‘My self, and what is mine, to you and yours / is now converted’. Often in the play, things and people present themselves as ‘marvellously changed’. And in this way the play is continually questioning the very oppositions on which it seems to depend, by showing Christians capable of seeming mercenary, full of hate, vindictive, intolerant, merciless; and Jews as capable of affection and pain, worthy of both respect and compassion. Things and people seem to change places. Everything is transformed, converted. Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew? Othello too has been read as a play about ‘turning’. Othello’s love for Desdemona turns to hate; he sees her as having turned from virgin to whore; Iago’s apparent honesty turns to malice; Othello’s own nobility turns to jealous rage. We WHQGWRWKLQNRIWKLVUK\WKPRIFRQYHUVLRQDVDQRVFLOODWLRQEHWZHHQ¿[HGSRLQWVRQ a moral or racial compass, a ‘bifurcated’27 Manichean universe of moral absolutes (good and evil), racial stereotypes (white and black) or colonial antinomies (empire and its victims). But in a world in which there is a genuine multiplicity of powers – the Ottoman Empire as well as Protestant England, Catholic Spain, Portugal – and a real choice of religions – not just Protestantism or Catholicism, but also Islam and Judaism – then conversion, changing allegiance, accepting and rejecting, turning towards and away from, becomes a much more complex matter. In practice people could turn; they could, as Othello claims of Desdemona, ‘turn, and turn, and yet go on, / And turn again’, as Christians accepted and discarded ,VODPRUDVFRQYHUWHG-HZVLQ9HQLFHUHYHUWHGWR-XGDLVPµGRI¿QJWKHLUUHOLJLRQ as they do their clothes’. Iago imagines Othello losing his Christian signature, ‘renouncing his baptism’ and converting or reverting to a pre-Christian ‘pagan’ 0XVOLP µLQ¿GHOLW\¶%\WKH&KXUFKRI(QJODQGIRXQGWKHQHHGIRUDµ)RUP of Penance and Reconciliation for a Renegado’ so that Muslim converts could be received back into the church.28 Venice, as we have seen, in Shakespeare’s time and right up to the present, is a metamorphic place, continually changing and continually fostering change. It presents the traveller with apparently accessible fantasies of unlimited freedom, social, sexual, political, religious; but it is also devious, shifty, unreliable. It is DSODFHLQZKLFKSHRSOHGUHDPRI¿QGLQJWKHPVHOYHVDQG¿QGWKHPVHOYHVORVW A liminal place, on the very edge of Europe, contingent with and penetrated by the alien cultures of the Middle East, Islam and Judaism. A place of difference; the home of strangers; the territory of the Other.


Vaughan, Othello, p. 32. Joseph Hall, ‘Form of Penance and Reconciliation of a Renegado, or Apostate from the Christian Church to Turcism’, in The Works of Joseph Hall 12 (Oxford: D.A. Talboys, 1837–39), pp. 346–50. 28

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Chapter 5

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction This chapter draws together my various themes by examining two novels that SURGXFH¿FWLRQDOUHSUHVHQWDWLRQVRI6KDNHVSHDUH¶V9HQLFHLQDPRGHUQFRQWHPSRUDU\ context. They undertake this project by adapting and elaborating on The Merchant of Venice and Othello respectively. They are Erica Jong’s Serenissima (1987) and Caryl Phillips’s The Nature of Blood (1997). There are of course other novelistic H[WUDSRODWLRQV IURP WKHVH SOD\V DQG RWKHU LPSURYL]DWLRQV RQ WKH ¿JXUHV RI Othello and Shylock. These two texts are chosen here because they address both 6KDNHVSHDUHDQG9HQLFHLQSDUDOOHODQGXQGHUWDNH¿FWLRQDOH[SORUDWLRQVWKDWUXQLQ parallel with the syncretic critical approach pursued in this book. Both novels are unquestionably post-modern texts, in that they play freely with WLPH EOXU WKH ERXQGDULHV EHWZHHQ UHDOLW\ DQG ¿FWLRQ DQG UHJDUG WKH KLVWRULFDO past and the contemporary present as simultaneous and reciprocally permeable. They are also resolutely contemporary in focus, driven by modern political and ethical preoccupations of gender and sexuality, feminism and patriarchy, race and ethnicity, empire and persecution. But they engage with these modern issues by recapitulating both Shakespeare’s dramatized Venice, and the Venices of history DQGP\WK,QWKLVUHVSHFWWKH\FRQWULEXWHWRWKHSRHWLFDQG¿FWLRQDOWUDGLWLRQVWKDW have continued to reinvent Venice for the contemporary imagination. They also however represent a form of interpretation of, and commentary on, the Venice that Shakespeare imagined. Since I have attempted in the preceding SDJHVWRKROGWRJHWKHULQDXQL¿HGPHGLXPDOOWKH9HQLFHVRIWKHSDVWDQGSUHVHQW± KLVWRULFDODQGFRQWHPSRUDU\UHDODQG¿FWLRQDOGLVFRYHUHGDQGLQYHQWHG±QRYHOV such as Serenissima and The Nature of Blood clearly represent a parallel exercise. Although, in my view, neither book is an artistic success – each can be, at its worst, YLUWXDOO\XQUHDGDEOH±,VWLOO¿QGWKHPXVHIXOLOOXVWUDWLRQVRIP\RYHUDOODUJXPHQW about Shakespeare and Venice. Erika Jong is the famous American feminist novelist and poet, best known for her novel of sexual liberation, Fear of Flying (1973). She was born into a wealthy Jewish background, and as a young girl spent holidays in Venice and the Veneto. Both these factors bear on Serenissima (later republished under the title Shylock’s Daughter), but the autobiographical dimension of the novel is pervasive and promiscuous. The novel has no fully constructed narrative framework, only DQLWLQHUDQW¿UVWSHUVRQQDUUDWRUVRWKHQDUUDWLYHµ,¶FDQEHWKH¿FWLRQDOKHURLQHRU the novelist, or Shylock’s daughter Jessica, or even at times Shakespeare himself. 7KH GLVFUHWH QDUUDWLYH VHOYHV EOXU LQWR RQH DQRWKHU LQ D IUHHZKHHOLQJ ¿FWLRQDO journey that encounters little obstruction or resistance from history, or time, or cultural difference.


Shakespeare and Venice

The central narrative shape of the novel entails a crisis, a quest, a journey in time DQGDUHWXUQWRDFKDQJHGUHDOLW\7KHKHURLQHLVD¿OPVWDU-HVVLFD3UXLWWDWWHQGLQJ WKH9HQLFH)LOP)HVWLYDOIRUWKHVKRZLQJRIKHUODWHVW¿OPDQGWREHJLQ¿OPLQJKHU next, which is called SerenissimaD¿OPLFIDQWDV\EDVHGRQThe Merchant of Venice, LQZKLFK6KDNHVSHDUHKLPVHOILVWRDSSHDUDVDFKDUDFWHU S 7KH¿OPLVFOHDUO\ in some ways congruent with the novel itself, and the novel closes with delivery RIWKHFRPSOHWHG¿OPVFULSW-HVVLFDHQWHUVRUUHHQWHUV9HQLFHIXOO\HTXLSSHG with the traditional nineteenth-century language of Venetian myth, as re-presented by modern writers such as Jan Morris: ‘City of plagues and brief liaisons, city of lingering deaths and incendiary loves, city of chimeras, nightmares, pigeons, EHOOV¶ S +HU9HQLFHLVWKHFRQWHPSRUDU\9HQLFHRI¿OPVWDUVDQGSDSDUD]]L the capital of fashion and culture. But it also betrays something of the deceptive DQGLOOXVRU\IUDJLOLW\RIWKHGHFDGHQW¿QGHVLqFOH9HQLFHRI3URXVWDQG7KRPDV Mann, and the magical-realist Venice of Borges: ‘Venice is known above all for mirrors and glass since Venice is the most narcissistic city in the world, the city that celebrates self-mirroring’ (p. 3). -XVWDVWKHQRYHOLVLQÀXHQFHGE\WKHWUDGLWLRQDOSRHWLFODQJXDJHVRI9HQLFH so its Shakespearean content is informed by a context of academic research, as -HVVLFDKDVEHHQVWXG\LQJ6KDNHVSHDUHLQSUHSDUDWLRQIRUWKH¿OP6KHSRQGHUVRQ the question I began with, the question ‘was Shakespeare ever here?’ (p. 8). From the evidence of The Merchant of Venice, she thinks not: ‘the play was equivocal. $QJOLFL]HGXQFOHDU$W¿UVWLWGLGQRWVHHPWREHDUWKHXQPLVWDNDEOHVFHQWRI,WDO\ as Browning’s work or Byron’s …’ (p. 8). But the possibility of such a visit is LGHQWL¿HG LQ WKH ODFXQD RI WKH µORVW \HDUV¶ ZKHUH 6KDNHVSHDUH PLJKW KDYH EHHQ an apprentice player, or a schoolmaster in the country; or ‘might he instead have voyaged to Italy with Henry Wriothsley, the Earl of Southampton, his patron and (some say) his lover?’ (p. 9). If you put together this Shakespeare, imagined as consort and lover of his wealthy aristocratic patron, with the fascinating and decadent myth of Venice as citta galante, the equation proves irresistible: Venice, then as now, was the end point of exotic English travels, a place of resort for lusty young men with poetic and bisexual ambitions, a city of sin, decadence and glamour … a city of fabulous courtesans who wrote poetry, a city of Jews, usurers, Moors, moneylenders, a city of feuding noble lords who dressed in all the pearls of the Orient … How could Shakespeare not be drawn here? (p. 9)

This image of Shakespeare and Southampton in Venice is recapitulated as a GD\GUHDPSRVVLEO\MRWWHGGRZQLQDMRXUQDOµP\RZQOLWWOH¿OPLFIDQWDV\RI9HQLFH¶ (p. 23): ‘Two young men are arriving in the Serenissima …’. The Shakespeare in this scenario is the Shakespeare of the Chandos portrait:1 ‘auburn-haired, with luminous, dark-brown eyes and one golden earring glinting in his left ear … ’ (p. 24). Though one of a gay couple, this Shakespeare answers readily to female 1 ‘I have gazed at the Chandos portrait of W.S. and felt that I knew and loved the man behind those luminous brown eyes … .’ Erika Jong, Serenissima, p. 38.

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


desire, and is transposed to a historical Venice that is in turn identical to the Venice RIPRGHUQSRHWU\DQG¿FWLRQµFDSLWDOFLW\RIGUHDPDQGLQWULJXHWKDWGRXEOHFLW\ RQHDERYHDQGVHHPLQJO\VROLGRQHEHORZZDYHULQJDQGUHÀHFWHGLQWKHZDWHUV  which never disappoints …’ (p. 25). Despite her Jewish name (and her creator’s Jewish descent), Jessica is not -HZLVK%XWLQKHUZRUOGRIVOLSSHU\VLJQL¿HUV-HZLVKQHVVLVDQLGHQWLW\WKDWFDQ be acquired, like a designer dress or necklace. ‘If I feel the history of the Jews in my blood (I have lately been reading about the Jews of Venice for my part as Jessica, a part that now I may never play), perhaps it is because the Jew is the quintessential exile, like the artist’ (p. 58). The wealthy, successful New York actress feels a ‘natural’ empathy with the early modern Jews of Venice, ‘tolerated’ for the service they provided, but ‘reviled’ and on occasions ‘viciously attacked for doing exactly what preserved the society in which they found themselves’ (p. 58). ‘Like actors, the world needed them – but also needed to disclaim its need for them’ (p. 58). The twentieth-century actress knows exactly what it was like to be a sixteenth-century Jew, since the ‘artist’ is also an ‘exile’. The parallel is, to say the least, unconvincing. But this elision of difference is typical of the way in which this novel avails itself of the supposed instability of cultural identities (‘Sometimes I slipped through so many modes of being that I truly forgot who I was’, p. 103). And the location that most abundantly supplies the resources required for such existential shape-shifting is, of course, Venice. Jessica thinks she glimpses an Elizabethan courtier in a modern crowd: fancy dress, or (anachronistically) the real thing? :KR FDQ WHOO LQ WKLV FLW\ RI PLUURUV DQG UHÀHFWLRQV WKLV FLW\ ZKHUH SDVW DQG present mingle most incredibly, where even our best contemporary chronicler of the place – I mean, of course, Jan Morris – has changed not only names but genders like some astounding present-day Orlando. Ah, Venice has that effect upon all sensitive souls: we change shapes, epochs, even sexes … . (p. 69)

$V 0DQIUHG 3¿VWHU SXW LW µPHWDPRUSKLF9HQLFH LV WKH FDXVH RI PHWDPRUSKRVHV in those who come into too close contact with her’.2 Jong cites Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, parable of unstable gender identity, and links this to Venice as the paradigmatic scene of identity transformation. What appears to be a carnival FURZG RI SHRSOH LQ IDQF\ GUHVV FRQWDLQV DQ HOXVLYH ¿JXUH VHHPLQJO\ GLVSODFHG from his own time, the effeminate and homosexual Earl of Southampton. Time, as well as gender, shifts here, and this prepares for the metamorphosis of the heroine into her Shakespearean namesake, Jessica, daughter of Shylock the Jew of Venice. As an actress she is accustomed to living a double life, so living two lives at once is nothing new. ‘Jessica-Christian’ takes on the persona of ‘Jessica-Jew’ as just another role, since she is after all a player, ‘strolling through time’ (p. 149). This transformation occurs initially in a hallucination, in which modern Jessica, feverishly ill, imagines she is Shakespeare’s Jessica, dying of plague in the Ghetto, 2


Shakespeare and Venice


attended by Shakespeare and Southampton. She wakes from this fantasy, remains in Venice ‘in limbo between two worlds’ (p. 105), but then later wishes herself back into Renaissance time, and into her alter ego identity. So I wished, knowing that all time was eternally present and that we can, any of us, slip into other times, other modes of being, just by wanting to badly enough, just by believing that they are still there, lingering in the air. (p. 112)

She walks out of the twentieth-century Venetian synagogue and into the time of Shakespeare. She immediately meets the poet, who obligingly converses with her largely in quotations from his own work, including plays he has not yet had the opportunity of writing. She responds in the same vein, in her case with the advantage of hindsight. As post-modern bricolage, this kind of exchange is legitimate: Shakespeare is a character created by the novelist (‘I summoned you’, she says to Shakespeare, p. 116) who hovers not quite invisibly behind her heroine. Renaissance Jessica is a time-travelling visitor fully equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare’s work. The novelist allows modern Jessica to provide Renaissance Jessica with a cultural language capable of inventing a historical Shakespeare who cannot speak without pre-echoing his own WKHDWULFDOZRUGV%XWDV¿FWLRQZKHWKHUUHDOLVWIDQWDV\RUPDJLFUHDOLVWLQVW\OH this medium is embarrassingly trite and predictable. Jessica is called home by her father Shalac, who is obviously destined to become the model for the Jew of Venice. Here Jong wishes to follow the Venetian experiences of the historical Shakespeare, but her narrative is ill equipped to do VRVLQFHLWNQRZVQRWKLQJEH\RQGWKHVROLSVLVWLFÀRZRIWKHIHPDOHFRQVFLRXVQHVV The gap is bridged by a revealing technical sleight of hand: Jessica is already in love with Shakespeare, and therefore, ‘half [her] mind goes with him’3 (p. 116) when he is absent from the circumference of her observation. Shakespeare himself QRZEHFRPHVWKH¿UVWSHUVRQQDUUDWRU+HWKLQNVRI-HVVLFDDVDUHSODFHPHQWµGDUN lady’, substituting for the ‘Dark Lady’ of the SonnetsZKRLVLGHQWL¿HGDV(PLOLD Lanier. The supposed autobiographical narrative of the Sonnets is here presupposed as Shakespeare’s own experience: an affair with Emilia, betrayal by Southampton, a dose of venereal disease to follow. Later he meditates on memories drawn from the popular Shakespeare biography, the story in which it is nonchalantly assumed that Ann Hathaway was a scolding wife continually remonstrating against the poet’s poverty (p. 131). Jong then supplies an additional chapter to the Shakespeare biography, one in which Shakespeare and Southampton join a Venetian whore in various permutations of sexual intercourse. Having lost all his money at the gambling tables, Shakespeare has to return to the Ghetto to borrow money from Shalac. Shalac is Shakespeare’s Shylock, 3

Cordelia’s ironic words to her father, which are spoken precisely to challenge the extravagant language of absolute devotion uttered by her sisters, are here restored to their original territory of idealist romance. The discrepancy underlines just how distinct this ¿FWLRQDOPHGLXPLVIURPWKHZRUNRILWVVXEMHFW

