William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It is not clear if Shakespeare ever visited Italy during his lifetime however, many of his plays are based around locations in Italy. It’s interesting, then, that nearly a third of his plays are set on the boot-shaped peninsula when he never visited Italy! He clearly had a fascination with this alluring country, and who could blame him? Italy truly is a magical place with scenery, cities and culture that are second to none. Why not add a little Shakespeare in Italy during your next travel adventure? Here are 6 of Shakespeare’s plays famously set in Italy, with locations you can still explore today!
Shakespeare in Italy | Where are his plays based?
#1 Alls Well That Ends Well | Florence
“All’s Well That Ends Well” is a complicated tale of love and war whereby Helena is in love with Bertram and the feeling is not mutual. She follows Bertram to Paris and compels him to marry her, but he flees to Florence to fight in the Tuscan War. After much intrigue and conflict, Bertram accepts Helena as his wife and they live happily ever after. Both Florence and Tuscany are featured throughout this play and are ideal destinations for any Italian tour.
#2 “The Merchant of Venice” | Venice
“The Merchant of Venice” follows a young man named Bassanio who desperately needs a loan to woo a wealthy woman. He turns to his merchant friend, Antonio, who borrows the money from a Jewish moneylender named Shylock. The consequences are high. If the loan becomes forfeit, Antonio will owe Shylock a pound of his very own flesh! The majority of the play takes place in the Jewish ghetto area of Venice, which can still be visited today. Doge’s Palace is the setting for the courthouse scenes. The Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, is also mentioned in the dialogue.
#3 “Romeo and Juliet” | Verona
“Romeo and Juliet” is Shakespeare’s ultimate tragic love story. It tells of two star-crossed lovers from fair Verona, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. With their two noble families at war with each other, Romeo and Juliet marry in secret. Their union meets a shocking and tragic end. Visitors flock to Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta) in Verona and stand on her balcony to recite the famous line, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
#4 “Much Ado About Nothing” | Sicily
Set in Messina, Sicily, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a comedy full of fun, frivolity and misunderstandings. The play centers around two couples who take many detours on their path to true love. The mix-up is a common Shakespearean technique, and this play uses it to hilarious effect. The warm and tropical seaport of Sicily is the perfect setting for this romantic comedy, with many scenes taking place in Leonato’s luscious outdoor garden.
#5 “Julius Caesar” | Rome
“Julius Caesar” is arguably Shakespeare’s most iconic Roman tragedy. The play, which is based on historical events, tells of Caesar’s violent political downfall. Many will recall Caesar’s famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” – the moment when Caesar realizes his ultimate betrayal by Brutus. The ancient ruins of Rome serve as powerful reminders of Shakespeare in Italy. Explore the remains of the Roman Forum where Mark Anthony proclaimed, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” during the eulogy for his fallen friend.
#6 “Othello” | Venice
“Othello” is a Shakespearean tragedy that examines themes of revenge, racism and jealousy. The tragic hero, Othello, is a Moor and a respected general of the Venetian army. His life is destroyed by the devious plotting of an envious soldier, Iago. The thriving city and canals of Venice are the setting for much of the action in Othello. Modern travelers frequent Palazzo Contarini Fasan, or Desdemona’s House, named for Othello’s ill-fated wife.
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