September 5th, 2011A New Source for Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice?by Joseph Pearce

I’ve just received an e-mail that seems to point to a possible new source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Since the e-mail is self-explanatory, I’m going to let it speak for itself:

Mr. Pearce,

I found an interesting connection between The Merchant of Venice and Famagusta, Cyprus. I was reading Empires of the Sea, by Roger Crowley (subtitled: the siege of Malta, the battle of Lepanto, and the contest for the center of the world). The Turks had captured Famagusta. The Venetian commander, Bragadin, was tortured to death: he was skinned alive by a Jewish Butcher.

According to Crowley (page 241), "The butcher ordered to commit the final act—and this would not be forgiven in Venice—was a Jew. Tied to an ancient column from Salamis still standing to this day, Bragadin was skinned alive. He was dead before the butcher reached the waist."

To me the play had always been about the merits of Christianity over Judaism (forgiveness vs. the law). But here, it sounded like source events (the skinning of someone) that may have had a hand for the inspiration of the play. I did a superficial search of the web and found nothing connecting the two. I am not a scholar, and I do not have your background to follow up on such a lead and therefore gladly email you this connection. However, I was intrigued to find that Othello is staged in Famagusta, Cyprus. I do not know what Shakespeare's general view of Venice was (favorable, no doubt), but it seems like he's used some of their history to explore the more personal conflicts to which we all can identify. Very interesting that Famagusta (largely unknown) should figure in two of his major plays.


Philip Horky (Florida)

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  • September 6 2011 | by Dena Hunt

    That's fascinating. Makes those "missing years" in his biography even more interesting. There is speculation (with some justification) that he might have gone to Rome. If he traveled abroad at all, he might also have gone to Venice, other parts of Italy, etc.