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


reproduced for modern sensibilities. He is a moneylender and pawnbroker who remembers an (unhistorical) time before the Ghetto, when Jews lived freely in Venice and were accepted fully as Venetians (p. 127). Shalac is also a creature of the twentieth-century literary imagination, in that he continually quotes and misquotes from The Merchant of Venice6LQFHKRZHYHULQWKH¿FWLRQDOWLPHRIWKHQRYHO that play remains to be written, we have to assume that Shakespeare is committing Shalac’s own words to memory, prior to reproducing them in the theatre as the words of his invented character Shylock. Shalac catches Shakespeare looking at his daughter as if distracted from the commercial business in hand, and asks him what he’s really after, ‘My ducats or my daughter?’ (p. 127). He jokes about pounds RIÀHVKDQGWKHLPSXWHGGLIIHUHQFHVEHWZHHQ&KULVWLDQDQG-HZLVKEOHHGLQJ6RPH of Shylock’s language is transferred back to Shakespeare, who asks Shalac if a Christian does not suffer the same limitations as a Jew, parodying Shylock’s ‘I am a Jew’ speech. (p. 129) The novelist is also able to supply Shakespeare with other anachronistic poetic resources, as he interprets the meaning of Jessica’s name as ‘she who looks out’ – ‘as out a window opening on faery casements’ (p. 129). Here Keats’s neo-Elizabethanism (the text cites Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’) LVFRQÀDWHGZLWKGLDORJXHDWWULEXWHGWRWKHKLVWRULFDO6KDNHVSHDUHZKRFRQVRUWV freely with one of his own invented characters, and with a dark lady who is really a time-travelling Hollywood actress. This pastiche effect sums up the cultural imperialism of Serenissima. The post-modern American novelist occupies and owns both time and geography. Jessica Pruitt occupies Venice as an adopted native rather than a tourist: her UHVLGHQFHLQWKHFLW\LVH[SOLFLWO\GLIIHUHQWLDWHGIURPWKHÀHHWLQJVRMRXUQVRIYLVLWRUV (p. 71). At the same time, her imagination is free to collapse the barriers of time between now and the Renaissance, and she enters an early modern Venice with the FRQ¿GHQFHRIDQH[SHUWDQGD¿FLRQDGR:HVWHUQOLWHUDWXUHLVDWKHUFRPPDQGVR she can fashion characters and dialogue out of cut-and-pasted snippets of classic writing from her own education. Shakespeare is conveniently drawn to Venice in order that he too can be assimilated and appropriated to this fable of a modern American woman’s journey into temporal and spatial otherness. As indicated above, there is no discernable narrative framework, no omniscient narrator, only the interior voice of a female consciousness. However, Shakespeare is also a ¿UVWSHUVRQQDUUDWRUWKRXJKQRMXVWL¿FDWLRQLVSURYLGHGIRUVXFKLQZDUGDQGLQWHULRU knowledge. The technique is legitimated by a cultural colonialism: Shakespeare is already known through his writings, so empathy with the poet’s inner life is identical to knowledge of his work. ‘I felt I knew the depths of his soul. And I have read his poems – even those he thinks he has not yet conceived – and anyone who truly reads another’s poems knows his soul’ (p. 125). But what kind of Shakespeare emerges from this fantasy? It is at this point that the novel embarks on its most ambitious, most incredible adventure. Southampton takes Shakespeare to a nunnery-cum-brothel on the lagoon island of Torcello. The sister-whores regularly conceive bastard children, who are murdered and buried on the island. Shakespeare rescues a young pregnant nun and


Shakespeare and Venice

spirits her away to another island where the baby is born. The mother dies, and the poet takes the child to Jessica in the Ghetto. Shakespeare’s arbitrary acquisition of a child from this romance fable forms the bond with Jessica, since they have to ÀHH9HQLFHLQRUGHUWRSURWHFWWKHFKLOG7KH\DUHLPPHGLDWHO\XQLWHGLQDFRPPRQ care for the baby: ‘protecting it, we fell hopelessly in love’ (p. 156). Why should I help a stranger, she asks? But Shakespeare, ‘this man who has summoned me back through the mists of time’ (p. 148), is not a stranger. To justify the risks entailed in saving the child, Shakespeare extemporizes Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy (p. 149). Jessica remembers the lines from her future knowledge of The Merchant of Venice. The twentieth-century actress-heroine Jessica has a daughter, custody of whom she has lost in a bitter divorce. In her appropriative fantasy, she acquires a Shakespeare who is not only a great lover but also a devoted parent. While the historical Shakespeare may have been notoriously indifferent towards his children, Jong’s Shakespeare is a kind of honorary mother, sharing with the woman ‘this most humanizing act of the human species’ (p. 159), mothering. Re-made as a IHPLQLVWZLVKIXO¿OPHQWIDQWDV\LWLVQRWVXUSULVLQJWROHDUQWKDW6KDNHVSHDUHWKH poet was a worshipper of ‘the White Goddess’, ‘the Mother of all living’ (p. 75). Thus the novelist claims, via her invented alter-ego Jessica, a peculiar and inward knowledge of Shakespeare’s character and personality, his mind and heart. As they journey together, he tells her everything about himself, his family, his career. Jessica will not reveal these details, since she has no wish to disturb the various illusions of academia as to Shakespeare’s true identity: If I told these things about the man from Stratford, what pleasure would I take away from how many book-bound scholars, whose greatest joy is to speculate upon this mythical man, providing him with professions he never followed, ancestries he never traced, even names he was never called! I’ll not have that on P\FRQVFLHQFH/HWWKH6KDNHVSHDUHLQGXVWU\ÀRXULVK SS±

She knows Shakespeare intimately as man, lover, adoptive parent. As Jessica, daughter of Shylock, she even claims to have provided the specialist knowledge necessary for Shakespeare to write The Merchant of Venice. How did the playwright know enough to write the play? He acquired the knowledge from his relationship with the ‘real’ Jessica. ‘He knew’ (p. 212). The Renaissance Jessica dies from plague, but present-day Jessica detaches herself from the historical fantasy and reappears in contemporary Venice. Mysteriously she has managed to bring the baby back with her. The quarrel I have been conducting with Jong’s novel is not of course that it is a fantasy, plays fast and loose with history, accepts invented details about the Shakespeare biography and adds manifestly conjectural new ones, or even that so much of it is so badly written. The problem seems to me to be with the way in which both Shakespeare and Venice are appropriated as the natural property and possession of twentieth-century American feminism. The novelist claims a personal DQGDGRSWLYHIDPLOLDULW\ZLWK9HQLFHWKDWJLYHVKHULQVLJKWEH\RQGWKHVXSHU¿FLDO

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


observations of the tourist. Yet the Venice reproduced in the novel is identical to the literary Venice constructed by nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers, so there is no true originality of vision. Although the sophisticated cultural Venice of the ¿OP IHVWLYDO LV UHDOL]HG ZLWK GHWDFKHG LURQ\ WKHUH LV QR LURQ\ RU GHWDFKPHQW LQ the bizarre fable that links the untravelled, bisexual poet with the cosmopolitan, heterosexual modern writer, and joins them together, through the romance device of the foundling child, into a Christmas-card Holy Family (p. 196). What Jong did for The Merchant of Venice, Caryl Phillips did for Othello in his novel The Nature of Blood.4 Phillips was born in the West Indies, brought up in Leeds in the North of England, and educated at Oxford. He delineated the contours RIWKHQRYHOHDUOLHULQKLVQRQ¿FWLRQDOERRNThe European Tribe (1987), which is a travel book, the memoir of a journey and a concentrated indictment of European racism. Two short essays on Venice deal respectively with Shakespeare’s Othello and Shylock, the black man and the Jew. Sixteenth century Venetian society, says Phillips curtly (and unhistorically), ‘enslaved the black and ridiculed the Jew’ (p. 45). Othello’s tragedy lies entirely in the fact of his blackness. Phillips’s recapitulation of Othello’s history depicts him as a royal African prince, enslaved and educated into European language and religion. Venice discovers his military talents, and overlooks his colour in a transparently opportunistic tolerance, which is extended to cover even the outrageous miscegenation of his marriage to Desdemona. The irrationality of Othello’s subsequent behaviour is attributed solely to this history: WKHUHLVQRµÀDZ¶LQWKHPDQµLWLVZKDW\RXKDYHPDGHKLPLQWR¶ S  Phillips analyzes Othello’s character entirely in terms of the institutional racism to which he is subjected. As an ex-slave he values freedom above all else, and as a man is ‘profoundly insecure’ (p. 47). His desire to be accepted on equal terms as a Venetian is strong enough to obliterate his awareness of difference, to make him ‘forget that he is black’ (p. 48). Othello’s tragedy is rooted in a loss of cultural identity: There is no evidence of Othello having any black friends, eating any African foods, speaking any language other than theirs. He makes no reference to any family. From what we are given it is clear that he denied, or at least did not cultivate his past. (p. 51)

Thus adrift from his cultural moorings, Othello enacts the classic tragedy of the victim of racism who unwittingly trusts the racist.

4 Caryl Phillips, The Nature of Blood (London: Faber and Faber, 1997). The novel is KLJKO\FHOHEUDWHGDVSRVWFRORQLDOµ+RORFDXVW¶DQGµWUDXPD¶¿FWLRQ6HH6WHSKHQ&OLQJPDQ The Grammar of Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Cathy Caruth, Trauma Fiction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004); Lillian Kramer (ed.), Holocaust Literature (London: Taylor and Francis, 2003); Petra Tournay, ‘Challenging Shakespeare’, in Susan Onega and Christian Gutleben (eds), Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004).


Shakespeare and Venice

Phillips’s treatment of Shylock begins with what we have learned to recognize as a conventional sketch of the Venetian Ghetto, seeing it as ‘characterized by deprivation and persecution’ (p. 52). As a black writer preaching against anti-Semitism, however, Phillips encounters a certain discomfort, since Jews and blacks are not, as one might expect, natural comrades in suffering. His perspective is complicated by an acknowledgement of ‘the virulent anti-Semitism that seems to pervade much black thought’ (p. 53). Phillips admits, but partially condones, the attitude of American blacks who claim precedence in persecution and see Jews as a powerful segment of the white American society that enslaved them. Phillips’s own British experience was different: at school he learned, he claims, about the persecution of Jews, but not about African slavery.5 Hence his own sense of injustice and persecution was projected onto the history of the Jews, whom he saw as a role model, since no comparable black identity was available (p. 54). The Shylock of The Merchant of Venice, he says, ‘has always been my hero’ (p. 55), since in the Jew’s hatred of Christian society, his instinct of separatism and his violent thirst for revenge, Phillips found objective correlatives for his own resentful black consciousness. The European Tribe thus supplies the connection between black and Jew that forms the architecture of the Nature of Blood. Othello and Shylock, black and Jew, are counterparts, twinned in their mutual exploitation by white Christian 9HQHWLDQ VRFLHW\ $V D EODFN DQWLUDFLVW 3KLOOLSV LGHQWL¿HV ZLWK ERWK EXW VHHV 2WKHOORDVDYLFWLPDQG6K\ORFNDVDKHUR,QERWKLGHQWL¿FDWLRQVWKHUHLVDVWURQJ SHUVRQDO HQJDJHPHQW ZLWK WKH ZULWHU VHHNLQJ WR FODLP WKH FKDUDFWHU¶V ¿FWLRQDO suffering as an equivalent for his own. Othello’s background is the slave trade, and Shylock’s the Ghetto. But both these historical experiences are triangulated: the Ghetto against contemporary references to the Holocaust; slavery to white racism in Britain; and both to the writer’s own consciousness of sharing multiple histories of persecution. ‘Othello is a black man’, says Phillips, and Shylock an honorary black. But Othello is treated like a Jew, and the black Phillips empathizes with the ¿FWLRQDOVL[WHHQWKFHQWXU\6K\ORFN The potential for confusion between discrete histories and identities is fully realized in The Nature of Blood.6 The book is constructed from separate narrative VWUDQGVVRPHFRQQHFWHGWKURXJKDVLQJOHIDPLO\ZKLFKÀRZLQSDUDOOHODQGDUH not explicitly compared or contrasted by the author. The novel begins and ends with Stephan Stern, a Jewish activist who at the beginning is seen working with

5 The African slave-trade, he insists, was not on the curriculum and certainly not on the TV screen. I was at school in Leeds before Phillips (b. 1958), and somehow managed to acquire an awareness of slavery. The TV adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots was broadcast in 1976. Phillips also claims that his school was physically segregated, not by race but by social class, something I never experienced. 6 For a different view see Wendy Zierler, ‘“My holocaust is not your holocaust”: “Facing” Black and Jewish Experience in The Pawnbroker, Higher Ground and The Nature of Blood’, Holocaust and Gender Studies 18.1 (2004), pp. 46–67.

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


displaced Jewish refugees held by the British on Cyprus in the late 1940s, and at the end is living in the newly established state of Israel. His surname echoes the fundamentalist nationalist terror group the Stern Gang.7 Stephan is uncle to Eva, whose story, which carries strong echoes of the story of Ann Frank, takes us through the atrocities of the Nazi death camps in the later years of the Second World War. Interwoven with these modern narratives is the true story of the Jews who were tried and executed for child-murder in Venice in the 1480s; and the story of Shakespeare’s Othello (though he is not named as such), which runs from his arrival in Venice to his successful mission against the Turks in Cyprus. The parallels are very loosely associated, with no explicit concatenations. Cyprus, for instance, is the location of incarcerated Jewish refugees displaced by the Second World War, and the place of Othello’s military expedition: but nothing is explicitly made of the comparison. Venice is the site of Jewish persecution and of Othello’s encounters with racism, but again the similarities are left implicit and unexamined. The narrative technique of the novel hardly permits any explicit parallelism, VLQFHPRVWRIWKHQDUUDWLYHVWUDQGVDUHLQWKH¿UVWSHUVRQ 6WHSKDQ(YD2WKHOOR  while the story of the Portabuffalo Jews is recounted in a documentary and historiographical style by a third-person narrator. The author also interpolates a IHZEULHIHQF\FORSDHGLDVW\OHHQWULHVWRGH¿QHVXFKWHUPVDVµ*KHWWR¶µVXLFLGH¶ and ‘Venice’; and is not above breaking directly into the fragmented narrative context to launch an extraordinary personal attack on Shakespeare’s (and his own) Othello. Critics and reviewers have exercised great ingenuity in trying to unpack WKHVLJQL¿FDQFHRIµEORRG¶IURPWKHERRN¶VWLWOHEXWWKHQRYHOLWVHOIKDVQRYHU\ clear approach to that term’s multiple possibilities of meaning. Ultimately all that can be said of the novel is that it documents discrete historical experiences of racism and persecution involving blacks and Jews, and implies that they all share a common origin and cause. The experience of medieval and early modern Jewry in Venice is framed within the twentieth-century experience of the Holocaust, the dispossession of European Jews and the foundation of the modern state of Israel. In addressing issues of race and colour in Renaissance Venice, Phillips inevitably encounters Shakespeare. In The European Tribe, Shylock and Othello virtually stand proxy for Venice itself, since very little of the city is described or represented: a single black traveller who looks nothing like Othello, a lonely old man in the Ghetto. Shylock and Othello become the foreground, and Venice the background of the novelist’s observation. In The Nature of Blood, however, Othello is brought to life again, while Shylock is assimilated to a history of racial persecution. While the suffering of Venetian Jews is narrated with impersonal detachment as an edifying story from history, the story of Othello LVWROGLQWKH¿UVWSHUVRQ 7 In the novel Stern seems to be working with the Irgun. The motivation for Israeli nationalism in the novel is the Holocaust, though the real Avraham Stern’s Zionist plan for seizing Palestine from the British authorities pre-dated the Second World War.

Shakespeare and Venice


Phillips’s Othello-narrative begins and ends with Othello watching Desdemona sleeping, and focusing around her his own anxieties. Although he has taken possession of her body, he is aware that it must now appear, having accommodated a black man, accessible to any male admirers. A woman who has sexual relations with a black man can only be a whore. Othello knows Desdemona as chaste, loyal and honourable, and yet he wonders if she does not have some of the ‘renowned deceit of the Venetian courtesan’ (p. 106). He suspects conspiracy, betrayal, but being a ‘foreigner’ he cannot know for sure (p. 106). Phillips’s narrative quits Othello’s story before Iago’s temptation begins, so the root of his jealousy, already DZDNHQLQJPXVWOLHLQKLVRZQLQVHFXULW\2WKHOORWKHQUHFDOOVKLV¿UVWDUULYDOLQ Venice, and recounts his experience consecutively up to the point where he wakes and watches his sleeping wife. Othello’s arrival in Venice echoes the familiar shock of revelation characteristic RIVXFKDUULYDOQDUUDWLYHVDVKHPDUYHOVDWWKHPDJQL¿FHQFHVSOHQGRXUDQGLQJHQXLW\ of the buildings and canals (p. 107). But for him this arrival is much more than an entry into a place of beauty. He describes himself as having ‘moved from the edge of the world to the centre’ (p. 107) (Edward Said’s ‘voyage in’),8 recalling his history as a royal prince, taken into slavery, and now granted an enviable destiny as the man chosen to lead the great Venetian army. Almost simultaneously, however, Othello encounters that other Venice of labyrinthine passages, urban decay and LPSRYHULVKHGVTXDORU S WKDWOLHVEHKLQGWKHPDJQL¿FHQWIDoDGH7KLVLVD different Venice, alien to the fabled Serenissima of legendary aesthetic beauty: a city of labour and busy domesticity, crumbling buildings and sinking foundations, DGDUNVLGHLQZKLFK2WKHOORQDWXUDOO\HQRXJKSHUKDSV¿QGVKLPVHOIPRUHDWKRPH ‘I learnt to hold these various images close to my dark bosom’ (p. 109). Phillips’s Othello is acutely conscious of his racial and cultural otherness. He is unfamiliar with Venice in terms of its language and manners, and grapples helplessly with the codes that govern the habits and customs of everyday social life (p. 115). Later Othello links his own confusion with the famous impenetrability of Venice’s urban environment: Venice induces in him a species of panic, a natural reaction to this place of streets that lead elusively into one another, with no clear indication of any ultimate destination (p. 132). Othello’s situation in Venice is one of ‘isolation’, ‘loneliness’, his peregrinations though the city are described as µVROLWDU\PLJUDWLRQV¶ S KHQHYHUIHHOVWUXO\SDUWRI9HQLFHDQGUHÀHFWVWKDW this condition is a natural product of a society that is both powerful and exclusive, tolerant but insular. Foreigners respect Venice, but cannot bring themselves to love her. Venetian society is skilfully defensive, closing ranks against threats both internal and external (p. 117). In this context, Othello cites the Venetian practice (noted by Thomas and Contareno) of hiring foreign mercenary generals to lead the republic’s military forces, in order to obviate the growth of military despotism within the state (p. 117). Phillips’s Othello, on receiving an appointment as commander, derives some 8

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993), p. 261.

