Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Shakespeare and Italy: Bassi & Fei

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Shakespeare and Italy:
Bassi & Fei

Bassi, Shaul and Alberto Toso Fei. Shakespeare in Venice.Treviso: Elzeviro, 2007.


“Yet as one strolls around Venice today one sees fewer changes than in any other Renaissance city…. There are so many places, so many majestic monuments and hidden corners that seem to whisper ‘Shakespeare was here'” (11).

“During the Renaissance Justice was the virtue that Venice placed firmly at the centre of the mythical image it projected of itself” (17).

“If he had ever visited St. Mark’s, Shakespeare, like every other traveler, would have been dazzled by the beauty of the Doge’s Palace and would certainly have noticed the statue of Justice / high up on the facade” (17-18).

“Walking across the square, in front of the Basilica, Shakespeare might have noticed another mythological personification of justice, this time cast in bronze on one of the great Renaissance pedestals … supporting the three flagstaffs. This figure, to whom Shakespeare refers in both Titus Andronicus and The First Part of King Henry VI, is Astraea, the daughter of Zeus and Themis and a goddess of justice. … The bronze image would in fact have struck Shakespeare immediately because innumerable English poets and philosophers often referred to Queen Elizabeth herself as the Virgin Astraea” (20).

The Lion’s Mouth (23).

The Doge’s Palace: “the centre of Venetian power and a powerful symphony of mythological and religious symbols. A visitor at that time would have been able to admire not only centuries-old styles and decorations but also brand new works commissioned after the fire that had seriously damaged the building in 1574. It is these magnificent rooms that provide the imagined setting in which Antonio and Shylock, Othello and Brabantio appear before the Doge and the Venetian Senate. There are so many artistic treasures in every corner of the place that it is impossible to give a detailed description or imagine the impact they might have had on the English visitor” (27).

“The moon, together with a snake and the caduceus, the sparrowhawk and wings and the cockerel with winged eyes represent the political virtues of Eloquence, Fluency of speech and Vigilance” (28).

Shakespeare’s scenes in the Senate Chamber “with its magnificent decorative scheme comprising works by Jacapo Tintoretto, Titian, Jacopo Palma il Giovane and Andrea Vicentino” (33).

Council of Ten set up in 1310 grew in power “to the point where it almost became the real governing body of the State” (33).

Duke of Norfolk, Thomas de Mowbray (1366-1399), “travelled to Venice, intending to proceed to the Holy Land, but died there of the plague on 22nd September 1399…. / Norfolk’s body was repatriated in 1533 but his tombstone remained in Venice, where Shakespeare could have seen it set into the facade of the Doge’s Palace that looks out over the water towards the Island of San Giorgio (the patron saint of England…)” (42-43). Stone removed by Napoleon’s soldiers.

Marciana Library bequest of Petrarch, statues no longer there of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Cleopatra with serpent, Pompey the Great, Augustus Caesar, Mark Antony (47).

1581 imaginative suggestion that the name Venezia derives from the Latin “veni etiam” (come again) (50).

Cyprus a Venetian colony until 1573, reconquered by the Ottoman Empire after Battle of Lepanto (1571) when Venice and others defeated Turks (51).

Moors. Bronze statues that strike the hours at the top of the Clock Tower of the 1490s — patina formed so now “Torre dei Mori” (57).

“the traveller of four centuries ago would have seen what nowadays we can admire only twice a year, during the week following Ascension Day … and on the Feast of Epiphany: from one of the two doors at the sides of the dial, where normally we see the hours and minutes, The Three Magi emerge in procession and, preceded by the Angel, bow before the Virgin as they pass. One of the Magi, the dark-skinned king Balthasar, may be the “fixed figure for the time of scorn / To point his slow unmoving finger at” tha Othello fears he will become” (57).

“The tradition was, in fact, that no Venetian-born citizen should gain any political advantage from military service” (62).

“Venetian merchants and nobles … did indeed love to see vessels constantly around them, as we know form the inventories of their houses that often included ornaments, vases, carafes, jewels, spice-boxes and other objects in the form of ships; and their tables often bore spongade, a sort of fruit cake sometimes shaped like a boat; but these were evidence of pride and prosperity not of anxiety” (78).

R&J “culminated in the Church of San Pietro di Castello, which stands in the only campo in Venice still to be covered with grass — a beautiful spot which is sadly neglected by tourists” (81).

Sagittary: where arrows were made, Frezzeria, called “vicus sagittarius” (85).

“Masks and fancy dress could be worn in Venice from October until Shrove Tuesday, although the Carnival season really took off from the Feast of St. Stephen or Boxing Day” (89).

Letter regarding costumes: “People believe that since when they look like gentlefolk they do in a certain sense become like gentlefolk” (90).

Berowne and Giordano Bruno. Gilberto Sacerdoti unravelled a riddle regarding Queen Elizabeth, advice to exercise self-sovereignty [?] (94).

Veronica Franco born 1546, courtesan, “a writer, musician and poetess, she kept open house for painters, musicians and literary figures and granted them her favours in exchange for writings and philosophical discussions” (119).

Council of Ten ruled against courtesan hair style in 1470 (119).

“Honest” 52 times in Othello; “the Honest Woman” a stone face set into wall of house near canal at the Basilica of the Frari (128).

Venetian salutation s-ciao = I am your servant — connected to sciavo / slave, and Slavs? (132).

“The house of the Moor” in campo dei Carmini close to campo Santa Margherita in the Dorsoduro district. Othello source Cinzio makes character a Moor instead of the name of nobleman Cristoforo Moro, lieutenant of Cyprus in 1505ff, married Demonio Bianco (white demon) (137).

Gondola 11 meters long, “painted black, with seven coats of paint made up to a secret recipe. The colour was established by decree on 8th October 1562” (142).

Council of Ten banned theaters in 1508 but closed them in 1581, pressured by Jesuits (145).

Confusing Gobbo directions = getting lost in Venice (151).

“Since only German Jews were allowed to lend money, Shylock would have attended the oldest of the synagogues, the Scuola Grande Tedesca, where the Ashkenazi rite was practiced. Begun in 1529, the building is in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo and can be identified from outside only by the windows overlooking the square, five like the books of the Torah” (155).

Historian Brian Pullan connects The Merchant of Venice with events of 1567 in Venice (160).

1580s English comedy by Robert Wilson, The three ladies of London, has Jew tricked over 3000-ducat credit (162).

Merchant and Don Quixote and Othello: 3000 ducats and Battle of Lepanto (163).

Council of Ten ordered burning of Jewish books in St. Mark’s Square in 1553 (166).

Balthazar the black African of the three Magi “represents the universal dimension of the Christan Church” (168).

“Turning Turk” in Venice and England colloquialism = betrayal (170).

“Venice was famous as a centre of magic and the occult…. Merchants trading with the East imported not only costly spices and magnificent cloths into the city: Venetian ships also brought esoteric knowledge and beliefs concerning astrology and magic, particularly in the 1500s” (174).

“Sixteenth century chronicles reported widely the claims of Francesco Barozzi, a patrician who boasted of being able [to] conjure up any spirit from the afterworld within a ring traced with the blood of a murdered man” (174).

Cristoforo Moro, mulberries on tomb, transformed into strawberries in Othello? (178).

Merchant statues in oriental dress: turban, shawl, box suggest Levantine Jewish merchant or Moslem with alms box (183).

Venice propagandistic history from De magistratibus et republica venetorum libri quinque, published 1551 (188).

Influenced Shakespeare maybe in presence of foreigners in Venice and entrusting military appointments to non-Venetian soldiers (189).


Italian Bibliography