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Mon 31-03-2008
Prof. Benjamin Ravid: Shylock and the Jewish Merchants of Venice

In de lezing zal Prof. Benjamin Ravid, Professor of Jewish History aan Brandeis University en specialist op het gebied van Venetiaans joodse geschiedenis, op zoek gaan naar de historische werkelijkheid achter de beeldvorming van de Venetiaanse Joden in Shakespeare’s beroemde toneelstuk De Koopman van Venetië.

De lezing zal in het Engels worden gehouden.

Locatie: Joods Historisch Museum, auditorium
Amstelstraat 2-4, Amsterdam
Tijd 15:30-17:00
Toegang gratis,


15:30-16:15 uur: lezing
16:15-16:30 uur: koffie/theepauze
16:30-1700 uur: discussie en mogelijkheid tot het stellen van vragen

Surely one of the best-known titles in Western literature is Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. And to associate that title with Jews in general and with Shylock specifically should not raise any eye-brows. Certainly, Shylock is a major character in the play, if not, indeed, its major character. However, he is not the title character of the play. Shakespeare intended the merchant of Venice to be Antonio, not Shylock. Yet from a historical perspective rather than from a literary one, the association of the designation of a merchant of Venice with a Jew as well as with a native Christian has some validity. Remarkably, at the time that Shakespeare wrote his play (1596), the role of the co-religionists and co-citizens of the Christian Venetian noble, Antonio, in Venetian maritime commerce, which had made Venice the greatest and wealthiest European emporium of the times, was declining, while that of Jewish merchants, Shylock’s co-religionists, was on the rise.

I propose to start my talk with a few brief comments on the play itself and demonstrate that Shakespeare was not aware of the actual status of the Jews of Venice. Next, I will explain the origins of the ghetto of Venice and the position of the Jewish moneylenders in Venice around the time that Shakespeare wrote the play. Then I will reconstruct the process by which considerations of raison d’ état led the Venetian government to grant unique privileges to Jewish merchants and even to defy the papacy by allowing crypto-Jewish merchants from the Iberian peninsula to revert to Judaism freely on condition that they resided in the ghetto.


Benjamin Ravid is Jennie and Mayer Weisman Professor of Jewish History in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University and former Chair of that Department (1989 92). For the academic year 1986 87, he was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University.
Prof. Ravid received his B.A. from Brandeis University and his Ph.D. from the History Department at Harvard University. He also studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. Prof. Ravid is the author of Economics and Toleration in Seventeenth Century Venice and over thirty-five articles on the Jews of Venice; he has also co-edited The Jews of Early Modern Venice and contributed historical notes to the English translation of The Life of Judah, the autobiography of the seventeenth century Venetian Rabbi, Leon Modena. Additionally, he has edited several volumes in the fields of Jewish thought, modern Hebrew literature and contemporary Jewish life. A volume of his selected articles on the Jews of Venice, Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382-1797, was published by Variorum Reprints in fall 2003.
Prof. Ravid has lectured widely at professional meetings and international congresses in the United States, the State of Israel and Europe. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. He has served as Secretary Treasurer of the Association for Jewish Studies and as Associate Editor of its journal, the AJSReview, and is now on the Editorial Boards of the journal Italia, published by the Hebrew University, and of the Annuario di Studi Ebraici, published in Rome. He has also served as the discipline representative for Hebraica at the Council of the Renaissance Society of America.
Currently, Prof. Ravid is engaged in research on the Jewish merchants and moneylenders of Venice and the institution of the ghetto.


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