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


consolation from this mark of respect for his painful perception of alienation and rejection. But this positive impulse is swiftly submerged by the attributed inferiority of racism: Venice was ‘teaching me to think of myself as a man less worthy than the person I knew myself to be’ (p. 119). Othello pays a visit, ‘prompted by curiosity’, WR WKH -HZLVK *KHWWR DQG ¿QGV LW EDIÀLQJ P\VWHULRXV µVWUDQJH¶ +H QRWHV WKDW WKH LQKDELWDQWV VHHP UHFRQFLOHG WR WKHLU FRQ¿QHPHQW EHFDXVH RI WKH SURWHFWLRQ LWDIIRUGVWKHP7RKLPKRZHYHUWKHVH-HZVVHHPµLPSULVRQHG¶FRQ¿QHGWRWKH Ghetto, obliged to pay Christians to guard them. Everywhere in the Ghetto Othello SHUFHLYHV RYHUFURZGLQJ HQYLURQPHQWDO SRYHUW\ ¿OWK GDUNQHVV DQG VTXDORU (p. 131). He cannot understand why the wealthy Jews should accept such cramped and insalubrious living conditions (p. 131). 2WKHOOR¶VUHÀHFWLRQVRQWKHSRVLWLRQRI-HZVLQ9HQLFH ZKLFKDUHUHPDUNDEO\ well informed as to the detail of Venetian law), emphasize the severity of penalties and punishments visited on the Jews for apparently minor infractions and transgressions. Their situation entails what seems to him a very high price for the commercial opportunities thus obtained. Othello observes that even the protection afforded to the Jews by the Ghetto could in any case be counter-productive, since WKHLUFRQ¿QHPHQWUHQGHUHGWKHPDKLJKO\YLVLEOHWDUJHWµ7KH-HZVZHUHKHUGHG en masse and enclosed in one defenceless pen’ (p. 130). +HUHWKLVGRXEO\¿FWLRQDOFKDUDFWHUUHFDSLWXODWHVWKHQRYHO¶VSDUDOOHOQDUUDWLYH of anti-Jewish persecution, and adumbrates what Phillips sees as the true IXO¿OPHQW RI WKLV KLVWRU\ LQ WKH WZHQWLHWKFHQWXU\ SHUVHFXWLRQ RI WKH -HZV7KH -HZVKHUGHGLQWKHVL[WHHQWKFHQWXU\9HQHWLDQ*KHWWRSDUDOOHOERWKWKH¿IWHHQWK century Portabuffolo Jews, imprisoned in the Doge’s palace awaiting their trial and execution, and the twentieth-century victims of the Nazi extermination camps. The view we hear from Phillips’s Othello aligns with Richard Sennett’s view of the Ghetto as a proto-concentration camp. In doing so, Phillips ignores the convincing arguments of historians, many of them Jewish, who point out that the Venetian Ghetto existed to provide a permanent place for the Jews, not to prepare them for some Final Solution. As Benjamin Ravid observes, the ‘ghettoes of earlier days … ZHUH GHVLJQHG WR SURYLGH WKH -HZV ZLWK D FOHDUO\ GH¿QHG SHUPDQHQW SODFH LQ Christian society’, and were not ‘merely a temporary stage on the planned road to total liquidation’.9 Any attempt to parallel sixteenth-century Venice with the Third Reich risks the absurdity of malapropism, reading the modern meaning of ‘ghetto’ back into the early modern institution. And in any case, to describe the Venetian Ghetto as a ‘defenceless pen’, foreshadowing the concentration camps of the Holocaust narrative, entails conveniently forgetting everything the novel’s Venetian narrative has already said about the Ghetto as a protective space of shelter. Everywhere else, Jews were defenceless: but in the Venetian Ghetto, they were under the republic’s protection. Phillips’s Othello has seen this clearly. But that is not what Phillips as author wants his readers to hear.


Ravid, ‘The Venetian Ghetto’, p. 282.

Shakespeare and Venice


Later, when Othello receives from Desdemona a letter in a longhand script he is unable to decipher, he returns to the Ghetto seeking help. There he encounters a Jewish scribe he describes as ‘a weather-beaten warp-faced Jew’, who reads the letter for him. Othello feels the Jew has some sympathy for his predicament, and there is an apparent exchange of feeling between the two outsiders. This moment again emphasizes Phillips’s insistence on identifying black and Jew. %XW KLV XVH RI WKH SKUDVH IURP &RU\DWH ± µZDUSIDFHG -HZ¶ ± LV VLJQL¿FDQW DQG revealing. In context, what Coryate actually said is that in general parlance the term ‘Jew’ conjures up the image of ‘a warp-faced fellow’. Visiting the Jewish TXDUWHURI9HQLFHWKDWLVH[DFWO\ZKDWKHH[SHFWHGWR¿QG%XWWKH-HZVKHDFWXDOO\ HQFRXQWHUVLQWKH*KHWWRZHUHQRWOLNHWKLVDWDOOEXWGLJQL¿HGDQGQREOHDQGWKHLU women surpassingly beautiful.10 Phillips much prefers to couple his Othello with the rejected stereotype rather than with the observed reality that Coryate honestly and responsibly relayed to his readers. The cited phrase takes us back to a narrative of discovery in which a racial stereotype is revealed for what it is, inaccurate and misleading. But here it is recontextualized into a narrative where black man and Jew share a common experience of persecution. Phillips’s Othello differs substantially from Shakespeare’s in having an African wife and child, left behind in his native country (p. 135). He wonders how they might react to knowledge of his marriage to Desdemona (p. 135), but the curiosity seems transitory, and Othello seems to have no real contact with his past. Othello’s ZRRLQJRI'HVGHPRQDUHVWRUHVKLVSULGHDQGVHOIFRQ¿GHQFH7KRXJKDPDQRI colour who had no obvious advantages over the handsome blonde Venetian men, KHKDVVHFXUHGWKHKDQGRIDULFKDQGQREOHODG\+HUHÀHFWVRQWKHUHYHUVDOWKDWKDV brought him, a stranger, who arrived in Venice ‘lonely and unannounced’, by his marriage to the very ‘heart of society’ (p. 145). By the same token, however, this reception into Venetian society simultaneously constitutes a separation of Othello from any remaining connection to his native land. Later he confesses to a painful isolation that derives from this dispossession, and cannot be assuaged, even by the love and companionship of his wife. He has no one to share with him ‘memories of a common past’; no one with whom he could converse in his own language. He has to reconcile himself to perpetual separation: ‘I might never again see the country of my birth’ (p. 147). Marriage into Venetian society therefore constitutes a form of isolation within Venetian society that obliges Othello henceforth, reluctantly, to consider the republic his ‘home’ (p. 147). Thus every positive advancement he achieves – social acceptance, successful courtship, marriage, political preferment – is shadowed by some negative realization that accompanies it. He is accepted, despite his colour; but only reluctantly tolerated, because of his colour. He wins Desdemona, and 10

Coryate in CruditiesVD\VKHH[SHFWHGWR¿QGWKH-HZVFRQIRUPLQJWRVWHUHRW\SH to say someone looks like a Jew is to denote a ‘weather-beaten warp-faced fellow’ or D µSKUHQWLFNH DQG OXQDWLFNH SHUVRQ¶ S   %XW KH ¿QGV WKH -HZV µHOHJDQW DQG VZHHW featured’ (p. 232), the women ‘beautiful as ever I saw’ (p. 233).

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


possesses her body; but is no closer to knowing the secrets of her ‘Venetian WKRXJKWV¶ S +HLVJLYHQKLJKRI¿FHLQWKHVWDWHEXWFRYHUWO\KDWHGE\WKRVH he serves. He marries a high-born lady and as a consequence is scorned by those who see him as an unjustly fortunate stranger (p. 148). Phillips’s Othello-narrative concludes with three connected but separated SDVVDJHVRQHVXVWDLQLQJWKH¿UVWSHUVRQQDUUDWLYHWKHRWKHUWZRERWKFRQVWLWXWLQJ D VWUDQJH PRGH RI DXWKRULDO LQWHUSRODWLRQ ZULWWHQ LQ D NLQG RI VHPLYHUVL¿HG UKHWRULF,QWKH¿UVWSDVVDJH2WKHOORH[SUHVVHVKLVRZQLGHDORIWKHSHUIHFWOLIH he hopes to have achieved: a beautiful and faithful wife, a publicly acknowledged sexual intimacy, a ‘life of peace in the remarkable city-state’ (p. 174). In the second passage (pp. 181–2) the author, in a unique fracturing of the book’s narrative integrity, breaks though and launches an astonishing tirade of abuse against his own invented hero. And so you shadow her every move, attend to her every whim, like the black Uncle Tom that you are. Fighting the white man’s war for him/Wide-receiver in the Venetian army/The republic’s grinning Satchmo hoisting his sword like a trumpet/You tuck your black skin away beneath their epaulette uniform, appropriate their words (Rude am I in my speech), their manners, worry your nappy woollen head with anxiety about learning their ways, yet you conveniently forget your own family, and thrust your wife and son to the back of your noble mind. O strong man, O strong arm, O valiant soldier, O weak man. You are lost, D VDG EODFN PDQ ¿UVW LQ D ORQJ OLQH RI VRFDOOHG DFKLHYHUV ZKR DUH WRR ZHDN to yoke their past with their present; too naive to insist on both; too foolish to realize that to supplant one with the other can only lead to catastrophe. Go ahead, peer on her alabaster skin. Go ahead, revel in the delights of her wanton bed, but to whom will you turn when she, too, is lost and a real storm breaks about your handkerchiefed head? My friend, the Yoruba have a saying: the river that does not know its own source will dry up. You will do well to remember this.

This abrupt authorial intervention is unique in the novel, and betrays a powerful animus on the part of the black author against black men who are seen as traitors WRWKHLUUDFLDOKHULWDJH2WKHOORLVGH¿QHGDVDQµ8QFOH7RP¶IURP+DUULHW%HHFKHU Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the stereotype of the submissive and docile victim of slavery. This term, together with the term ‘wide-receiver’, a playing position in American football, links Othello with American slavery rather than with Venice or with the East. A ‘wide-receiver’ catches the ball and passes it, rather than keeping it for himself; Othello accepts the white man’s offer of incorporation into Venetian society, and squanders his own family and racial inheritance. The choice he makes renders him a ‘Jim Crow’,11 another epithet from the language of American slavery, equivalent to ‘Uncle Tom’ (p. 183). He is also compared with the great

11 From a dance routine ‘Jump Jim Crow’ performed by a white comedian in blackface.


Shakespeare and Venice

jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong12 (‘Satchmo’), who was attacked by critics for playing to segregated audiences, and is here caricatured as a grinning black clown performing grotesque antics to propitiate the white masters.13 Phillips’s bitter anger at the stereotypes of racism, concentrated in the phrase ‘nappy woollen head’, RYHUÀRZVDQGFRUURGHVWKHUHSXWDWLRQRIDQ\PDQRIFRORXUZKRFDQEHVHHQLQ any way to have ‘collaborated’ with white society. This is neither ‘writing back’, nor ‘writing with’, Shakespeare’s Othello, but rather ‘writing away from’.14 This is neither resistance nor sharing, but rejection. Racial difference is not provisionally overlooked, subordinated to commercial priorities, as it was in early modern Venice, but rather insisted upon as the inalienable and immanent otherness of the black man. Blackness is here an essence, not a socially constructed marker of differentiation. Phillips’s own sympathies, however, are distinctly partial. As in The European Tribe, The Nature of Blood twins the African and the Jew. The Jew is located in the Ghetto and the Nazi death camp, both seen as parallel models of incarceration; and the black man, as in the dominant ‘Othello’ tradition, is associated with transatlantic slavery and with America. Nowhere in the novel is Othello given any orientation towards the East. Nowhere is he associated with Arab ethnicity, or with Islamic religion. Yet the novel’s framing context, with which it opens and closes, is the violent founding and more violent defence of modern Israel, cause RIVRPXFKVXIIHULQJDQGFRQÀLFWLQWKHPRGHUQZRUOG3KLOOLSVGHSLFWVDZRUOGLQ which the Venetian prison, the British refugee camp for European Jews, and the Nazi extermination camp together symbolize a longue durée of persecution for the Jews. By insisting on repeated parallelisms between blacks and Jews, and clearly manifesting his own black consciousness, he implicitly claims this narrative of suffering as his own. He does not seem to see any trace of refugee camps containing Palestinians. By the same token, his Othello, despite the Shakespearean character’s marked associations with the Arab and Muslim East, is never accorded any potential connection with those dispossessed by the forced expropriation of -HZLVK VHWWOHPHQW 6XIIHULQJ LV TXDUDQWLQHG FRQ¿QHG WR UDFLDO W\SH WKH EODFN and the Jew. Suffering in those outside these denominations becomes invisible.

12 ‘Satchmo’ from ‘Satchel-mouth’, referring to Armstrong’s exaggerated embrasure. ‘O strong arm’ puns on ‘Armstrong’. 13 Louis Armstrong, grandson of slaves, lived the life of extreme poverty and YLFWLPL]DWLRQ3KLOOLSVFDQRQO\IDQWDVL]HDERXW$UPVWURQJGLGLQIDFWFRQWULEXWHVLJQL¿FDQWO\ to civil rights causes. Phillips might also have mentioned, in the course of drawing his elaborate parallels between black and Jewish experience, the fact that Satchmo always wore the Star of David, in gratitude to the Jewish immigrant family who lent him the money to EX\KLV¿UVWFRUQHW$UPVWURQJLVUHJDUGHGDVRQHRIWKHPRVWLQÀXHQWLDOPXVLFLDQVRIWKH twentieth century. 14 Maurizio Calbi, ‘“The ghosts of strangers”: Hospitality, Identity and Temporality in Caryl Phillips’ The Nature of Blood’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 6.2 (September 2006), pp. 38–54.

Shakespeare’s Venice in Fiction


As Calbi notes, here Phillips clearly endorses ‘an essentialist view of race and black identity’ (p. 40). Both these novels in their different ways appropriate both Shakespeare and Venice for the purposes of a contemporary polemic. At the core of Jong’s novel is a great commandeering ego that seeks to explain everything by reference to LWVHOILWLVWKH¿UVWFDXVHDQGSULPHPRYHURIHYHU\WKLQJSDVWSUHVHQWDQGIXWXUH Shakespeare gets caught up in this vortex of cultural greed, falling a helpless victim to female sexuality and motherhood, lying prostrated before the White Goddess. The authorial ego becomes the feminine object of desire to which Shakespeare eagerly capitulates, since the Jessica of the present merges imperceptibly with the Jessica of the past. Cultural differences elide and blur, as characters change places: ¿OPVWDUDQG*KHWWRJLUO+ROO\ZRRGDFWUHVVDQG5HQDLVVDQFH-HZ6LQFHWKHWLPH travelling ‘artist’ already possesses a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays, cause and effect are reversed, and it is Erica Jong who gives Shakespeare all his ¿QHVW OLQHV7KH SDVW LV UHVXUUHFWHG EXW WKHQ PDGH VXEVHUYLHQW WR WKH SHWW\ DQG parochial demands, the strident voice of patronizing condescension, that comes from the present. As with Shakespeare, so with the city, which is claimed and appropriated along with the poet, whose exploratory visions of Venice are abandoned in favour of post-modern pastiche. Though Venice is, in Tony Tanner’s words, the ‘already written, as well as the already seen, the already read’,15 here Jong, as a supremely FRQ¿GHQW OLWHUDU\ WRXULVW EOLWKHO\ UHSURGXFHV WKH WUDGLWLRQ DV LQYHQWLRQ DQG GLVFRYHU\ DV LI VKH ZHUH WKH ¿UVW WR REVHUYH 9HQLFH LQ TXLWH WKLV ZD\ 7KLV high-handed assumption of imaginative ownership is cast over both Venice and Shakespeare, culminating in the clear implication that there is nothing in either that is not accessible to personal appropriation. Missing from Jong’s Venice is any trace of that overawed perception of the city as defying representation, as ‘unrepresentable’, ‘beyond representation’, ‘unhandleable’,16 that pervades so much post-Romantic writing; and absent from her version of Shakespeare is any sense of humility at the sheer difference of otherness, the awareness that Shakespeare’s Venice was not ours, and not so readily available as a space for the production of our parochial fantasies. Jong’s Venice is more the città galante of the eighteenth century, a place of sexual experimentation and transgression, than anything that resembles the complex multivalence of Shakespeare’s Venice. In Phillips’s vision, Venice becomes a prototype of European society, insular and racist, exclusive and xenophobic. There is no interest here in the differences between Venice and European norms that so many other observers have encountered. Venice stands for white racism, and Othello is its victim. As such, he becomes a proxy for KLVFUHDWRU&DOELQRWHVWKDWPDQ\RI3KLOOLSV¶V¿FWLRQDOSURWDJRQLVWVUHFDOOERWK

15 16

Tanner, Venice Desired, p. 17. Ibid., p. 6.

