Shylock's Venice: The Remarkable History of Venice's Jews and the Ghetto (Hardcover)

Shylock's Venice: The Remarkable History of Venice's Jews and the Ghetto By Harry Freedman Cover Image
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The thrilling story of the Jews in Venice – and the truth behind one of Shakespeare's most famous characters.

Millions of visitors flood to Venice every year. Yet many are unaware of its history – one of dramatic expansion but also of rapid decline. And essential to any history of Venice during its glory days is the story of its Jewish population. Venice gave the world the word ghetto. Astonishingly, the ghetto prison turned out to be as remarkable a place as the city of Venice itself.

With sound scholarship and a narrator's skill, Harry Freedman tells the story of Venice's Jews. From the founding of the ghetto in 1516, to the capture of Venice by Napoleon in 1797, he describes the remarkable cultural renaissance that took place in the Venice ghetto. Gates and walls notwithstanding, for the first time in European history Jews and Christians mingled intellectually, learned from each other, shared ideas and entered modernity together. When it came to culture, the ghetto walls were porous.

Any history of Venice and its Jews also can't avoid the story of Shakespeare's Shylock. The cultural and political revival in the Venice ghetto is often obscured from history by this fictional character. Who, we wonder, was Shylock? Would the people of Venice have recognized him and what did Shakespeare really think of him? Shakespeare's ambivalent anti-Semitism reflects attitudes to Jews in Elizabethan England – but as Freedman demonstrates, Shakespeare's myth is wholly ignorant of the literary, cultural and interfaith revival that Shylock would have experienced.

About the Author

Harry Freedman is Britain's leading author of popular works of Jewish culture and history. His publications include The Talmud: A Biography, Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul, The Murderous History of Bible Translations Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius and Britain's Jews. He has a PhD on an Aramaic translation of the Bible from the University of London. He lives in London with his wife Karen. You can follow his regular articles on

Praise For…

[Harry Freedman has] a good eye for detail, an easy, fluent style, and the ability to distil complex issues without dumbing down. A darkly fascinating trip into the original Ghetto.” —Noel Malcolm, Telegraph

“A rigorous trawl through Venetian archives yields a work that begs for a lavish film adaptation. Unimprovable.” —Jewish Chronicle

Freedman has written a worthy history.” —The Oldie

“If Shakespeare had travelled to Venice, he would have experienced the vibrant, bustling, conflicted life of the Ghetto, vividly evoked in Harry Freedman's gallery of memorable characters. This book shows how Shylock's real contemporaries, confined within a narrow space, made their voices heard far and wide.” —Professor Shaul Bassi, author of The Merchant in Venice: Shakespeare in the Ghetto

Harry Freedman has written an attractive account of the history and culture of the Venetian Ghetto. The book is readable, well-researched, and incorporates the figure of Shylock in new ways. As Freedman adeptly shows, the Venetian Ghetto was an intellectual and creative hothouse – from music and poetry to medicine and Kabbalah – which included many extraordinary individuals such as Leon Modena and Sara Copia Sulam. Shylock's Venice demonstrates that the ghetto had a reach far beyond the Venetian Empire.” —Bryan Cheyette, author of The Ghetto: A Very Short Introduction (2020)

“What makes “Shylock's Venice” worth reading is Freedman's well-paced, thorough look at the Jewish experience in a complex culture. An engaging narrative. [It] shines a light on the individual Jews who played a part in that history, the ideas and events that defined it, and how the community survived its many challenges.” —The Jewish Link

Product Details
ISBN: 9781399407274
ISBN-10: 1399407279
Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum
Publication Date: April 9th, 2024
Pages: 256
Language: English