HST2010: The Myth of Venice

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader: Dr James Shaw



Pass in at least two of the Level One modules History Units HST112-121.


Module Summary

Historians have traditionally sought to dismantle inherited myths about the past from what 'actually' happened. In this module, by contrast, we are not so much interested in the reality of Venetian history as in Venice as an idea, an imaginary city that was 'true' in people's heads.

This module explores the Myth of Venice, its production, diffusion, and reception, as well as its inverted 'Anti-Myth' variants. Venice was celebrated as the ideal republican government, but it was also regarded as the city of state terror and seductive 'oriental' luxury.

Students will examine a wide variety of sources and develop the skills required for their interpretation: descriptions of the city by Venetians and foreigners; political tracts; architecture, sculpture and paintings; theatre and literature.


Module Aims

This module aims to:

  • Introduce students to the source criticism skills required to handle a wide range of primary materials and develop an in-depth understanding of the importance of myth and its relationship to history.
  • Promote students' ability to write informed and cogent essays in clear, structured and grammatical prose.
  • Encourage students to develop their confidence and competence in presenting their ideas orally.



The module will be taught through a series of weekly lecture workshops and seminars. The lecture workshops will introduce students to the basic historical and historiographical context and prime students on pertinent issues and sources. They are an efficient way of providing information, encouraging ideas and guiding students´ private study. Seminars will provide opportunities for students to present their ideas and interpretations to the wider group. They will be based on systematic study of primary sources prepared in advance and will involve student-led discussions and presentations in order to enhance team-working, presentational and interpretative skills, while involving students in intensive engagement with practices of source criticism.

  Lecture Workshops Seminars
1 Course Outline. Myths of Origin Introduction to Primary Sources
Marin Sanudo, In Praise of Venice
2 The Perfect Constitution Renaissance Political Theory
Gasparo Contarini, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice
3 City of Piety The Myth of Venice in England.
James Howell, SPQV. A Survey of the Signorie of Venice
4 City of Vice. Sex, Money, Gambling English Views of Venice
Thomas Dekker, Penny-Wise, Povnd Foolish
Thomas Coryat, Coryats crudities
5 Libertinism, Atheism and Opera Political Scepticism
Anon., The opinion of Padre Paolo
6 Justice Anti-myth
Amelot De la Houssaie, The history of the government of Venice
7 Myth and Reality Historiography
James Grubb "When Myths lose power"
8 Art and Architecture The Ducal Palace
David Rosand, Myths of Venice
9 Civic Ritual and Carnival The Marriage of the Sea
Ed Muir, "A Grateful Pope and a Dowered Bride"
10 City Views, Travel, the Grand Tour Travellers’ Tales
11 The Fall of the Republic. Conclusions Mock Exam



The module is assessed by:

  • A formative essay of detailed source analysis (33%), which will allow students to advance their understanding of certain thematic aspects of the module through an exercise of independent source criticism, thus helping students to develop skills of analysis and argument, and to improve their writing skills.
  • An unseen written examination (50%) will require candidates to demonstrate that they have absorbed and understood the material and that they are able to compose a structured argument and analyse primary sources in clear prose under pressure of time.
  • Oral presentations and participation in seminars (17%), in which students will demonstrate their team-working and analytical skills and their ability to analyse different types of primary source material in their historical context.


Selected Reading

  • Rosand, David, Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a State (2005)
  • Martin, John Jeffries, and Dennis Romano, Venice Reconsidered: The History and Civilization of an Italian City-State, 1297-1797 (2000)
  • McPherson, David C., Shakespeare, Jonson, and the myth of Venice (1990)
  • Bouwsma, William J., Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter-Reformation (1968)
  • Eglin, John, Venice Transfigured: The Myth of Venice in British Culture, 1660-1797 (2001)
  • Muir, Edward, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (1981)
  • Grubb, James S., 'When Myths lose power: four decades of Venetian historiography', Journal of Modern History 58, 1 (1986)
  • Chambers, David, and Brian Pullan, Venice: A Documentary History, 1450-1630, (1992)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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