Shakespeare and Venice


Othello and the author himself.17 Phillips’s Othello is seen as a black man who has sold out to white culture, choosing the beautiful white woman, European language and professional advancement over loyalty to his African family, culture and ethnic heritage. In the note of personal vindictiveness that emerges when the author attacks Othello directly, there seems to be more than a little self-hatred on the part of this successful black novelist, who has fully embraced the enticements of white middle-class culture, and is little seen in St Kitts (or indeed in Leeds). The portentousness of that closing reprimand addressed to Othello – ‘My friend, the Yoruba have a saying …’ rings particularly false and hollow, the mere aping of an exotic cultural register from a professor of English at Yale University. This QRWH RI HWKQLF PRUDOL]LQJ LV FKDUDFWHULVWLF RI WKH QRYHO¶V ¿QDO FRPPHQWDU\ RQ Othello, where the author distinguishes between an African river and a Venetian canal, insisting on the irreconcilable difference between the two. It is impossible to reconcile both: one must choose. Othello should have chosen, so the implication goes, to return to his wife and son, and relinquish the ‘creamy arms’ of seductive Venice. Venice is the white honey-trap that lures the unsuspecting black man, SURPLVLQJKLPIXO¿OPHQWDQGHTXDOLW\EXWLQWKHHQGVWULSSLQJKLPRIKLVURRWVKLV IDPLO\KLVYHU\VHOI,QWKLVZD\DV&DOELDI¿UPVThe Nature of Blood ‘reinscribes the essentialism of “race” and identity’.18

17 18

Calbi, ‘The ghosts of strangers’, p. 38. Ibid., p. 45.

Chapter 6

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film We cannot leave Shakespeare’s Venice without giving some attention to cinematic DGDSWDWLRQVRIWKH9HQHWLDQSOD\V$GLUHFWRUXQGHUWDNLQJWRPDNHD¿OPRIRQH of Shakespeare’s Venetian plays inherits a range of problems. Some of these are generic: since the works are written for the theatre, they require radical revision WR ¿W WKH PHGLXP RI ¿OP DQG VLQFH WKH SOD\V WRGD\ EHORQJ WR KLJK UDWKHU WKDQ popular culture, their absorption into mainstream cinema is never without GLI¿FXOW\9HQLFHKRZHYHUSUHVHQWVLWVRZQSUREOHPVVLQFHLWLVVRSRZHUIXODQG IDPLOLDU D YLVXDO WH[W SRVVLEO\ IRU PDQ\ SHRSOH YLHZHG ¿UVW WKURXJK SDLQWLQJ SKRWRJUDSK\DQG¿OPEHIRUHLWLVHYHUVHHQLQLWVUHDOLW\RIZDWHUDQGVWRQHDQG light. Films based on plays and novels approach Venice from a distance of several UHPRYHVDQGPDQ\RIWKHIDPRXVPRGHUQ9HQLFH¿OPVDUHUHSURGXFWLRQVRINH\ 9HQHWLDQ ¿FWLRQDO WH[WV /XFKLQR 9LVFRQWL¶V Death in Venice, Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Ian Softley’s Wings of a Dove, Paul Schrader’s The Comfort of StrangersWUDQVODWHLQWR¿OPLFIRUPWKHFRPSOH[LPDJLQDWLYHHQFRXQWHUVDOUHDG\ established by Thomas Mann, Agatha Christie, Henry James and Ian McEwen. For the modern spectator there can be no ‘straightforward’ representation of Venice, since its visual appearance already subsumes all these texts and their associations. 9HQLFH LV DOZD\V DQ DFWRU RU DJHQW LQ WKH VHPLRWLF ODQJXDJH RI ¿OP µ0DQ\ « ¿OPPDNHUV¶REVHUYHV'HV2¶5DZHµKDYHWKHPVHOYHVGLVFRYHUHGWKDWVFUHHQLQJ 9HQLFHLQYROYHVDQHQFRXQWHUZLWKWKHPRVWIRUPLGDEOH¿FWLRQVDQGIDQWDVLHVRI western civilization’.1 Shakespeare’s Venice is a microcosm of this complex cultural matrix. The ¿OPPDNHURSHUDWHVRQDFXOWXUDOVLWHLQWHUVHFWHGE\WH[WWKHDWUHDQGUHDOORFDWLRQ He has the text of the play, with its imaginative construction of Venice; the historical WKHDWULFDOWUDGLWLRQVWKDWKDYHVRXJKWWRUHDOL]H9HQLFHDVDVHWWLQJ¿UVWUHDOLVWLFDOO\ in the Victorian pictorial mode, later modernistically in the distorted angularity of Komisarjevsky’s designs; and the city of Venice itself. The twentieth-century GLUHFWRU PDNLQJ D ¿OP RI Othello or The Merchant of Venice has the option of actually shooting in Venice, using its public architecture and domestic space as WKHDWULFDOVHWV%RWKWKH¿OPVWREHGLVFXVVHGLQGHWDLOLQWKLVFKDSWHUXQGHUWRRN the latter operation: Orson Welles’s Othello and Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice.2 $V ZLWK WKH VHOHFWLYH GLVFXVVLRQ RI ¿FWLRQDO WH[WV LQ WKH SUHFHGLQJ FKDSWHU WKHVH WZR ¿OPV DUH FKRVHQ IURP D ZLGHU UDQJH RI SRVVLELOLWLHV EHFDXVH 1 Des O’Rawe, ‘Venice in Film: the Postcard and the Palimpsest’, Literature/Film Quarterly 3.3 (2005), pp. 224–32. 2 Orson Welles’s Othello Restored, DVD (Castle Hill Productions, 1992); The Merchant of Venice, DVD, dir. Michael Radford (Columbia Tristar, 2005).


Shakespeare and Venice

they address both Shakespeare and Venice in parallel, and therefore concur with my own preoccupations in this book. The fact that the stones of Venice appear at all in Welles’s Othello was something RIDQDFFLGHQWVLQFHWKLVZDVQRWKLVRULJLQDOLQWHQWLRQ7KH¿OPZDVWRKDYHEHHQ made in France, as a studio production, based in the Victorine studios in Nice. This project was to have been produced by Italian movie mogul Montatori Scalera, and ZLWKDUWGLUHFWLRQE\$OH[DQGHU7UDXQHUEXWWKH¿QDQFLQJRIWKHSURMHFWFROODSVHG :HOOHVVDLGWKDWKHLQLWLDOO\SUHIHUUHGWKLVFRQWH[WIRUKLV¿OPVLQFHPRVWRILWV action takes place in a Cyprus that has in any case to be largely invented, and Venice itself would therefore have represented something of a distraction from the psychological world he wanted to create. ,IIRUWKUHHIRXUWKVRIRXU¿OPZHZHUHWRLQKDELWDQLQYHQWHGZRUOGUDWKHUWKDQ a series of real locations, then our version of reality would have been merely mocked by those famous and familiar old stones of Venice.3

At this point, Welles was thinking of representing Venice through art direction and VWXGLR VHW GHVLJQ QRW ORFDWLRQ VKRRWLQJ WKH ¿OP ZRXOG ODFN µVW\OLVWLF LQWHJULW\¶ if it displayed a Venice that was not created by the same art director. For this ¿OPKHQHHGHGDµ9HQLFHE\7UDXQHU¶(YHQWXDOO\WKH¿OPZDVPDGHLQSLHFHV its development interrupted by funding problems and actor scheduling, and its locations divided between Venice, other places in Italy, and Morocco. Welles joked DERXWWKHIDFWWKDWFRQWLQJHQWIUDPHVRIWKH¿OPZHUHVKRWEHWZHHQFRXQWULHVHYHQ across continents: Iago steps from the portico of a church in Torcello … into a Portuguese cistern off the coast of Africa. He’s across the world and moved between two continents in the middle of a spoken phrase. That happened all the time. A Tuscan stairway DQGD0RRULVKEDWWOHPHQWDUHERWKSDUWVRIZKDWLQWKH¿OPLVDVLQJOHURRP

Critics have tended to follow Welles’s ironic comments about the fragmentary DQG GLVFRQQHFWHG PHWKRG RI WKH ¿OP¶V SURGXFWLRQ LQ WKHLU DQDO\VLV RI LWV VW\OH For John Collick, Othello was ‘erratically produced’ as a consequence of its LQGHSHQGHQW DQG VHOI¿QDQFLQJ FRQWH[W µ7KLV IUDJPHQWDWLRQLV UHÀHFWHG ERWK LQ the movie’s structure and its strong atmosphere of disorientation’.4 ‘Throughout WKH¿OP¶&ROOLFNREVHUYHVµFRKHUHQWVSDFHLVEURNHQLQWRDPXOWLIDFHWHGVHULHVRI collages’. The spectator is confused by a ‘labyrinth of images’, and normal visual expectations are disrupted among ‘fragmented pictures of Venice’. It is not clear, 3 These and subsequent quotations from Welles are taken from Lawrence French (ed.), Filming Othello: a complete transcription (n.d.), which provides the verbal text of Welles’s inaccessible documentary, Filming Othello, broadcast on German TV in 1978. (Available DWKWWSZZZZHOOHVQHWFRP¿OPLQJBRWKHOORKWP$FFHVVHG6HSWHPEHU 4 John Collick, Shakespeare, Cinema and Society (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), reprinted extract quoted from Shakespeare on Film, ed. Robert Shaughnessy (London: Macmillan, 1998), p. 98.

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


however, in Collick’s argument to what extent the stylistic disruption was an effect of the conditions of its production, or the outcome of deliberate artistic choice: µ:HOOHVVHWRXWWRFUHDWHDXQL¿HGZRUOGIRU2WKHOOR¶KHVD\VµDQGKHVXFFHHGHG but this world is a world of piecemeal images and absurd logic’. (p. 98) Jonathan Rossenbaum poses a similar argument, but lays more emphasis on Welles’s development as an artist. He was obliged to devise new aesthetic techniques in order to operate outside the Hollywood studio system, but these techniques became recognizable as Welles’s ‘second manner’: Shooting it piecemeal at diverse locations in Morocco and Italy between 1948 and 1951 – with bouts of acting and investor chasing to pay the bills – Welles literally reinvented and recast the rudiments of his style in relation to this new PHWKRG RI ¿OPPDNLQJ ZKLFK KH FRQWLQXHG WR GHYHORS RYHU WKH UHPDLQGHU of his life. In place of the long takes of his Hollywood work, he fragmented shots into jagged crazy-quilt patterns and syncopated rhythms … opted for a URXJKHUPRUHYHUWLJLQRXVIRUPRIFDPHUDPRELOLW\«H[SORUHGDQGDPSOL¿HG in the architecture of Moorish castles and a Portuguese cistern … the abnormal GLVWDQFHVEHWZHHQSHRSOHDUWL¿FLDOO\FUHDWHGRQ5.2VRXQGVWDJHV5

In some ways the most astute commentary on Welles’s Othello comes from an early study of cinematic Shakespeare, Jack Jorgens’s Shakespeare on Film. Jorgens UHFRJQL]HVWKHSUHVHQFHZLWKLQWKH¿OPRIPXOWLSOHUHSUHVHQWDWLRQVRI9HQLFHEXW sees them as incongruities within an integrated totality, rather than as mere stylistic extravagances or circumstantial accidents of production: The visual style … mirrors the marriage at the center of the play – not the idyllic marriage of Othello and Desdemona, but the perverse marriage of Othello and ,DJR « LI WKH ¿OP¶V JUDQGHXU K\SHUEROH DQG VLPSOLFLW\ DUH WKH 0RRU¶V LWV dizzying perspectives and camera movements, tortured compositions, grotesque shadows and insane distortions are Iago’s.6

In fact, it would not be possible to assign different stylistic features to different FKDUDFWHUVLQWKLVZD\VLQFHWKH¿OP¶VEULFRODJHWHFKQLTXHGLVUXSWVWKHFRKHUHQW subjectivity of point-of-view camera-work. But Jorgens is right to acknowledge that these incongruities belong to Shakespeare’s Venice, to the real Venice, and to the Venice of Welles’s cinematic imagination. Welles found his Cyprus in the city of Mogador, on the Atlantic coast of 0RURFFR 'HVSLWH KLV SHUFHSWLRQ WKDW WKH ¿OP ZDV JHRJUDSKLFDOO\ IUDJPHQWHG WKHQLWV¿OPLFORFDWLRQOLHVDORQJWKHFOHDUDQGFXOWXUDOO\FRKHUHQWFRUULGRUWKDWOHG Othello from ‘Barbary’ to Venice. Though Welles played Othello in blackface, and clearly thought of the Moors in the Elizabethan term ‘blackamoors’, he was also 5 Jonathan Rossenbaum, Discovering Orson Welles (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007), p. 166. 6 Quoted in Rossenbaum, p. 169. Welles endorsed Jorgens’s study by quoting it extensively in Filming Othello.


Shakespeare and Venice

aware that Othello was an ‘Arab’, and in supplying a strongly ‘Moorish’ context IRUWKH¿OPKHGHYLDWHGIURPWKHVWDQGDUG$PHULFDQSUDFWLFHRILQYHVWLQJ2WKHOOR ZLWK D VSHFL¿FDOO\$IULFDQ$PHULFDQ EODFNQHVV 7KH ¿OP ZDV DFWXDOO\ FUHGLWHG with Morocco as its nationality, largely according to Welles by default (‘we had no nationality at all. Othello was a movie without a country’). Moroccan nationality ZDV SLQQHG WR WKH ¿OP IRU LWV HQWU\ LQWR WKH &DQQHV )LOP )HVWLYDO DV D µÀDJ RI convenience, like Liberia for a ship owner’. Notwithstanding, it remains a matter RIVRPHVLJQL¿FDQFHWKDW:HOOHV¶VOthelloGLGÀ\WKHÀDJRIDQ,VODPLFFRXQWU\ DQGJLYHVSDUWLFXODUVLJQL¿FDQFHWRERWKSROHVRI2WKHOOR¶VGXDOQDWLRQDOLW\7 Welles’s use of Venice in his Othello has been critically questioned. Robert Garis for instance argues that the Venetian locations used for the opening scenes RI WKH ¿OP VXIIHU IURP D ZHDU\LQJ µRYHULQWHQWLRQDOLW\¶8 Venice appears here as surface without depth, ‘banal and conventional beauty, middle-brow luxury art-book richness and smoothness, which in turn brings to mind the images of Venetian tourist posters’ (p. 152). Welles, argues Garis, uses such familiar imagery to bestow the kind of recognizable beauty aimed at by guidebooks. Brabantio does not live in any generic Venetian palazzo, but ‘in the Palazzo Contarini-Bovolo, a distinctive Venetian building that we know from guidebooks and our own tourism’ (p. 152). Within this building is a famous spiral staircase, the Scala di Bovolo, which Welles also uses for some scenes. This feature, argues Garis, is too distinctive to be used as ‘merely vernacular Venetian architectural imagery’ (p. 152). Since the setting is so readily recognizable it obtrudes as foreground rather than serving as background, it cannot be properly used as a setting for dramatic action: ‘Venetian decor has become an object of interest in itself’ (p. 153). The Scala di Bovolo LV µGHWULPHQWDO WR WKH LOOXVLRQ WKH ¿OP LV WU\LQJ WR FUHDWH¶ S   8OWLPDWHO\ Garis alleges, we feel as if we are watching a ‘travelogue about Venice rather than Shakespeare’s drama’ (p. 152). For Filming Othello, Welles shot footage of himself in a motorboat, gliding down the Grand Canal and pointing out the different sites where Othello was originally shot.9 Playing the role of tour guide, Welles wanted to take his spectator on an itinerary, displaying features of the real Venice that had EHHQLQFRUSRUDWHGLQWRWKH¿OPLF9HQLFHKHFUHDWHGLQOthello. In practice, this is not how Welles’s Venice operates at all. The very fact that the ¿OPLVPRQRFKURPHUDWKHUWKDQFRORXULPPHGLDWHO\GLIIHUHQWLDWHVLWVYLVXDOWH[WXUH from the conventional representations of Venice in guidebooks and tourist posters. Welles’s Venice is a city of light and shade, air and water; a world where darkness moves in the shadows between buildings, and where hard sunlight strikes on white stone. It is as much a Venice of the mind as a real city turned into a theatrical set. 7KH¿OPRSHQVZLWKWKHIXQHUDORI2WKHOORDQG'HVGHPRQDRQ&\SUXVDQGUHWXUQV 7 On TV and stage Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley have played Othello as an ‘Arab’. 8 Robert Garis, The Films of Orson Welles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 152. 9 The sequence did not appear in the completed documentary.

