VENICE: MERCHANTS AND PLAYRIGHTS IMAGINE THE WORLD
At the time of the Republic of Venice, this place, due to its central position between the San Marco Basin and the entrance to the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, was used as a customs office for goods and goods subject to naval trade.
Trade was a fundamental driver of development for Venice.
Already in the 6th century, the Praetorian Prefect Cassiodorus testified that the Venetians, so defined the inhabitants of the coastal marshes from Ravenna to Grado, were already famous as navigators and ship builders. The ability to dominate the seas allows the Venetians, again according to the Prefect, to consider as a homeland any place where ships can take them.
Cassiodorus offers a description of the dwellings of the Venetians, which he defines as “aquatilium avium more domus est”, “similar in some way to the nests of water birds”, with foundations obtained by weaving flexible branches. To these houses, Cassiodorus adds, the Venetians keep their ships tied as if they were animals.
In the eighth century, Venice has already become an efficient commercial enterprise, whose ships sail along the entire Adriatic Sea, to land in Africa, Greece and Asia Minor. The legend according to which some Venetian sailors stole the body of St. Mark from Alexandria in Egypt dates back to that period, precisely to 828. Although this fact is not confirmed and the identification of the relic is completely arbitrary, this legend testifies to the extent of the Venetian trade, which saw lagoon merchants selling timber to Muslims in Egypt.
An emblematic figure of the Venetian merchant, was Marco Polo, who left Venice when he was seventeen in 1271 and returned after twenty-four years, although he was not the first European to reach China, he was the first to draw up a detailed account of the trip, Il Milione, which was the inspiration for generations of European travelers, not least Christopher Columbus, and provided ideas and materials for Western cartography, primarily Fra Mauro’s Map of the world.
Here is an image of Venice as a starting point for imagining and drawing the world and the traders as water birds that depart from here on a reconnaissance, a metaphor that also works for the theater as we will see.
Venice, which has become a first-rate commercial center, becomes a catalyst for those in search of a political refuge or the opportunity for good investments. Among all those who came to the city were the Germans, excellent customers of the Venetians, who in the fourteenth century had their Fondaco on the banks of the Grand Canal. The word Fondaco has Arabic origins funduq, literally “house-warehouse”, is a building of medieval origin, which served as a warehouse and, often, also as accommodation for foreign merchants.
At the entrance to the Fondaco dei Tedeschi you can still read the rules for the traders who used to go there, engraved on stones: no obscene words and insults, no card games, no clamor, no fights. For the rest, free to trade.
These are the rules for making the trade happen, here is another image that supports us in the landing towards the theatre: trade as a rite. Something that happens only once.
Engraved on a door of the office of the Visdomini who administered the Fondaco on behalf of the Serenissima there was this engraving: “Respice finem” – consider the end.
Almost a warning to traders: prudence since the outcome of each business is not known until after its end but also unscrupulousness since everything has an end.
In this place something material such as the trade in goods becomes a rite and places men in front of their finiteness. It is no coincidence that in this city in perennial movement the most ephemeral art, the theatre, has taken on the characteristics of what it is still today in Italy and beyond.
Starting from the fifteenth century, the theatre takes place in the halls, in the parishes, in the streets, in the patrician halls on the occasion of secular and religious celebrations. The theater was born inside the palaces and buildings dedicated to hosting the shows were born only in the 17th century.
In 1637, the first ticket was paid in Venice to see a performance, at the Tron Theater, in the Contrada San Cassian.
Venice is the homeland of the commedia dell’arte: a type of theatre in which the actors improvised without following a written text, acting on the basis of the characters fixed in the leather masks they wore.
Venice is the home of Carlo Goldoni, born here in 1707, the playwright who “killed” the commedia dell’arte by breaking reality into the stage, and of many other playrights who, like the explorers and merchants who left Venice, were able to design or redesign the world on the stage.
But why here in Venice?
I let a woman answer, a poet and playwright who lived in Venice, Moderata Fonte – Modesta Pozzi De Zorziwho wrote a dialogue for the theatre The Worth of Women published in 1600:
Hence it comes that in her (in VENICE) there are people from all countries; and as all the limbs and arteries of our body correspond to the heart, so all the cities and parts of the world correspond to Venice.
Venice becomes the heart of international trade, hundreds of people arrive, work and live here and…
The theatre is the evening reward that man gives to his daytime fatigue, the theatre shows man what man desires and life does not give him. Theatre is a desire implemented differently than in reality.
 A Companion to Music in Sixteenth-Century Venice. (2017). Paesi Bassi: Brill.
 Palchetti romani, A.Savinio (1982).Italy: Adelphi.