“…Venice…both liquid and solid, both air and stone…combines all the elements crucial to make our imaginations ignite and turn fantasies into realities.”(8) Thus a famous actress and former Venetian resident seductively introduces the city renowned for engaging the imagination of such great artists as Byron, Browning, Joyce, Ruskin, Turner, Tintoretto, Mahler, Stravinsky, and Shakespeare.
Jessica Pruitt arrives as one judge of the yearly Venice Film Festival, prepared to acclaim or defame the current crop of so-called brilliant films. Venice mesmerizes Jessica with its uniquely proud and painful history of romance, disease, and war that weaves into her own personal history of lost maternal love, failed marriages, and mature philosophy about relationships between individuals and nations. All contribute to her preparation to play Jessica in a new play entitled Shylock’s Daughter.
Jessica contrasts the exquisite mystique of this Serenissima, its beloved Adriatic Sea, connected canals, pigeons, bells, gondoliers, art, music, and theatre now surrounded by glamorous actors, actresses, producers, devouring paparazzi, and vying politics of a contest that celebrates the perverse rather than mainstream. Jessica becomes ill and descends into a febrile dream about living in sixteenth century Venice where she meets William Shakespeare and his mentor, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, who have escaped the plague of England to seek shelter and inspiration. In the middle of the Jewish ghetto, a place of restriction yet shelter for Jews during an extremely anti-Semitic period, Will and Jessica begin a highly erotic romance. Jessica and Will struggle with their opponents, Jessica’s long-denounced but naturally angry father [Shylock] and Will’s increasingly possessive patron.
What is their fate and what will they generate in this creative environment? This captivating story briefly scans the history but still holds the reader’s fascination and leaves a haunting contemplation in its Venetian wake. (Originally published under the title Serenissima.)