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


WR9HQLFHZLWKWKHRSHQLQJFUHGLWV7KH¿OPWLWOHVKRZVDVHYHQWHHQWKFHQWXU\SOD\ text, ‘The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice’ printed on antique textured paper, a page from the First Folio perhaps. This ‘page’ dissolves into another in the same typeface, stating ‘A Motion Picture Adaptation of the Play by William Shakespeare’. The next ‘page’, which opens up the perspective of Venice, is from Cinthio’s story, ‘There was once in Venice a Moor …’. We hear Welles’s voice begin to read this text. Thus ‘Moor’ and ‘Venice’ are repeatedly juxtaposed in this opening sequence, the iterations derived from Cinthio, from Shakespeare, and from Welles’s own re-telling of the tale. As the story unfolds, we see Othello embarking at night in a gondola, and the boat moving along a canal; then Desdemona emerging from inside a room in the palazzo, to look over a Moorish balustrade down towards the canal where she sees Othello. The visual images of Venice thus illustrate the story that is being narrated, but also adumbrate the context of illicit romance and sexual transgression inseparable from such images of couples meeting at night in the fugitive secrecy of WKHJRQGROD7KHFRQWUDVWEHWZHHQWKHDQRQ\PRXVKRRGHG¿JXUHRI2WKHOORVWHSSLQJ into the boat, and Desdemona awaiting him in the opulent palace, belongs both to romance, and to this story of an interracial elopement that is possible only in Venice. Desdemona’s descent via the spirals of the Scala di Bovolo capture exactly that dangerous crossing of borders in which she is engaged. As an actor or agent, the Venetian architectural detail contributes exactly the right note: this is what is happening, it is happening here, in this way; and it is happening in Venice. Iago is introduced via a dissolving montage of images, Othello’s gondola, the depth WKHQWKHLOOXPLQDWHGVXUIDFHRIWKHFDQDOZDWHU\UHÀHFWLRQLQZKLFKKLVIRUPWUHPEOHV and dissolves. The sequence illustrate Cinthio’s characterization of the Ensign as ‘very treacherous’. The text is adapted to chime with the Venetian background. Iago’s conversation with Roderigo about ‘drowning’ takes place on bridges overlooking the canal, so the water is always there as an indexical sign. Iago stands in a gondola to ZDUQ%UDEDQWLRRI'HVGHPRQD¶VÀLJKWVRKLVUHIHUHQFHWRµDNQDYHRIFRPPRQKLUH a gondolier’ is again pertinent, and matches exactly the visual context. Welles continues Cinthio’s story in voice-over, and as the tale speaks of the Senate meeting to consider the Turkish threat, the camera shows the facade of the Doge’s palace, with senators hurrying towards it; then a view from inside the palace, showing the great domes of San Marco; then a crowd hurrying over a wooden bridge, with birds scattering and wheeling in the sky to suggest an arousing by danger. Brabantio protests on the steps of the Doge’s palace; we see Desdemona hastening through the pillars of a loggia beneath the palace. 1.3 is played out before the Doge in a council chamber. Othello is dispatched with Desdemona to prepare against the Turk, and again we see Iago conversing with Roderigo. In a breathtaking montage, the camera pans from Iago’s face, as he utters his words ‘I am not what I am’, taking in the great bell of the clock on the edge of San Marco with its bronze bell ringers, and pausing in a shot looking across to San Giorgio Maggiore. The vista of the Piazza is framed by the two great pillars between ZKLFKFULPLQDOVRQFHZHUHH[HFXWHG$GLVVROYHLQWHUSRVHVD¿OPRIGLDSKDQRXV bed-curtains, revealing Desdemona in bed, and Othello speaking to her of love.


Shakespeare and Venice

The racial polarity between them of blackness and whiteness is insistently emphasized by the monochrome photography. Of this montage, Garis says: [Wells] loses all discretion when, without a pretence of dramatic motive, he has XVVXGGHQO\ORRNGRZQIURPDERYHRQWKHPXFKWRRZHOONQRZQEURQ]H¿JXUHV that strike the clock at the edge of Piazza San Marco; there is a gorgeously romantic vision of San Giorgio in the distance, to be sure, but this is calendar art rather than drama. (Garis, p. 153)

2QWKHFRQWUDU\WKH¿OPLFPHGLXPKHUHFUHDWHVDSHUIHFWV\QWKHVLVRIZRUGLPDJH theme and statement. It is Iago’s assertion of opacity, ‘I am not what I am’ that triggers this poetic vision of Venice, seen and heard through the melodic tones of LWVZHOONQRZQEHOOV,WKDVFOHDUO\HVFDSHG*DULV¶VDWWHQWLRQWKDWWKH¿JXUHVVWULNLQJ the clock are Moors. They stand in for Othello, loyally doing the senate’s bidding, striking at the enemy as the Moors strike the bell. And through this image, we see Othello’s Venice: orderly and regular; disciplined and geometrical; a state founded on justice and equality. The same state provides that vision of overwhelming beauty, to which he is given privileged and favoured access, and which culminates in Desdemona’s embrace. However, Iago’s words also linger in the ear, together with the reverberating after-hum of the bell: ‘I am not what I am’. Is Venice all that it seems? For Iago is as much, or perhaps more, a part of it as Othello. Welles’s Othello opens in the clandestine darkness of Venice the città galante, where lovers steal secretly away in a gondola, and malcontents mutter conspiracy on a bridge over a moonlit canal. This is the monochrome Venice of eighteenthcentury engravings, the shady pleasure-capital of Byron and Casanova. Michael Radford’s Merchant of Venice, by contrast, opens in full colour, but with a Venice RIYLROHQFHDQGFRQÀLFWRIUHOLJLRXVSHUVHFXWLRQDQGUDFLDOKDWUHG+HUH9HQLFH is ostensibly presented as a historical reconstruction, but one that is strongly coloured by modern emphases and priorities. The opening shot shows a priest or friar, in monastic garb, standing in a gondola, beneath a huge wooden cross. 7KH ERDW LV EHLQJ URZHG SXUSRVHIXOO\ WRZDUGV WKH FDPHUD DQG WKH SULHVW ¿[HV his fanatical eyes on the spectator. We are immediately constituted therefore as SRWHQWLDOYLFWLPVRIDQLQWLPLGDWLQJUHOLJLRXV]HDODQGLPSOLFLWO\LGHQWL¿HGZLWK the Jews who are the immediate object of this ecclesiastical persecution. The next shot, which shows Jewish books being burned, unfolds a written introduction that FOHDUO\GHFODUHVWKH¿OP¶VPRUDOSRVLWLRQ Intolerance of the Jews was a fact of sixteenth-century life. Even in Venice, the most powerful and liberal city-state in Europe … By law the Jews were forced to live in the old walled foundry or ‘Geto’ area of the city. After sundown the gate was locked and guarded by Christians … In the daytime any man leaving the ghetto had to wear a red hat to mark him as a Jew … the Jews were forbidden to own property, so they practised usury, the lending of money at interest. This was against Christian law … .

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


Each of these historical observations is visually illustrated by an image: ‘Intolerance’ – the scowling priest; ‘locked’ – a bolt being closed in a heavy door; ‘red hat’ – a man in a red hat on the Rialto bridge; ‘usury’ – money changing hands. The images are designed to illustrate the historical context sketched by the words, but in each case both image and caption reinforce one another and press the same DVVHUWLYH PRUDO LQWHUSUHWDWLRQ 7KXV KHUH WKH VKHOWHU RI WKH *KHWWR LV LGHQWL¿HG with imprisonment; the red hat seems designed to render the Jew an easy target for abuse and violent retaliation; usury is a crime rather than an essential service to the Venetian economy. The sound-track accompanies this sequence with a Hebrew lamentation to underscore the insistence on anti-Semitic persecution. As historical documentation, this sequence lacks any nuance or subtlety, and aligns with the stark simplicity of Richard Sennett’s analysis, or the extremism of Caryl Phillips’s ¿FWLRQDOKLVWRU\$QGLWLVFHUWDLQO\QRW6KDNHVSHDUH By adhering to the action of 6KDNHVSHDUH¶VWH[WWKH¿OPFRQWLQXDOO\FRQWUDGLFWVWKHVHRSHQLQJJHQHUDOL]DWLRQV 6K\ORFN KLPVHOI KDUGO\ HYHU ZHDUV D UHG KDW WKH ¿OP¶V -HZV FOHDUO\ KDYH WKH freedom of the city, day or night, and show no sign of being perpetually cooped up in any Ghetto; and the Christians make full use of the Jew’s commercial services. What Radford sets out to do here is to make explicit what many believe is implicit in the play: to show Christian Venice ‘as it really was’, a society of inequality, racism and suppressed violence, and to position the Venetian Jews within that context. Shakespeare’s play, disappointingly perhaps, contains no pogroms or persecutions, no walled prison within which Jews are herded, no acts of unrestrained mob violence such as the man in the red hat being thrown into the *UDQG&DQDO%XWWKHVHLPDJHVDUHGHVLJQHGWREDFN¿OODQGUHYHDODQXQVSRNHQ complicity between Venice and racist violence that some critics see as the true ideological underpinning of the play. ,QWKH¿OPWKLVLVH[DFWO\WKHSRLQWZKHUHWKHTXDVLKLVWRULFDOSUHIDFHFRQQHFWV with the action of The Merchant of Venice. The mob that throws the Jew into the FDQDOLVLQÀDPHGE\WKHHYDQJHOLFDO]HDORIWKHSULHVW%XWRXWRIWKHFURZGRQ the Rialto bridge (‘there where merchants most do congregate’, 1.3.44) emerges Antonio, who observes the racial disturbance and the priest who is inciting it, then immediately encounters Shylock. The latter addresses him by name, as if they are normally on good, even friendly, terms; but Antonio spits violently in Shylock’s IDFH WR WKH -HZ¶V DSSDUHQW VXUSULVH 7KH ¿OP WKXV DVVRFLDWHV $QWRQLR ¿UPO\ as Samuel Crowl puts it, with ‘a religious extreme’ (p. 116) that is producing ‘sectarian intolerance’ in the Venice of 1596. The priest is ‘meant as a rebuke to Venice’s lavish excess and a threat to the city’s famed cosmopolitan tolerance. Reformation and Counter-Reformation energies are troubling the waters’.10 This clash of faiths between Judaism and Christianity is then formally presented LQWKH¿OPE\PHDQVRIPRQWDJH:HVHH$QWRQLRDQGRWKHU&KULVWLDQFKDUDFWHUV 10 Samuel Crowl, ‘Looking for Shylock: Stephen Greenblatt, Michael Radford and Al Pacino’, in 6FUHHQLQJ6KDNHVSHDUHLQWKH7ZHQW\¿UVW&HQWXU\, eds Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, pp. 113–26, p. 116.


Shakespeare and Venice

taking the Eucharist. Antonio then catches sight of Bassanio in a gondola. The latter is accompanying Lorenzo to spy on Jessica outside the synagogue. In this way, the &KULVWLDQVDFUDPHQWLVOLQNHGE\¿OPLFQDUUDWLYHZLWKWKH-HZLVKFHUHPRQ\%RWK Antonio and Shylock are presented as much more formally religious than they DUHLQWKHSOD\ $QWRQLRVSRUWVDODUJHVLOYHUFUXFL¿[DURXQGKLVQHFNDQGFURVVHV himself when released from the penalty of the bond; and Shylock is shown in the synagogue wearing his prayer-shawl and kissing the Torah). L. Monique Pittman VXJJHVWVWKDWDOWKRXJKWKH¿OPLGHQWL¿HVµIDQDWLFLVPDVWKHWUXHVRXUFHRILQMXVWLFH and ethnic inequity’, it also proposes ‘an alternate and unifying appreciation for the richness of multiple forms of religious practice’: The juxtaposition of worship scenes insists that the viewer notes similarity: a holy space, the chant of sacred text, physical gestures, and ritual acts of devotion … the camera records an inherent similarity in religious form that counters the scapegoat fanaticism of the priest and assures the audience that Shakespeare’s SOD\XUJHVDUHOLJLRXVWROHUDQFHDKHDGRIKLVWLPH7KH¿OP¶VVRXQGWUDFNFRQ¿UPV this inherent interconnection between religious traditions when the Jewish lament JLYHV ZD\ WR &DWKROLF FKDQW 7KH YLVXDOO\ P\VWHULRXV ÀLFNHULQJ WRUFKOLJKW RI Antonio’s Catholic worship and the warm gold-tinted candlelight of Shylock’s religious observance likewise convey the numinous wonder of spiritual practice and point to something that could transcend difference.11

In fact, the parallelism is loaded heavily in favour of the Jewish rather than the Christian site of worship. In the Christian service, the Eucharist is administered by the same priest who in the opening scenes has been inciting religious hatred and violence. Antonio kneels to receive the host together with Solanio and Salerio, who LQWKH¿OPYHU\UDUHO\HPHUJHIURPWKHVWHDP\DWPRVSKHUHRIWDYHUQDQGEURWKHO Antonio catches sight of Bassanio as he accompanies Lorenzo on his mission of robbery and abduction. Christian worship is contextualized by a virtually universal Christian immorality. By contrast, the synagogue is very much a space of community, with the Jewish women seated above in the gallery but leaning forward to kiss the sacred scroll. Shylock’s daughter Jessica and his friend Tubal both worship with him. Here the interconnection of family and friendship validates Judaism as a community faith; while the purity of the Christian sacrament is violated by sharply drawn GUDPDWLF LURQLHV LOOXVWUDWLQJ PRVW XQFKULVWLDQ EHKDYLRXU 7KH ¿OP SURGXFHV QRW DQ HTXLYDOHQFH RI IDLWKV EXW DQ RSSRVLWLRQ GH¿QHG DV WKH FRQÀLFW EHWZHHQ D Christianity that is contaminated with intolerance, and a Judaism that is innocent, but exposed to Christian exploitation. 7KH¿OP¶VDSSURDFKWRWKHFKDUDFWHURI$QWRQLRLVIDUPRUHSV\FKRORJLFDODQG religious than it is economic. Antonio hardly seems to function as a merchant at all, and is clearly obsessed with an unrequited love for Bassanio. The discussion with 11 L. Monique Pittman, ‘Locating the Bard: Adaptation and Authority in Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice’, Shakespeare Bulletin 25.2 (2007), p. 18.

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


Solanio and Salerio about his various expeditions (1.1) takes place in a chamber, with leaded windows of semi-opaque glass through which Antonio peers to catch a glimpse of Bassanio. There is no link between the dialogue and the world of Venetian commerce outside. When Bassanio comes in, he and Antonio converse around, and eventually on, a large four-poster bed. Bassanio reclines and talks of ‘love’ between them (1.1) with clearly homoerotic overtones; Antonio sits beside him; at the end of the scene, Bassanio kisses him on the lips. Bassanio is shifty, embarrassed, anxious to get what he wants; Antonio is care-worn, resigned, very happy to subject himself to risk for Bassanio’s sake. Thus, the motivation for the loan application that triggers the action emerges from the fraught and complex relationship between the two men, and seems to have little to do with the economy or politics of Venice. 7KHIROORZLQJVFHQHORFDWHV6K\ORFN¿UPO\LQWRDORFDO-HZLVKFXOWXUH,WWDNHV place in a butcher’s shop, clearly signalled as Jewish by the ritual slaughtering of a goat. The camera persistently returns to the large cut of meat Shylock is buying, which we see sliced from the goat’s carcase, weighed, wrapped and taken away. The dialogue with Bassanio about Antonio’s creditworthiness (1.3) is thus grounded in this documented segment of Venetian material culture, the busy butchery in ZKLFK6K\ORFNSXUFKDVHVDSHUIHFWO\LQQRFHQWµSRXQGRIÀHVK¶IRUKLVRZQGLQQHU 7KH &KULVWLDQV LQ WKLV ¿OP DUH FRQWLQXDOO\ HDWLQJ GULQNLQJ DQG QX]]OLQJ DW WKH breasts of prostitutes, but we never see any of them in a shop, or actually buying anything; while Shylock is presented as relatively domesticated, a family man buying his own meat from the butcher’s stall. Shylock talks with Antonio and Bassanio in his counting-house, clearly enjoying the power suddenly granted to him by the Christians’ need, but also persuasively reasonable in the tone of his conversation. At the point where he agrees to the bond, Shylock picks up the meat from his desk, so he has the paper LQRQHKDQGWKHMRLQWRIPHDWLQWKHRWKHU7KHµSRXQGRIÀHVK¶LGHDWKDWOLHVDW the heart of the play thus seems genuinely suggested by the proximity of an actual piece of meat. It is not an idea Shylock has inherited from centuries of Jewish anti-Christian hatred, nor a malicious project derived from fantasies he has been nursing of revenge against Antonio. It almost seems at this point to be little more than a ‘merry bond’, engineered merely to give Shylock some measure of power, and to teach the Christians a lesson in humility. This sympathetic portrayal of Shylock is continued throughout the following scenes, which show him isolated at dinner with the Christians, surrounded by gluttony, prostitution and the prodigal parading of borrowed wealth. Meanwhile, as Shylock is thus detained, Lorenzo and his fellows accomplish the abduction of Jessica from Shylock’s house (2.6). Bassanio’s feast is a Caravaggian revel, and the abduction a torch-lit escapade through dark canals, accomplished by sinister PDVNHG ¿JXUHV ,Q D UHFXSHUDWLRQ RI WKH 9LFWRULDQ VWDJH SUDFWLFH LQLWLDWHG E\ +HQU\,UYLQJ6K\ORFNUHWXUQVWRKLVKRXVHWR¿QGKLVGDXJKWHUJRQH$V3LWWPDQ observes, the camera follows Shylock in his frantic search through the empty house, constructing ‘a point of view that forces the viewer to see the world from

