Posted: March 23rd, 2017 | By: Emily Eisert
Professor Dick Schneider, associate dean for international affairs and professor of law, participated in the Law Library of Congress event, “Understanding the Venetian Ghetto from a Historical and Literary Perspective,” on Feb. 21, 2017. The event was part of a series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Venetian Ghetto.
The culminating event is to come on June 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C. That’s when the Law Library of Congress will host a mock appeal and punishment of Shylock of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” featuring Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the presiding judge. Professor Schneider and Justice Ginsburg developed and participated in a similar mock trial and other events in July 2016 in Venice.
The following is an excerpt from a post on the Law Library’s blog, In Custodia Legis, written by Liah Caravalho and published on March 21, about the recent event:
“Dick Schneider, associate dean for international affairs and professor of law at the Wake Forest University School of Law, discussed the seclusion of the Venetian Ghetto from a literary perspective. He began by discussing the Shylock mock appeal that he organized in Venice during the summer of 2016, which commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Venetian Ghetto and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The mock appeal featured the Honorable U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as the presiding judge.
“Dean Schneider remarked that ‘Shakespeare was not writing history, but rather he was writing a play.’ Schneider explained that Shakespeare does not explicitly mention the Venetian Ghetto in the play. He explained that, nevertheless, the character Shylock provides insight about the Venetian Jewish experience—particularly the prohibitive laws targeted toward Venetian Jews at the time and the pressures they experienced to convert to Christianity.
“Schneider remarked on how the attorneys and judges who participated in his organized mock appeal, and other mock appeals, have had to decide whether to apply the 16th century Venetian or English law or 20th century human-rights law to determine Shylock’s fate. Most often human-rights arguments have been used, according to Schneider. For example, he noted that attorneys have argued that Shylock’s due process rights were violated when the trial turned from a civil to a criminal trial; that his penalty was cruel and unusual punishment; or even that his religious freedom was violated. In other words, he explained, Shylock is often vindicated under more contemporary laws during the mock appeals.
“Dean Schneider concluded by discussing in detail how Shylock argues for his own humanity during the play and how Venetian Jews of the time were not full members of society because of the restrictions regarding where they could live, when they could leave the Venetian Ghetto, and even the limitations placed on them professionally.
“Prior to the overall program, rare books and documents from the Library of Congress collections related to the Venetian Ghetto were on display. At the conclusion of the remarks by Professor Ravid and Dean Schneider, the documentary film, ‘The Venice Ghetto, 500 Years of Life’ (2015), was shown. As retired Law Librarian of Congress, Roberta I. Shaffer stated in her opening remarks, the Law Library’s second commemoration of the Venetian Ghetto offered a ‘full day of learning about the Venetian Ghetto.’”