This is Venice (Othello & Der Kaufmann von Venedig)

in an adaptation and newly translated by Elisabeth Bronfen and Muriel Gerstner

Premiere FebruarY 2020

All hell has broken loose on the Rialto, the central marketplace of the beleaguered superpower Venice. Intrigues are being woven, networks fabricated, marriages sealed, and deals done. In the great carnival of power, money and commercial advantage, a flawed patriarchal system, based on the suppression of women and the structural exclusion of minorities, has gained the upper hand. The Law of the Fathers holds sway – and anything that is not white, Venetian and Christian is branded as “other” and excluded from the norm. This is how the money and war machine that is Venice stabilises itself and survives one crisis after another. But there’s worse to come: In spite of its crumbling core, it expands its wealth and power. When the Turks are already lying off Cyprus with over a hundred ships, threatening the colonial empire, Venice is determined to defend itself in the impending war.

The cultural scientist Elisabeth Bronfen and the stage designer Muriel Gerstner have fused William Shakespeare’s two great Venetian plays in a single dramatic world set in and around the Rialto. One is the famous tragedy about Othello, the black military commander who is seduced by the whisperings of the fiendish Iago to strangle his wife Desdemona out of jealousy. This tragedy converges with the comedy The Merchant of Venice, about the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who is initially desperately needed by the Venetian money machine, but is then destroyed by it.

“This is Venice,” says Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, after his daughter elopes with Othello – giving vent to his incredulous shock and dismay that he, as a father, does not have the last word in this conflict with his daughter. Mirroring Brabantio’s fate, we have Shylock’s despair in the face of his daughter Jessica’s flight from his orthodox household to begin a new life with Lorenzo, a young Christian.

Bronfen und Gerstner focus particularly on the crumbling patriarchal and racist structure of Venice and the obstinacy with which the Venetian money and war machine repeatedly resists its own downfall. How do the mechanisms of exclusion and debasement of “the other” work? What role do father-daughter relationships play in this? What happens when war is averted and violence turns inward? And how would things turn out if, in this Venice, the female characters – Desdemona, Emilia, Bianca, Portia, Nerissa and Jessica – had the last word?