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Transcript of Shakespeare's Venice
Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor
Sex and the City
The Merchant of Venice
The Floating City
Life in 16th Century Venice
Venice was the capital of the world. Ships and sailors frequented Venetian ports from Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and many other exotic places.
Venice had the most diverse culture in the world at the time. It was the point where East met West.
This play demonstrates Shakespeare's astounding knowledge of Venice's culture and general life. Aspects mentioned in the play that appeared in real life 16th Century Venice include: the Rialto; the currency; the Jewish Quarter; and money lending.
Othello is a true depiction of the diverse, multi-cultural life within Venice. The tragedy tells of a Moorish general in the Venetian army who marries the daughter of a Venetian governor. This sets off a series of events, led by the antagonist Iago, that leads to the death of all the major characters.
Rumours of Shakespeare in Italy
One explanation of why Shakespeare knew so much about Venice and Italy is that he actually visited there in the seven years that are referred to as his "lost years".
Another more skeptical explanation is that Shakespeare was in fact Italian and born in the Sicilian town of Messina.
Courtesans or 'meretrici de luoghi publici' were one of the more unusual aspects of Venetian life. They were openly encouraged to participate in the trade by Venice's rulers. They were dressed in the same high fashion as the noblewomen of the city with Venetian lace and imported oriental silks. All the women in the city had their faces painted white with lead-based cosmetics and lips redded with carmine; while their hair was bleached and frizzled.
Venice as a nation
Venice was a major military, as well as economic, super power within Europe. At some points the Venetian Republic had complete control of the Adriatic through its extensive navy. The map below also shows that Venice controlled much of modern day Greece and Cyprus at the height of its Empire.