Sunday 28 December 2014


Our apartment here in Venice stands off a (very) small square named Campo Contarini-Fasan and our windows overlook the walled courtyard of the Palazzo of the same name...

A pretty enough little place – especially since it also has a rather splendid frontage looking onto the Grand Canal...

But it has another reputed significance in that, legend has it, this is was the house of Brabantio, the father of Desdemona in William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice and, as such, has been fancifully imagined by various artists...

Brabantio's house is the location for the anger-and-outrage-filled opening scene of the play, in which Roderigo and Iago rouse the Senator with the shocking news that his daughter has eloped with Othello...

RODERIGO What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!
IAGO Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!
Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!
Thieves! thieves!
BRABANTIO appears above, at a window.
BRABANTIO What is the reason of this terrible summons?
What is the matter there?
RODERIGO Signior, is all your family within?
IAGO Are your doors lock'd?
BRABANTIO Why, wherefore ask you this?
IAGO 'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on
your gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say.

Of course, there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever visited Venice, and anyway, as he so often did, the playwright nicked the plot – on this occasion from a short story entitled Un Capitano Moro ('A Moorish Captain') written by Cinthio and first published in 1565.

Apart from which, the present look of the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan doesn't exactly suggest that it would make for very convenient conversations via upstairs windows.

However, it is a romantic thought that this famously tragic tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, suspicion and revenge, shot through (like The Merchant of Venice) with racial prejudice had its origins not a stone's throw from where I am writing this...


mishi said...

Interesting. Of course, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford spent many months in Venice. See that amazing book, Shakespeare by Another Name. Be converted! WS from Stratford left no books and could hardly sign his name.
The evidence is overwhelming. Venice in the snow is magic. Enjoy. And have a great New Year!

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, Mishi. Anyone interested can can read more about the Edward de Vere as the 'real' Shakespeare theory here

ArteyOficios said...

Thank you Brian, very interesting. I don't know who was Shakespeare, neither if he was in Venice... But what I know is that the merchants of Venice were many and often do business in almost every part of Europe (don't remember now if Thomas More had a italian friend, from Venice). It would not be surprising that Shakespeare had known some Venetian merchant...

Boll Weavil said...

I was going to ask why you didn't request a room with a view over the front but it seems a little frivolous now...