Jewish History Soundbites

Shylock & Friends: The Jews of Venice

May 16, 2022

Jews have lived in Venice for more than a millennium. In 1516 the Jewish community of Venice was restricted to one area of the city, and this came to be known as the Ghetto, the first of its kind in Europe. Jewish life flourished, and it became a pioneering center of the printing of Hebrew books, most famously in the printing press of the Christian Daniel Bomberg.

Though there were many famous Jewish personalities of Venice, including Don Yitzchak Abarbanel who lived out his last years in the city, the most famous Venetian Jew never even existed at all. Shylock is a fictional character and the primary antagonist in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. While Shakespeare used - and to a certain extent created - anti-Semitic tropes which unfortunately were perpetuated by subsequent anti-Semites over the ensuing centuries, in many ways the character reflects the restricted reality of Venice’s Jews at the time.


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