The Jews Of Venice

From Feb ’09 Spotlight: Congregation Kol-Ami will host UIUC Shakespeare scholar Michael Shapiro on Feb. 4 for a lecture titled “Everything Shakespeare did not know about the Jews of Venice.” The character of Shylock has fascinated Jews for centuries now. Shylock appears in a play, The Merchant of Venice, that’s basically a romantic comedy, and yet his dark complexity dominates every production. When director Michael Radford came to Chicago in 2004 to promote his new film version, he told me he was absolutely convinced that Shakespeare meant us to see Shylock as a Sephardic Jew, and yet he cast Al Pacino in the part, leading some critics to assume that Shylock was a native Yiddish speaker!

Shakespeare himself had little, if any, first-hand knowledge of either Venice as a city or Jews as a People (although he may have known some Conversos), so Professor Shapiro intends to fill in the gaps for us. Where did the first Jews in Venice come from? What lead to the establishment of the Venice Ghetto? How was the loan business managed? How did Jews, in general, interact with their Christian neighbors?

Congregation Kol-Ami is located in Water Tower Place. The lecture will begin at 7 PM. For more information, visit To read my interview with director Michael Radford, visit:

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