Searching for Shakespeare

by Jean Kepler Ross


Venice. I was waiting for a traghetto gondola to ferry me across the Grand Canal when I spied a building plaque indicating that the palazzo in front of me was the home of Desdemona, the tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” I didn’t have time to check it out on that trip, but it fired my imagination and I did some research. Desdemona’s home is traditionally set at Palazzo Contarini Fasan, a private home, but now I must go back to see what I can of this home with the plaque. I’ve already been to the Doge’s Palace on Saint Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge and the Jewish Ghetto to breathe in the scenes of “The Merchant of Venice.”

from the Wikimedia Commons filesI bonded with William Shakespeare at a young age. I got to play Katherine, or Kate, in our high school production of “The Taming of the Shrew” - a fun and boisterous role - and later played Miranda in a university production of “The Tempest.” Through my exposure to his dramas, I learned to love the language of the Bard.

These early impressions follow me on my travels and when I have a chance to explore sites or works related to Shakespeare, I jump. I’ve been to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego’s Balboa Park to see “Macbeth” (a fine production, but it was my birthday and by the end of the show, there were bodies and prop heads on stakes all over the stage – a bit heavy for a celebration) and to many plays at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Elizabethan stage in Ashland.

On one trip to Europe, I made a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon and saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage and Shakespeare’s house, but missed out on seeing a play in Shakespeare’s home town as the productions were all sold out. I made do with a performance of Tom Stoppard’s “Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” at the Old Vic Theatre in London where I saw the minor characters from “Hamlet” star in their parallel side story. In Denmark, I stopped by Elsinore Castle to see where the Danish royal family used to live and imagined Hamlet pacing the ramparts, deciding whether to be or not to be. My strongest memory is of a torture device in the dungeon and I could see how easy it would be to be melancholy there.

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