Shakespeare and Venice


Shylock’s perspective’.12 Antonio bids farewell to Bassanio and is left alone on the waterfront, rain coursing down his face. Shylock in his empty house whimpers like a wounded animal at the pain of his daughter’s desertion; then later wanders on the same dockside, drenched by the same rain. ‘These great antagonists’, as L. Monique Pittman puts it, ‘share the common pain of deep loss’.13 That key scene of the play (3.1) in which Shylock delivers his ‘I am a Jew’ speech takes place alongside a misty canal, framed by a typically Venetian EDFNJURXQGRIEULGJHVDQGORJJLDV6K\ORFN¿UVW¿QGV6RODQLRDQG6ROHULRLQD tavern or brothel where they are eating, drinking and whoring, and accuses them of complicity in the abduction of his daughter. The Christians virtually have to peel the prostitutes from them in order to follow Shylock outside. The Jew then takes his stand by the canal and delivers his great humanitarian manifesto (‘hath not a Jew eyes?’) with unusual ferocity and anger. The news of Antonio’s commercial losses brings the merchant almost accidentally within the scope of Shylock’s rage – ‘There I have another bad match, a bankrupt, a prodigal’ (3.1.39). Shylock is then joined by Tubal, who alights from a gondola, and here we see his anger modulate into anguish, his rage into genuine grief. As he speaks of his daughter and the wealth she has stolen (3.1), his voice breaks with emotion. As Tubal delivers his intelligence about Jessica, seen gambling in Genoa, Shylock imagines WKHVFHQHYLVXDOO\LQGLVWLQJXLVKDEOHIURPWKHPDQ\PRPHQWVRIWKH¿OPZKHUH we see the Christians dallying in places of vice. Jessica, he imagines, has been fully incorporated into such a milieu, an assumption that reinforces his sense of betrayal. He also imagines seeing Jessica parting with his late wife’s ring, though ZHOHDUQDWWKHHQGRIWKH¿OPWKDWWKLVLVDPLVDSSUHKHQVLRQVLQFHVKHVWLOOUHWDLQV it in her possession. The collusion between Shylock and Tubal is an important emphasis here, since it shows that Shylock is not alone in his suffering. Both the Jews see Antonio’s misfortune as a just reward for his victimization of them, though Tubal will not follow Shylock all the way in his plan of revenge. The trial scene (4.1) is set in the Doge’s palace, and the brief preceding scene (3.3) where Shylock meets Antonio in the company of his gaoler takes place on a balcony of the palace, a readily recognizable Venetian location. Shylock leaves to go in the direction of the palace, as if seeking audience with the Doge. When Antonio speaks of ‘the commodity that strangers have / With us in Venice’, he leans momentarily against a wall of the palace, holding on to a barred window. It is as if he is physically acknowledging that the rigid observance of equal justice for which the republic is famous, has placed him squarely at the mercy of the Jew DQGZLWKLQWKHFRQ¿QHVRIWKHODZ After the trial three principal characters are left alone ‘on stage’, abandoned or isolated by the Venetian community. Shylock stands alone, a broken man: but here his solitude is all the more pronounced, since it is his fellow Jews who are seen shutting the door against him. After the revellers of Belmont have returned to 12 13

Ibid., p. 20. Ibid.

Shakespeare’s Venice on Film


their respective beds, Antonio is also left alone, holding the bond, clearly at a loss DVWRZKHUHH[DFWO\KH¿WVLQ$QG¿QDOO\LQDEHDXWLIXOO\¿OPHGHDUO\PRUQLQJ VHTXHQFHZHVHH-HVVLFDVWDQGLQJE\WKHODJRRQZDWFKLQJPHQLQERDWV¿VKLQJ She looks at the turquoise ring, designed in the shape of the Ark of the Covenant, RQKHU¿QJHUDQGPRXUQVIRUWKHORVVRIKHUIDPLO\DQGKHULWDJH)RUERWKKHUDQG Antonio, Belmont is no paradisal refuge, but a place of severance, of isolation from community (the accompanying music is a setting of the closing lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost). The lagoon represents, to use Regis Debray’s phrase, a ‘semiotic cut’ separating those individuals who have no obvious place in Venetian society from the resources of community and cultural heritage. Samuel Crowl argues that Radford’s presentation of Venice is deliberately DQG V\VWHPDWLFDOO\ FRXQWHUFXOWXUDO LQ WKDW WKH ¿OP µUHIXVHV WR SURYLGH XV ZLWK any glimpses of the golden, dazzling Venice adored for centuries by painters, ¿OPPDNHUVDQGWRXULVWV¶14 ‘The sun never shines’ in Radford’s Venice. Although LQDFFXUDWH VLQFH PDQ\ VHJPHQWV RI WKH ¿OP DUH LQ IDFW IRFXVHG RQ EULJKWO\ OLW exterior locations, Crowl is correct in his suggestion that Radford deviates from WKDW GRPLQDQW YLVXDO WUDGLWLRQ RI 9HQLFH¶V EUHDWKWDNLQJ EHDXW\ 7KH ¿OP WXUQV the city into a relatively dark place: restless nights of intrigue and vice, a city of rainstorms and clinging fog, a city of luxurious interiors, mainly for the practice of immorality, that could be located anywhere in Renaissance Europe. All these features are of course part of alternative traditions of representing Venice, and KDYHFHUWDLQO\EHHQGHSOR\HGLQPRGHUQ¿OPLFUHSUHVHQWDWLRQV%XWWKH\DUHIDFHWV of Venice, and fail to represent the whole. /0RQLTXH3LWWPDQVHHVWKH¿OPTXLWHGLIIHUHQWO\DVDQH[HUFLVHLQDµK\SHU realism that replicates the spectacle of Renaissance Venice in a way not even the most extravagant of Victorian stage productions could have achieved’.15 She is right WRLGHQWLI\µK\SHUUHDOLVP¶ZLWKµVSHFWDFOH¶VLQFHWKH¿OP¶VUHDOLVPLVPXFKPRUH a matter of cinematic convention than of historical documentation or sociological DQDO\VLV 3LWWPDQ¶V FKLHI REMHFWLRQ WR WKH ¿OP KRZHYHU LV WKDW LW LV QRW FULWLFDO enough of the Venice it presents, the Venice summarized in the opening prologue as a domain of intolerance and inequality. In her view Radford ‘crafts a persona of William Shakespeare as a liberal humanist, a non-racist, non anti-Semite who, for example, anticipated abolitionist rhetoric hundreds of years before the end of slavery in the West’. Radford portrays Shylock as a suffering racial victim, but fails to penetrate deeply enough into the racism of Christian Venice, particularly in the person of Portia: In an earnestness to build artistic authority on the foundation of a humanitarian 6KDNHVSHDUH WKH ¿OP FRQWH[WXDOLVHV KLVWRULFDOO\ WKH DQWL6HPLWH TXHVWLRQ DQG motivates Shylock’s hostility so thoroughly that it ignores or fails to pursue the subtler discourse of racism articulated by the play and centred on Portia herself who constructs the world in racialized categories. 14 15

Crowl, ‘Looking for Shylock’, p. 117. Pittman, ‘Locating the Bard’, p. 15.

Shakespeare and Venice


Implicit in this critique lie a number of unspoken assumptions. Shakespeare the author is to be regarded as complicit in the racism of Christian Venice, even as he reveals it in dramatic action and dialogue. The play bestows on Shylock pity, but not justice. Portia should be seen as a cruel racial persecutor rather than as the saviour of the community. Radford produces a liberal-humanist Shakespeare because that is his own ideological perspective: Even as Radford’s Merchant DQFKRUVVRYLVLEO\LQWKHSDVWKLV¿OPSURIRXQGO\ UHÀHFWV RXU RZQ PRPHQW LQ JOREDO KLVWRU\ D SRVW ZRUOG LQ ZKLFK WKH director strives to articulate connections that harmonize cultural differences and point to human commonality. (p. 29)

5DGIRUGKLPVHOIGHVFULEHGWKH¿OPDVDQµDUDLODJDLQVWIXQGDPHQWDOLVP¶LQIDYRXU of an acknowledgement of ‘human complexity’. But Pittman condemns this view as ‘a fundamentalism of a different sort that appropriates Shakespeare too insistently for an uncomplicated division of religious and ethnic tolerance’ (p. 29). To seek ‘connections that harmonize cultural differences and point to human commonality’ is not an unworthy aim in a ‘post-9/11 world’. The poverty of WKLV FULWLTXH UHVLGHV LQ WKH VDPH PLVDSSUHKHQVLRQ DV WKH ¿OP¶V XOWLPDWH IDLOXUH which is an underestimation of the historical Venice itself as a potential site for the harmonizing of cultural differences. In Radford’s Venice the odds are stacked impossibly against Shylock from the outset. The dominant Christian culture is hopelessly contaminated by immorality, greed, racial hatred and intolerance. Its economy is exploitative; its polity inequitable; its culture depraved; its religion mere hypocrisy. Within this paradigm Shylock can demonstrate an abundance of tragic suffering and victimhood, earning the audience’s ‘unambiguous sympathy’;16 but he can never be accorded anything like justice or equality. The isolation of Shylock and Jessica at the end of the play indicate clearly that in this Venice there is no true and lasting home for the Jew. But this is not Shakespeare’s Venice, or the Venice of early-modern history. As I have argued above, the republic was entirely genuine in its espousing of a multi-cultural constitution. Shakespeare understood this policy of tolerance, and dramatized it in his play. Radford has failed to understand the true scope of Venetian tolerance, and is unable therefore to entertain any notion of Venice as a site of harmonious co-existence.


Ibid., p. 21.


Particularities ‘Almost any liar writes more convincingly than a man who was there’. —Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and Into the Trees1

I began this study with a question that still has power at least to detain some scholars, and has certainly always fascinated the common reader: was Shakespeare ever in Venice? Certainly the plays evince a breadth of understanding and a depth of immersion in what Lewes Lewkenor called the ‘particularities’ of the place that has prompted some scholars to argue for a direct Shakespearean acquaintance; and the idea of the Bard in Venice has SRSXODWHG VRPH ¿FWLRQDO VSDFHV ZLWK WKH FRPSHOOLQJ LPDJH RI 6KDNHVSHDUH OLWHUDOO\ ZDQGHULQJ DPRQJ WKH VWUHHWV DQG FDQDOV RI 9HQLFH ¿QGLQJ KLV ZD\ into the Ghetto, eavesdropping on the tongues of barbarous ethnics, noting the qualities of the people. But this is not a necessary, or even a to-be-wished-for, assumption. As the preceding chapters have shown, Venice was very well known throughout Europe, long before Shakespeare’s time, as a great commercial city-state, with lucrative maritime trade links across the globe, an extensive empire and an unusually diverse and international population. It also had a reputation as one of the most beautiful of modern cities, with exemplary political systems and a remarkable degree of tolerance towards liberty of thought and speech. It was considered a place of high culture and civilization, displaying not only great wealth, but good WDVWHLQPDWWHUVRIIDVKLRQRUQDPHQW¿QHU\DQGDWKULYLQJLQWHOOHFWXDOFXOWXUH with its free public philosophy lectures and its elegant printing presses. It was known as a great capital of pleasure, with codes of morality that seemed to some visitors enviably free. But, as in so many later representations of the city, early modern Venice was also apprehended as a place of extraordinary fragility, precariously fashioned on the very edge of the land, vulnerable to the threatening incursions of the all-devouring VHDH[SRVHGWRWKHFRQVWDQWWKUHDWRIÀRRGIURPWKH$GULDWLF,WVJOLWWHULQJIDoDGH partially concealed a dark side, a maze of unlit passageways, populated by pimps DQGSURVWLWXWHVVKDGRZ\¿JXUHVLQWHQWRQOXULQJDQGVHGXFLQJWKHXQVXVSHFWLQJ traveller into enchantment or danger. Venice did not have to wait for Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust to be known as a mysterious labyrinth of passages in which the traveller is bound to lose his way:

1 Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and Into the Trees (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), p. 134.

Shakespeare and Venice


LANCELOT. Turn up on your right hand at the next turning, but, at the next turning of all, on your left; marry, at the very next turning, turn of no hand, but turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house.

Venice’s commercial power could be viewed as inimical to international stability, and its sexual freedom could be regarded as seamy and corrupt. Its diverse cosmopolitanism could be feared as the indiscriminate integration of incompatible cultures and hostile ethnicities. Venice presented to the English observer kinds of liberty that could be admired and feared, freedoms that were attractive and yet reprehensible: ‘the promise and danger of a more open society’.2 Venice was known, loved and suspected, for its dangerous beauty; its precarious stability; its IUDJLOHXQL¿FDWLRQRIGLYHUVHDQGFRPSHWLQJHWKQLFLWLHVDQGFXOWXUHV In the historicist exercise of isolating and insulating Renaissance Venice from its subsequent history, I have suggested and implied many correspondences between Venice past, present and future, and have challenged the received opinion that there existed a relatively simple myth of Venice towards which Shakespeare was either supportive, or sceptical, or both. Instead I have argued that the complex modern mythology of Venice existed embryonically in the Renaissance, and that 6KDNHVSHDUHDEVRUEHGLWVIXOOQHVVVXI¿FLHQWO\WRFUHDWHIURPLWDGUDPDZKLFKLQ turn contributed to the continuous future developments of Venice and its myths. Shakespeare did not need to travel to reach Venice, or anywhere else in the world, to acquire such knowledge, since he had access to the books, the letters, the reports, the travellers’ tales, the maps and pictures that represented Venice as fully DVUHTXLUHGE\WKHVHQVLWLYHDQGLQWXLWLYHOLWHUDU\LPDJLQDWLRQ,QDQRWHSUH¿[HGWR the collection of texts with which Lewkenor supplemented Contareno’s work, this method is restated. Here for the reader’s convenience, says the translator, are Sundry notes and collections, which I haue gathered as well by reading and obseruation, as also by conference with Venetian Gentlemen, skilful in the state of their country, for the better vunderstanding of sundry points, eyther not at all touched in the former discourse, or else so obscurely, that the reader being D VWUDQJHU FDQQRW WKHUHE\ UHVW IXOO\ VDWLV¿HG HVSHFLDOO\ LI KH KDYH D FXULRXV desire to know euery particular of their gouernment. But this being added unto the former, I doubt not but the state of the whole shall be so clearly and exactly deliuered unto him, as though (if it were possible) he should see the same in a glasse.3

These, then, are the means by which a knowledge of Venice can be gained: texts, observations, talk. Here, ironically, it is the Englishman who does not go to Venice who is the ‘stranger’. And the fullest vision the stranger can gain is the image in

2 3

d’Amico, Shakespeare and Italy, p. 1. Lewkenor in Contareno, Commonwealth, p. 150.



the glass. A Venetian glass, perhaps, and an image clear and complete: but distorted, UHÀHFWHGHVWUDQJLQJ An obvious comparator with Shakespeare’s Venice is Ben Jonson’s Volpone, which, according to McPherson, ‘contains more details about Venice than does any other play of the period’.4 Jonson’s penchant for integrity of historical detail, observes the same critic, ‘drove him toward very frequent and very accurate use of Venetian local colour’.5 Juxtaposing Shakespeare’s Venetian plays against Volpone, McPherson concludes that while Shakespeare preferred to relativize the Veniceeffect of his plays by alternating locations (Venice/Belmont, Venice/Cyprus), Jonson chose rather to construct, for his comedy, a concentrated unity of place, creating DVHQVHRIFRQ¿QHPHQWRIEHLQJWUDSSHGZLWKLQWKHPHGLXPRIWKHGUDPDWLFDOO\ realized city-state.6 McPherson concurs with Brian Parker, who went so far as to DI¿UPWKDWµRIDOOJUHDW%ULWLVKZULWHUV-RQVRQKDGWKHPRVW9HQHWLDQVHQVLELOLW\¶7 Jonson’s grasp and rendering of Venetian local colour in Volpone is indeed impressive. Shakespeare alludes generally to the Rialto as the sole place of EXVLQHVV LQ 9HQLFH 9ROSRQH RQ WKH RWKHU KDQG SRVHV DV D ¿QDQFLHU RQH ZKR µZDVHYHUZRQWWR¿[P\EDQNLQIDFHRIWKHSXEOLF3LD]]DQHDUWKHVKHOWHURIWKH 3RUWLFRWRWKH3URFXUDWLD¶7KHUHDGHUZRXOGKDYHEHHQDEOHWR¿QGLWKDGLWHYHU really existed. Mosca tells Lady Politic he has seen her ‘knight’, ‘Rowing upon the water in a gondola / With the most cunning courtesan of Venice’ (3.5.19–20).8 The play is far more thickly scattered with such local details of Venetian culture, dress, FRLQDJHJHRJUDSK\DQGWUDI¿FWKDQLVHLWKHUOthello or The Merchant of Venice. In fact, however, by far the greatest concentration of Venetian detail appears in two scenes of the play, 2.1 and 4.1. In these scenes, we hear much of Venetian culture and politics, and of the city’s reputation abroad. The characters refer to Venetian style and manners, and dabble in ‘intelligence / Of tires, and fashions, and behaviour / Among the courtesans’ (2.1.28–9). There is talk of Venetian religion, and tolerance, and multi-culturalism, and the diversity of the city’s population. There are detailed plans for international trading projects in commodities such as ¿VKDQGFKHHVHDQGIRUVHWWLQJXSDFRPPHUFLDOKRXVHZLWKIXQGLQJIURP-HZLVK PRQH\OHQGHUV7KHUHLVDSURJUDPPHIRUVHHNLQJLQÀXHQFHIURPWKH*UHDW&RXQFLO and from the Councils of Forty and Ten. There is a plot to sabotage the Arsenale with a tinderbox, and a project for the detection of plague on board docking ships that entails mention of the Lazaretto. +RZHYHU WKH PRVW VLJQL¿FDQW IDFWRU LQ WKHVH VFHQHV LV WKDW WKH\ ERWK feature as primary centre of interest the character Sir Politic Would-be, English traveller and aspiring statesman, who is the originator of all this information. 4

McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, p. 91. Ibid., p. 91. 6 Ibid., p. 117. 7 Brian Parker quoted in McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, p. 91. 8 Quotations from Ben Jonson, Volpone, ed. Brian Parker and David Bevington (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999). 5


Shakespeare and Venice

The superabundance of Venetian detail is the local colour he has sought to acquire, in order to insinuate himself into the Venetian economy and polity. +H LV E\ GH¿QLWLRQ D YLVLWRU D WUDYHOOHU LQGHHG D WRXULVW WKRXJK KH GLVFODLPV such motives: I protest, it is no salt desire Of seeing countries, shifting religion, Nor any disaffection to the state Where I was bred, and to which I owe My dearest plots, hath brought me out; much less That idle, antique, stale grey-headed project Of knowing men’s minds and manners. (2.1.4–10)

To be in Venice, then, is to be ‘out’, away from the location where the play is really happening, which is of course England. Sir Politic lists the usual factors that prompt people to travel abroad: idle curiosity, religious dissent, or being in trouble with the authorities. Sir Politic’s real reason for being in Venice is, however, the will of his wife: A peculiar humour of my wife’s, to observe, To quote, to learn the language, and so forth. (2.1.11–12)

She, he protests, is the tourist, while he has a deeper and more subtle agenda. He knows what the Venetians are really like: opportunistic and mercenary, they will take any advantage of the unwary stranger, and strip a man to the bone. His study is therefore to become so embedded in the culture that no one will know he is a foreigner: For your Venetian, if he see a man Preposterous in the least, he has him straight; He has. He strips him … I now have lived here, ’tis some fourteen months; :LWKLQWKH¿UVWZHHNRIP\ODQGLQJKHUH All took me for a citizen of Venice, I knew the forms so well … . (4.1.34–9)

Sir Politic is thus a caricature of the foreigner who likes to think he has gone native and become indistinguishable from the populace. But he remains a manifest outsider, a laughing-stock to Venetians, and has learned language, manners, and customs purely as an educational exercise. He even cites the literary sources from which his prior knowledge of Venice is derived, and these are clearly the very same sources drawn on by Shakespeare and Jonson for their own knowledge of Venice and Italy. He alludes casually to ‘Nick Machievel and Monsieur Bodin’ (4.1.26), and states categorically that ‘he had read Contarine’ (4.1.40) before travelling to the city. Clearly, there are multiple ironies at work here. Jonson acquired his knowledge of Venice in exactly the way Shakespeare did, from reading these very authors such as Contarino, ‘Nick Machiavel and Monsieur Bodin’, from looking at pictures and



maps, from reports and conversations and gossip and rumour. Sir Politic Wouldbe has gathered his intelligence by the same methods, but on arrival in Venice fools himself, and tries to fool others, into believing he is a near native. Jonson was obviously under no such illusion and would doubtless have been amused as ZHOODVÀDWWHUHGE\WKHDWWULEXWLRQWRKLPRIDµ9HQHWLDQVHQVLELOLW\¶+LVPLOLHX was not that of the tourist itinerary of Europe, but the city of London, and the English stage. His companion gentleman-traveller Peregrine mocks Sir Politic, in Jonsonian terms, by calling him a stock comic character of the London theatre (which of course he is): Oh, this knight, Were he well known, would be a precious thing 7R¿WRXU(QJOLVKVWDJH ±

Thus the profusion of Venetian detail in Volpone does not denote a fuller understanding or acquaintance with Venice on Jonson’s part, still less the kind of inward knowledge that is more likely to have been acquired by visiting Venice. The ‘local colour’ is attributed rather to the character who is at the furthest remove from the Venetian. The more parochially English one is, it seems, the more ‘local colour’ one seeks to display. In Volpone, says John Mulryan, both classical and Italian details are largely subsidiary to the main purpose, which is to represent the present, capture the spirit of his own age: Jonson has juxtaposed ancient Rome and contemporary Venice, but has rendered both meaningful to his English audiences by showing basically English types.9

In some ways, Shakespeare’s Venice, mediated by difference and distance, is DVSUHIHUDEOHWRWKH9HQLFHVRIPRGHUQZULWHUVDQG¿OPPDNHUVDVWRWKH9HQLFH of Sir Politic Would-be. As the preceding discussions of modern appropriations indicate, modern adaptors, through the ease of global travel, tend to assume a natural proprietorship over an alien place, exercise a high-handed stewardship over its complex identity, and engage in a bland domesticating of everything about it that is challenging, and foreign, and different. Shakespeare never exhibits the knowing condescension of the modern tourist, never patronizes the other place. Shakespeare’s Venice, by contrast, is both known and unknown, near and remote, a home to the self and a lodging for the Other. Shakespeare’s Venice does not then simply counter the idealist myth of ‘la Serenissima’ with realistic revelatory exposures of an underlying reality. His Venice is not bifurcated, as it is in the readings of many of the critics quoted in this study, into real and ideological: an assiduously promulgated ideal of tolerance and liberty, and a real society of inequality and exploitation. Both of Shakespeare’s 9 John Mulryan, ‘Jonson’s Classicism’, in Richard Harp and Stanley Stewart (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 172.

Shakespeare and Venice


Venetian plays show very clearly that the Venetian dream of a multi-cultural community, in which diverse peoples are able to co-exist in partial segregation DQGPXWXDOUHVSHFWRIGLIIHUHQFHVLVDYHU\GLI¿FXOWEXWQRQHWKHOHVVDWWDLQDEOH model of human society. They demonstrate further that such a community is one to be hoped for, an aspiration, a consummation devoutly to be wished. Thus Shakespeare’s Venice is a very early manifestation of the alternative myth of Venice as a fragile and vulnerable construction, as likely to disappear into the waters of the lagoon as to endure unchanged for eternity. This vulnerability is conceived in both physical and metaphorical terms, as when Lewkenor gives Contareno the word ‘dissoluing’ to signify not literal physical disintegration, but communal fragmentation and social breakdown. A city that could conceivably sink beneath the waves presents a paradigm of social solubility. ‘How does Venice’, asks Platt, ‘– a truly multi-cultural society – keep unity from dissolving?’ How is it WKDWµ9HQLFHVHHPVDEOHWRUHPDLQWKHVDPHWKRXJKFRQVWDQWO\LQÀX["«KRZFDQ DSODFHRIOLWHUDODQG¿JXUDWLYHÀX[UHPDLQVWDEOH"¶10+HUHµÀX[¶LVERWKSK\VLFDO decay and social collapse. If every member of Venetian society recognizes this common condition, this proximity of dissolution, co-existence remains possible. If all parties recognize that in Venice, as Platt astutely puts it, ‘Shylock and the Christians share a difference’ (p. 81), then co-existence is possible, even on the basis of mutual dislike. If differences are promoted by any party to the point of social fracture, the society is in danger of collapse, and is obliged to re-establish unity by force. This restitution of hegemony will always look like the assertion of a power that was always there, the existence of which calls into question its ideals of tolerance and inclusiveness and respect for diversity. Surely, asks the Marxist or Foucaldian analyst, these ideals were never genuine, if the state always retained the power to over-ride them? Shakespeare’s Venetian plays however show a different aspect to that process of imposing power, which is always invoked in the last instance as the only effective means of preserving the tolerance and inclusiveness and diversity that inevitably challenge it. Meanwhile the vision of another possibility, one in which all peoples acknowledge the common authority that preserves their differences, shines like a little candle through the darkness of tragedy and tragicomedy. Venice makes such community possible. Othello and Desdemona also share difference, both between themselves and with respect to Venice. They are different from one another, and their union, though legitimate, is contrary to the norms of Venetian convention. They themselves however seem incapable of understanding that truth. Both Othello and Desdemona are idealists, among those who, in Nick Potter’s words, ‘refuse to accept the world as it presents itself’.11 The world in question is of course the particularized world of Venice. Potter’s argument is that Venice’s denial of difference, her ‘pragmatism’, provides no middle ground between opposites on which people can truly meet and recognize one another. This diplomatic disallowing of otherness 10 11

Platt, ‘Meruailouse Site’, pp. 131–2. Potter, Holderness, Potter and Turner, Shakespeare: the Play of History, p. 195.



… does not permit the growth of a fully intercursive relationship in which the possibilities of discussion and translation may be developed, but works actively WRNHHSVHSDUDWHWKHGLIIHUHQFHVLWGH¿QHV S

In fact, possibilities for the mediating territory of such intercursive middle-ground occur everywhere in Shakespeare’s Venice. In Othello, they appear in Cassio, in Emilia, even in Bianca: in those characters who can live amongst differences, without troubling to idealize their way out of them into some abstraction, whether of unblemished purity or of universal depravity. Just as in, The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s great speech on mercy demonstrates the potentiality of unity-in-difference, by invoking the common ground of religious tradition, so in Othello we are continually shown the commonalities that lie beneath and belie the antagonism of difference. As I indicated at the outset, for us Shakespeare’s Venetian plays lie between the early modern republic described in Chapter 2, and all the subsequent Venices of our experience, education and imagination, which unavoidably impinge on RXUUHVSRQVHVWRWKHSOD\VDQGDUHRIWHQLQDQ\FDVHTXRWHGE\¿OPDQGWKHDWUH productions and illustrations in edited texts. To balance the necessary emphasis on the Venices of the past, those images and representations potentially available to Shakespeare, I have written on some Venices of the present, in the form of WKH WZR QRYHOV E\ -RQJ DQG 3KLOOLSV DQG WKH WZR ¿OPV E\ :HOOV DQG 5DGIRUG Both the novels engage in an attempt to read Shakespeare’s Venetian plays in the context of Venice (and Venices) past and present, historical and contemporary, real DQGLQYHQWHG7RWKLVH[WHQWERWKWKHVHZULWHUVDUHSXUVXLQJLQ¿FWLRQDOPRGHVD FRPPRQJRDOZLWKWKLVVWXG\WKDWLVWR¿QGORFDWHDQGGHVFULEH6KDNHVSHDUH¶V Venice, through his Venetian plays, against the background of Renaissance Venice, and in the light of all the Venices that have been reconstructed through the centuries, and have become part of the furniture of the educated mind. Both writers evince a serious interest in Shakespeare, and each is well equipped with ERWKWKHNQRZOHGJHDQGFULWLFDOPHWKRGRORJ\UHTXLUHGWRXQGHUWDNHVXFK¿FWLRQDO reinventions. Both have genuine and important things to say about Shakespeare, Venice, and the issues of gender and race raised by the Venetian plays. To this extent, I wish to offer both these books a tribute of respect and acknowledgement. They have helped to advance my own understanding. At the same time, both books seem to me to represent a failure to engage fully with the historical difference and cultural resistance offered by these plays, and by the Venice, or Venices, that inspired and shaped them. Both novels employ what I have called a kind of cultural imperialism, appropriating and assuming RZQHUVKLSRIKLVWRULFDODQGFXOWXUDORWKHUQHVVLQZD\VWKDWÀDWWHQDQGGLPLQLVK the value of the past. The term will seem idiosyncratic in its application to works RIIHPLQLVWDQGSRVWFRORQLDO¿FWLRQZKLFKDSSHDOWRFDXVHVDQGYDOXHVQROLEHUDO thinker would wish to disavow. But both writers seem to me guilty of forcing themselves upon the past in retrospective acts of imaginative exploitation. Both in different ways fail to grasp, or perhaps consciously reject, the ideal community


Shakespeare and Venice

represented in potential by Shakespeare’s Venice: a society in which the principle of legal and commercial equality protects, but also limits, difference; in which a Christian majority embraces otherness, without renouncing its own values; and which, paradoxically, displays a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards those who threaten the hegemony of tolerance. Michael Radford also underestimates the Venice of history. Radford’s view is indeed, for all its modernity, more restricted than the constitution of early modern Venice. L. Monique Pittman is right to argue that Radford’s liberalhumanist tolerance in practice has its limits, and that this is clearly visible in Portia’s stereotyping of her suitors. A particularly remarkable example of this ethnic partiality is Radford’s dramatization of the scene (2.1) involving a member of that other Venetian minority protected by Venetian law, provided with a place in Venetian society, and of considerable interest to Shakespeare: the Moor. )URP WKH LQLWLDO GH¿QLQJ LPDJH LQ ZKLFK WKH 3ULQFH RI 0RURFFR¶V GDUN VNLQ contrasts sharply against Portia’s white hand, racial stereotyping is predominant. As Morocco begs Portia not to view him with racist instincts – ‘dislike me not for my complexion’ – Portia and Nerissa can barely keep straight faces, as if the idea of such miscegenation is hilariously inconceivable (though no such prejudice interposes between Lorenzo and Jessica). Morocco sports Bedouin garb, turban DQGÀRZLQJUREHVDQGFDUULHVDVFLPLWDU+LVPDQQHULVH[DJJHUDWHGDQGSRPSRXV the actor relishing the rhetoric assigned to the role, producing the comic effect of a foreigner overplaying his hand, impervious to the amused astonishment of his host. He speaks with a strong Middle Eastern accent, though Shylock never sounds like a Yiddish comedian, and Bassanio has no accent of Italy. The Prince of Morocco is accompanied by an entourage of turbaned, black-robed North African men, all armed with daggers and scimitars. These weapons are drawn and brandished as Morocco and his bodyguard march through the gardens of Belmont, disturbing the civilized peace, to the accompaniment of distinctively Middle Eastern, desert music. The Arab is uncivilized, gauche, loud and overbearing. Much of his speech is directed to his men, as if his natural HOHPHQW LV WKH PDOH FDPDUDGHULH RI WKH EDWWOH¿HOG UDWKHU WKDQ WKH ODG\¶V VDORQ Over the silver casket, he smugly acknowledges his own deserving. Shakespeare’s text reads: ‘I do in birth deserve her, and in fortunes / In graces, and in qualities of EUHHGLQJ¶%XWWKH¿OPVFULSWVXEVWLWXWHVIRUWKDWODVWZRUGµYDORXU¶ZKLFKSURPSWV the prince and his men to draw and brandish their weapons with a loud war cry of anticipated victory. Portia herself is cleared of the more obvious signs of racism by the cutting of her line ‘Let all of his complexion choose me so’. Much of Shylock’s UDFLVWODQJXDJHLVFXWKLV¿UVWYHUVHVSHHFK±LVUHGXFHGWRWKHRQHOLQH ‘How like a fawning publican he looks’. But the parodic language assigned to the Muslim is left intact as an extraordinary instance of directorial partiality. In Renaissance Venice the Muslim had as much protection and liberty as the -HZ ,Q 5DGIRUG¶V FRQWHPSRUDU\ ¿OP WKH -HZ LV DOO WUDJLF GLJQLW\ ZKLOH WKH Prince of Morocco is the butt of a broadly comedic treatment that caricatures the Muslim Arab.



