This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Bard of Avon lived at a time when India was ruled by the Moghul ruler Akbar the Great and was a center of trade with many European countries. Shakespeare imagined it as a land of beauty; gorgeous, veiled women, and fabulous riches, and even compares the good qualities of his characters with India’s wealth. He mentions India, Indies, or Indian in several plays.
In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio refers to his friend Antonio's trade with India: “What, not one hit?/From Tripolis, from Mexico, and England,/ From Lisbon, Barbary, and India? (Act III, Scene II). In explaining to Portia that appearances are deceptive, Bassanio says that Indian women use beautifully decorated cloth to cover their faces: “Thus ornament is but the guiled shore/ To a most dangerous sea, the beauteous scarf/ Veiling an Indian beauty... “(Act III, Scene II).
In conjunction with this anniversary, the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, Italy—which is commemorating its own 500th anniversary—is currently presenting a limited number of performances of The Merchant of Venice. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is taking part as the presiding judge in a mock trial called Shylock’s Appeal.
I was privileged to interview Justice Ginsburg in her chambers for an upcoming profile in Hadassah magazine. A short news story was posted online immediately following the interview. Look for the full interview later this year!