The Shylock Project

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by Shaul Bassi

Venice2010 143

This summer scholars, actors, students will spend four weeks on a Venetian island with an ambitious goal, that of preparing the first ever promenade production of The Merchant of Venice in the Jewish Ghetto. Two landmark anniversaries will coincide in 2016: the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Ghetto of Venice, a place that provided the world with the concept of the ‘ghetto’, as well as the historical backdrop to The Merchant of Venice.

The Ghetto, founded in 1516 as a place of segregation, became an important crossroads of various Jewish communities and a place for dialogue between Jews and non- Jews, the model for all subsequent ghettos, beginning with the name itself which derives from the Venetian geto (foundry). Today tens of thousands of people visit the Ghetto every year: they tour its synagogues and museum, gaze in wonder at the tall tenements and remnants of its famous ‘banks’, they read the memorial plaques dedicated to the Holocaust.

Although Shakespeare does not mention the Ghetto, it is presupposed in The Merchant of Venice. Arguably, both the Ghetto and Shakespeare’s play are fundamentally ambivalent documents of European civilization, as instruments of intolerance and catalysts for cultural exchange.

To honour the combined anniversaries, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Ca’Foscari University of Venice have organized the first edition of the Shakespeare in Venice Summer School, dedicated to ‘The Shylock Project’ (15 June-11 July) (link to This project’s cornerstone is a site-specific, promenade production of The Merchant of Venice in the Ghetto to be realized in 2016. This historical performance will depend on the state-of-the-art perspective provided by forty-something distinguished scholars (including Stanley Wells, Stephen Greenblatt, James Shapiro, Stephen Orgel, David Scott Kastan, just to name a few), and the formal and informal discussion with director Karin Coonrod, the novelist Howard Jacobson (currently rewriting The Merchant as a contemporary novel), actors and students coming from all over the world.

The Summer School welcomes international graduate students, faculty members, teachers, independent scholars and actors genuinely committed to Shakespeare and to the importance of the project, who wish to be part of this intensive four-week course exploring the text and contexts of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The official deadline for applications has expired but a few places are still available. This rich program of seminars and creative workshops will be held in the beautiful San Giorgio monastery and will be complemented by theatre performances and excursions to the Jewish Ghetto and other Venetian sites. Selected lectures and performances will be open to the general public.

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Author:Shaul Bassi

".... speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice" (The Merchant of Venice, 1.1.121-22)

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