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Shakespeare play to mark 500 years of Venice ghetto

The 500th anniversary of the creation of the Venice ghetto is to be marked by an unprecedented performance of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” in the neighborhood to which the city’s Jews were confined for centuries, according to orginisers.

The play, in which the best known character, Shylock, is a Venetian Jewish moneylender, is to be put on by the Compagnia de’ Colombari and Ca’ Foscari University.

It will be performed in the “New Ghetto” neighbourhood of the floating city in the last week of July as one of the highlights of anniversary events which kick off on March 29, exactly 500 years after the world’s first ghetto was proclaimed.

Al Pacino as Shylock in the Michael Radford-directed 2004 production of Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' (courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Al Pacino as Shylock in the Michael Radford-directed 2004 production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Given what the ghetto represented, the events marking the anniversary will have a bittersweet element, says Renzo Gattegna, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.

“As Jews, we do not have any nostalgia for the ghetto which was a symbol of the contempt and arrogance with which we were treated at the time,” he says.

The current community of around 500 people can also trace its roots back to Jewish communities in Spain and Portugal and the Middle East.

The segregation of Jews in Venice was abolished at the end of the 18th Century after the collapse of the Venetian Republic following its military defeat by Napoleon.

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