2IDOOWKHVHPRGHUQDGDSWDWLRQV2UVRQ:HOOHV¶V¿OPRIOthello approximates PRVWFORVHO\WRDIXOODSSUHFLDWLRQRI9HQLFHDVKXPDQSRVVLELOLW\&OHDUO\WKH¿OP is capable of displaying Venice, in the manner of tourist guidebooks, as a visual ORFDWLRQRIVHUHQHEHDXW\DQGRUGHU%XWWKH¿OPDOVRVKRZVDQRWKHU9HQLFHDFLW\ RILQH[SOLFDEOHLQFRQJUXLWLHVDQGEDIÀLQJGLVUXSWLRQVZKHUHWKHGD]]OLQJVHQVRU\ kaleidoscope of random impressions seems impossible to hold together, where images jostle discordantly in bricolage and where ‘characters pursue each other through a maze of canals, streets and corridors’. This does not however have to be explained solely in terms of Welles’ directorial style, or the uneven conditions of WKH¿OP¶VSURGXFWLRQRUHYHQDVWKHHIIHFWRIWU\LQJWRDGDSWDSRHWLFGUDPDWRWKH PHGLXPRI¿OP)RUWKHVHFKDUDFWHULVWLFVDUHDOODQHVVHQWLDOSDUWDVZHKDYHVHHQ of the historic traditions of represented Venice. And alongside the ‘Chaos’ that comes again, that beauty and orderliness of a genuinely multi-cultural state, that can smile upon the marriage of Othello and Desdemona, is also fully incorporated within this inclusive cinematic vision. But to return to Shakespeare: how on earth did this sixteenth-century dramatist arrive at so deep and intimate a knowledge of la Serenissima? I am convinced that Shakespeare never did visit Venice, but relied (as Lewes Lewkenor did) for his knowledge and opinion on books, pictures, maps, reports, rumours and conversations. But I would still like to believe that somewhere, in that enchanted land that lies between his Venetian plays, the inherited mythology of Venice, and the modern reader, there is a Shakespeare who somehow found his way there. A Shakespeare who lay back on the cushions of a gondola, rowed by a Saracen Moor, and trailed his hand in the water of the Grand Canal; who marvelled at the splendour of the palaces and the thronging business of the Rialto; who watched the Jews in their red and yellow hats hurrying in and out of the Ghetto and marvelled at the beauty of the Jewish women; who followed music and laughter down dark and narrow passages in a city composed, like Calvino’s invisible cities, of desire and fear: $UULYLQJDWHDFKQHZFLW\WKHWUDYHOOHU¿QGVDJDLQDSDVWRIKLVWKDWKHGLGQRW know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.12

At the time Othello was written we know exactly what kind of ‘foreign place’ Shakespeare occupied: he was lodging in the house of tire-maker Christopher Mountjoy, in Silver Street, Southwark. Mountjoy possessed the ‘mystery’ of making and working in ‘Venice gold and silver thread’. Shakespeare was clearly familiar with the products of this craft: in The Taming of the Shrew Gremio has a ‘valance of Venice gold in needlework’ (2.1.350). In that industrious house on Silver Street, while downstairs in the workshop craftsmen and apprentices rolled,


Ibid., pp. 28–9.


Shakespeare and Venice

hammered and twisted metal wire into ‘Venice gold’, upstairs in his rented rooms the dramatist was busy writing Othello.13 The Venetians had imported the art of making gold thread from the Middle East, hence its alternative name of ‘Damask gold’, from Damascus. This book has FDUHIXOO\WUDFHGWKH¿QHJROGWKUHDGWKDWWLHV6KDNHVSHDUHWR9HQLFHDQGWKH(DVW But the artistry that crafted that exotic material into dramatic poetry was practiced in that nondescript tenement on London’s South Bank.

13 See Charles Nicholl, The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (London: Penguin Books, 2008), p. 164.

Works Cited Adelman, Janet. Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Aristotle. Politics. Trans. by H. Rackham. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1967. Ascham, Roger. The Scholemaster. London: Iohn Daye, 1570. Auden W.H. ‘Brothers and Others’. In Shakespeare’s Comedies: an Anthology of Modern Criticism, ed. Laurence Lerner. London: Penguin, 1967. Bacon, Francis. ‘Of Usury’, essay no. 41 in Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral. Vol. 12 in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding, R.L. Ellis and D.D. +HDWKYROV%RVWRQ+RXJKWRQ0LIÀLQ± Bartels, Emily C. ‘“Too many blackamoores”: Deportation, Discrimination and Elizabeth I’. Studies in English Literature 46:2 (Spring 2006): 305–22. Bartels, Emily C. ‘Making More of the Moore: Aaron, Othello and Renaissance Refashionings of Race’. Shakespeare Quarterly 41:4 (Winter 1990): 434–5. ———. Speaking of the Moor: from Alcazar to Othello. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Barthelemey, Anthony G. ‘“What news on the Rialto”: Luxury, Sodomy and Miscegenation in The Merchant of Venice’. In Shakespeare, Italy and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi, 131–44. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Bassi, Shaul and Alberto Toso Fei. Shakespeare in Venice: Luoghi, personaggi e incanti di una città che va in scena. Venezia: Elzeviro, 2007. Belsey, Catherine. ‘Love in Venice’. Shakespeare Survey 44 (1991): 41–53. Bodin, Jean. Colloquium of the Seven about the Secrets of the Sublime. Trans. Marion Leathers Daniels Kuntz. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975. %RQ¿O 5REHUW µ$ &XOWXUDO 3UR¿OH¶ ,Q The Jews of Early Modern Venice, ed. Robert C. Davis and Benjamin Ravid, 169–90. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Brown, John Russell (ed.). The Merchant of Venice. London: Methuen, 1955, reprinted 1977. Butcher, Phillip. ‘Othello’s Racial Identity’. Shakespeare Quarterly 3:3 (July 1952): 243–7. Calabi, Donatella, ‘The “City of the Jews”’. In The Jews of Early Modern Venice, ed. Robert C. Davis and Benjamin Ravid, 31–52. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Calbi, Maurizio. ‘“The ghosts of strangers”: Hospitality, Identity and Temporality in Caryl Phillips’ The Nature of Blood’. Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 6.2 (September 2006): 38–54.


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Calimani, Riccardo. The Ghetto of Venice. Trans. Katherine Silberblatt Wolfthal. New York: M. Evans, 1987. Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. London: Secker and Warburg, 1974. Cantor, Paul A. Shakespeare’s Rome. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976. Carboni, Stefano. ‘Moments of Vision: Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797’. In Venice and the Islamic World 828–1797, ed. Stefano Carboni. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Caruth, Cathy. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Cassirer, Ernst. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965. Chambers, David and Brian Pullan (eds). Venice: A Documentary History 1450– 1630. Oxford, Blackwell, 1992. Charry, Brinda. ‘“[T]he Beauteous Scarf”: Shakespeare and the “Veil Question”’. Shakespeare 4.1–4 (2008): 112–26. Clingman, Stephen. The Grammar of Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Cohen, Walter. ‘The Undiscovered Country: Shakespeare and Mercantile Geography’. In Marxist Shakespeare, ed. Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, 128–58. London: Routledge, 2001. Collick, John. Shakespeare, Cinema and Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989. Contareno, Gaspar. The Commonwealth and Government of Venice. Trans. Lewes Lewkenor. London: Edmund Mattes, 1599. Coryate, Thomas. ‘From Coryats Crudities’. In The Merchant of Venice: Texts and Contexts, ed. Lindsay Kaplan. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2002. ———. Coryats Crudities: Hastily Gobbled Up in Five Months Travels. London: William Stansby, 1611. Crouzet-Pavan, Elisabeth. Venice Triumphant. Trans. Lydia G. Cochrane. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Crowl, Samuel. ‘Looking for Shylock: Stephen Greenblatt, Michael Radford and Al Pacino’. In 6FUHHQLQJ 6KDNHVSHDUH LQ WKH WZHQW\¿UVW FHQWXU\, ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, 113–26. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. d’Amico, Jack. The Moor in English Renaissance Drama. Tampa: University of South Florida Press, 1992. ———. Shakespeare and Italy: the City and the Stage. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. Dalrymple, William. ‘Foreword: the Porous Frontiers of Islam and Christendom: A Clash or Fusion of Civilizations?’ In Re-Orienting the Renaissance: Cultural Exchanges with the East, ed. Gerald MacLean. London: Palgrave, 2005. Davis, Robert C., and Benjamin Ravid (eds). The Jews of Early Modern Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Debray, Regis. Against Venice. Trans. Philip Wohlstetter. Boston: North Atlantic Books, 2000.

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Abbott, George, 48 Adelman, Janet, 43, 145 Africanus, Leo, 48 Aleppo, 96, 103 Alexandria, 8, 51 Aristotle, 37, 145 Armstrong, Louis, 120 Ascham, Roger, 25, 145 Ashley, I., 98 Athens, 8 Bacon, Francis, 37, 145 Bartels, Emily C., 44, 48, 49, 145 Barthelemey, Anthony G., 29, 145 Bassi, Shaul, 1, 3, 145 Bedell, William, 45 Ben Messaoud, Abd, el-Ouahed, 48 Bernardino (of Sienna), 38 Bodin, Jean, 32, 138, 145 %RQ¿O5REHUW43, 45, 145 Borges, Jorge Luis, 108 Botero, Giovanni, 24 Brasca, Santo, 19, 21 Browning, Robert, 108 Burge, Stuart, 48 Burgess, Nina, 15, 153 Burnett, Mark Thornton, 129, 146 Byron, Lord George Gordon, 7, 10, 128 Calabi, Donatella, 44, 46, 145 Calbi, Maurizio, 120, 121, 122, 145 Calimani, Riccardo, 36, 38, 42, 43, 46, 47, 146 Calvino, Italo, 12, 13, 99, 146 Cantor, Paul, 1, 146 Carboni, Stefano, 50, 51, 52, 146, 147 Carleton, Dudley, 24, 25 Caruth, Cathy, 113, 146 Cassirer, Ernst, 7, 146

Chambers, David, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 39, 42, 45, 53, 57, 87, 146 Charry, Brinda, 55, 56, 146 Christie, Agatha, 123 Cinthio, Geraldi, 98, 127 Clingman, Stephen, 113, 146 Cochrane, Lydia G., 9, 146 Cohen, Walter, 5, 42, 54, 146 Collick, John, 124, 146 Constantinople, 29, 33, 45, 51 Contareno, Gaspar, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 29, 90, 98, 116, 136, 140, 146, 148, 151 Coryate, Thomas, 21, 22, 26, 28, 29, 33, 43, 44, 45, 46, 57, 72, 88, 95, 96, 97, 118, 146, 148 Crouzet-Pavan, Elisabeth, 9, 61, 146 Crowl, Samuel, 129, 133, 146 Cyprus, 44, 89, 90, 92, 95, 96, 115, 124, 125, 126, 137 Da Gama, Vasco, 51 D’Amico, Jack, 56, 146 Dalrymple, William, 50, 52, 146 Damascus, 144 Davis, Robert C., 32, 38, 39, 43, 44, 146, 147, 150, 151, 152 Debray, Regis, 14, 147 Dickens, Charles, 9, 147 Drakakis, John, 5, 6, 7, 147 du Maurier, Daphne, 11 Eagleton, Terry, 15, 147 Elad, Amikam, 33, 147 Elam, Keir, 3, 21, 147 Eliot, T.S., 2, 11, 147 Emo, Gabriel, 26, 87 England, 1, 2, 4, 19, 49, 50, 63, 97, 105, 113, 138


Shakespeare and Venice

Faroqhi, Suraiya, 52, 147 Fei, Alberto Toso, 1, 3, 146 )HUXI¿QR+LHURQ\PR39 Fiedler, Leslie, 5, 147 Fleming, Ian, 13, 147 Florence, 35, 45 French, Lawrence, 124, 147 Garis, Robert, 126, 128, 147 Ghazoul, Ferial, 48, 147 Greenblatt, Stephen, 17, 129, 146 Gurr, Andrew, 48, 147 Gutleben, Christian, 113, 152 Haley, Alex, 114 Hall, Joseph, 105, 147 Harp, Richard, 139, 149 Hawkes, Terence, 4, 147 Hemingway, Ernest, 135, 147 Hocquet, Jean-Claude, 52, 147 Hopkins, Anthony, 126 Howard, Deborah, 52, 148 Howard, Jean E., 5, 146 India, 51 Iraq, 56 Irving, Henry, 131 Islamoglu-Inan, Huri, 52, 147 James 1, King, 25, 90 James, Henry, 10, 11, 123, 148 Jardine, Lisa, 49, 148 Jerusalem, 2, 19, 33, 36, 45, 46, 92, 98, 99, 147 Jong, Erica, 3, 107, 108, 109, 110, 113, 121, 141, 148 Jonson, Ben, 2, 7, 20, 41, 59, 86, 137, 138, 139, 148, 149, 151 Jorgens, Jack, 126 Kahn, Coppelia, 1, 148 Keats, John, 9, 148 Khaldun, Ibn, 51 Kingsley, Ben, 126 Kissen, Maurice, 25, 148 Kitsch, Aaron, 2, 31, 36, 37, 148 Knolleys, Richard, 89, 90 Koppenfels, Werner Von, 10, 11, 152 Kramer, Lillian, 113, 148

Kristeva, Julia, 56, 148 Lanier, Emilia, 110 Levith, Murray, 32, 34, 148 Lewkenor, Lewes, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 29, 92, 135, 136, 140, 143, 146, 148, 151 Loughrey, Bryan, 1 Luther, Martin, 37, 148 Maclean, Gerald, 49, 52, 146, 148 Mahood, M.M., 1, 3, 6, 8, 57, 60, 83, 148 Mandeville, John, 33 Mann, Thomas, 10, 13, 15, 108, 123, 135 Marlow, Christopher, 36, 86 Marrapodi, Michele, 2, 3, 4, 21, 29, 146, 147, 148, 149, 151 Matar, Nabil, 49, 149 Mauritania, 48 McEwan, Ian, 10, 149 McPherson, David, 7, 22, 41, 59, 86, 137, 149 Medici, Sisto, 38 Middlebrook, Diane, 17 Miola, Robert, 1, 149 Modena, Leon, 36, 43, 149, 150 Mogador, 125 Morocco, 47, 48, 66, 91, 124, 125, 126, 142 Morris, Jan, 30, 46, 52, 103, 108, 109, 149 Moryson, Fynes, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 36, 88, 99, 149 Mountjoy, Christopher, 143 Mulryan, John, 139, 149 Mulryne, J.R., 7, 8, 34, 58, 61, 62, 149 Murphy, Andrew, 1, 91, 92, 86, 149 Neill, Michael, 47, 149 O’Rawe, Des, 123, 149 Onega, Susan, 113, 152 Pacino, Al, 129, 146 Padua, 2, 29, 39 Parker, Bryan, 137, 148 Patterson, Annabelle, 1, 57, 149 Perosa, Sergio, 11, 150 3¿VWHU0DQIUHG9, 10, 11, 33, 37, 56, 106, 109, 150, 152 Phillips, Caryl, 114, 115, 117, 118, 120, 121, 141, 145, 150

Index Pittman, L. Monique, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 142, 150 Platt, Peter, 11, 19, 34, 65, 86, 90, 95, 97, 101, 140, 150 Pocock, J.G.A., 6, 7, 149 Poisson, Rodney, 104, 150 Portugal, 105 Potter, Lois, 47 Potter, Nick, 5, 6, 34, 76, 77, 92, 103, 140, 148, 150 Proust, Marcel, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 33, 108, 135, 150 Pullan, Brian, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 35, 36, 38, 39, 42, 45, 53, 146, 152 Raby, Julien, 50, 53, 150 Radford, Michael, 4, 117, 123, 129, 130, 140, 147, 148, 152 Ravid, Benjamin I., 31, 32, 36, 38, 39, 43, 45, 47, 117, 145, 146, 150, 151, 152 Rodriga, Daniel, 41 Roeg, Nicholas, 10, 123 Rome, 1, 2, 6, 17, 35, 45, 139, 146, 149, 150 Rossenbaum, Jonathan, 125, 151 Ruskin, John, 10, 11, 13, 16, 52, 151 Said, Edward, 116 Salingar, Leo, 2, 151 Sanders, Norman, 1, 48, 92, 151 Sansovino, Francesco, 22, 36, 42, 46, 97, 151 Sanudo, Alvise, 42, 57 Sanudo, Marin, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 42 Sarpi, Fra Paolo, 31 Schaff, Barbara, 9, 10, 11, 150, 152 Schrader, Paul, 123 Scotland, 1 Sennett, Richard, 6, 31, 40, 41, 43, 87, 151 Shaughnessy, Robert, 124, 151 Shelley, Mary, 10, 151 Shershow, Scott Cutler, 5, 146


Simmel, George, 10, 11, 14, 151 Smith, Emma, 5, 34, 151 Softley, Ian, 123 Southampton, Earl of, 3, 108, 109, 110, 111 Spain, 48, 52, 105 Spenser, Edmund, 21, 25, 151 Stern, Avraham, 115 Stevens, Wallace, 94, 151 Stewart, Stanley, 139, 149 Stow, Kenneth R., 39, 43, 45, 151 Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 119 Tanner, Tony, 9, 10, 11, 121, 151 Thomas, Vivien, 1, 151 Thomas, William, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 54, 77, 102, 116, 152 Tillotson, K., 9, 147 Tournay, Petra, 113, 152 Trauner, Alexander, 124 Turner, John, 5, 34, 76, 90, 103, 140, 148, 150 Vaughan, Virginia Mason, 32, 33, 47, 91, 105, 152 Verona, 2 Vespucci, Amerigo, 104 Vienna, 2 Visconti, Lucino, 10, 123 Vitkus, Daniel, 49, 52, 152 Wells, Orson, 4, 118, 124, 125, 126, 127, 143, 147, 151 West, Debbie, 9 Winterson, Jeannette, 10, 150, 152 Woolf, Virginia, 109 Wordsworth, William, 33, 152 Wotton, Sir Henry, 45, 51 Wray, Ramona, 129, 146 Zierler, Wendy, 114, 152 Zorattini, Pierre, 32, 152