We all know of Othello, the famous Moor of Venice, but Shakespeare’s fictional character had some historical basis–even in Shakespeare’s own day.
Venice was a cosmopolitan city, a major international port, and Europe’s gateway to the rest of the world. If you visited Venice in the 1500s, no doubt you would have seen people of many different races, speaking different languages, and practicing different religions.
During the Renaissance, the Venetian Republic was renowned as a model of cultural and religious tolerance, at the same time that its authorities locked up Jews at night in the world’s first ghetto, and many of its people took the branding iron to their own slaves. Even in our own time, we can appreciate the irony.