Act 2 Merchant of Venice

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  1. Summary: Act II, scene i
    • In Belmont, the prince of Morocco arrives to attempt to
    • win Portia’s hand in marriage. The prince asks Portia not to judge
    • him by his dark complexion, assuring her that he is as valorous
    • as any European man. Portia reminds the prince that her own tastes
    • do not matter, since the process of picking chests, stipulated in
    • her father’s will, makes the prince as worthy as any other suitor.
    • With a lengthy proclamation of his own bravery and heroism, the
    • prince asks Portia to lead him to the caskets, where he may venture
    • his guess. She reminds him that the penalty for guessing incorrectly
    • is that he must remain unmarried forever. The prince accepts this
    • stipulation, and Portia leads him off to dinner.
  2. Summary: Act II, scene ii
    • Launcelot Gobbo, a servant of Shylock’s, struggles to decide
    • whether or not he should run away from his master. Part of him,
    • which he calls “[t]he fiend . . . at mine elbow,” wants to leave,
    • while his conscience reminds him of his honest nature and urges
    • him to stay (II.ii.2). Although Launcelot
    • has no specific complaints, he seems troubled by the fact that his
    • master is Jewish, or, as Launcelot puts it, “a kind of devil” (II.ii.19).
    • Just when Launcelot determines to run away, his father, Old Gobbo,
    • enters. The old man is blind, and he asks how to get to Shylock’s
    • house, where he hopes to find young Launcelot. Because his father
    • does not recognize him, Launcelot decides to play a prank on him—he
    • gives the old man confusing directions and reports that Launcelot
    • is dead. When Launcelot reveals the deception, Old Gobbo doubts that
    • the man before him is his son, but Launcelot soon convinces his father
    • of his identity. Launcelot confesses to his father that he is leaving
    • Shylock’s employment in the hopes of serving Bassanio. Just then,
    • Bassanio enters and the two plead with him to accept Launcelot as
    • his servant. Bassanio takes several moments to understand their
    • bumbling proposition, but he accepts the offer. Bassanio then meets
    • Gratiano, who asks to accompany him to Belmont, and agrees on the
    • condition that Gratiano tame his characteristically wild behavior.
    • Gratiano promises to be on his best behavior, and the two men plan
    • a night of merriment to celebrate their departure.
  3. Summary: Act II, scene iii
    • Shylock’s daughter Jessica bids good-bye to Launcelot.
    • She tells him that his presence made life with her father more bearable.
    • Jessica gives Launcelot a letter to carry to Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo,
    • and Launcelot leaves, almost too tearful to say good-bye. Jessica,
    • left alone, confesses that although she feels guilty for being ashamed
    • of her father, she is only his daughter by blood, and not by actions. Still,
    • she hopes to escape her damning relationship to Shylock by marrying
    • Lorenzo and converting to Christianity.
  4. Summary: Act II, scene iii
    • Shylock’s daughter Jessica bids good-bye to Launcelot.
    • She tells him that his presence made life with her father more bearable.
    • Jessica gives Launcelot a letter to carry to Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo,
    • and Launcelot leaves, almost too tearful to say good-bye. Jessica,
    • left alone, confesses that although she feels guilty for being ashamed
    • of her father, she is only his daughter by blood, and not by actions. Still,
    • she hopes to escape her damning relationship to Shylock by marrying
    • Lorenzo and converting to Christianity.
  5. Summary: Act II, scene iv
    • On a street in Venice, Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino, and
    • Solanio discuss the plan to unite Lorenzo with Jessica. Gratiano
    • frets that they are not well prepared, but Lorenzo assures the men
    • that they have enough time to gather the necessary disguises and
    • torchbearers. As they talk, Launcelot enters bearing Jessica’s letter.
    • Lorenzo recognizes the writing, lovingly exclaiming that the hand
    • that penned the message is “whiter than the paper it writ on” (II.iv.13).
    • Lorenzo bids Launcelot to return to Shylock’s house in order to assure
    • Jessica, secretly, that Lorenzo will not let her down. Launcelot
    • departs, and Lorenzo orders his friends to prepare for the night’s
    • festivities. Salarino and Solanio leave, and Lorenzo relates to Gratiano
    • that Jessica will escape from Shylock’s house by disguising herself
    • as Lorenzo’s torchbearer. Lorenzo gives Gratiano the letter and
    • asks Gratiano to read it, then leaves, excited for the evening’s
    • outcome.
  6. Analysis: Act II, scenes i–iv
    • The elaborate excuse the prince of Morocco makes for his
    • dark coloring serves to call attention to it and to his cultural
    • difference from Portia and from Shakespeare’s audience. His extravagant
    • praise of his own valor also makes him seem both less well-mannered
    • and less attractive. Moreover, his assertion that the best virgins
    • of his clime have loved him seems calculated to make him less, rather
    • than more, attractive to Portia. Her response to his protestations
    • is polite, even courtly, showing her good breeding and her virtuous
    • acquiescence to her dead father’s wishes. But her words also clearly
    • convey that she does not want to marry him.
    • The scene between the Gobbos is typical of Shakespeare,
    • who frequently employs servants and members of the working class
    • to provide slapstick interludes in both his comedies and tragedies. The Merchant
    • of Venice does not derive all of its comic moments from the
    • malapropisms and double entendres of this odd father-son pair, but
    • the humor here is more crass and vulgar—so simple that it is hard
    • to overlook and mistake. Seen in this light, we forgive things that
    • might otherwise seem cruel to us, like Launcelot’s shabby treatment
    • of his blind and doting father. This humor is comedy at its simplest,
    • where laughs are derived not from quick wit but from confusion and
    • foolery.

    • Although Shylock does not appear in these scenes, our
    • view of him is further shaped by the opinions of those closest to
    • him. Even though his servant and daughter do not like him, their
    • descriptions of him inadvertently make him a more sympathetic figure
    • in our eyes. Launcelot, we learn, is not abandoning his post because
    • Shylock has proved to be a cruel or harsh master, but because he
    • seems to fear contamination from being so close to a Jew. Interestingly, although
    • he calls Shylock a devil, Launcelot points out that his desire to
    • leave is a temptation more devilish still, and says his desire to
    • stay is a product of his conscience, which is generally a guide
    • of what is right. Jessica, too, voices no real complaint about her
    • father, other than the tedium of life with him, but she seems eager
    • to escape her Jewish heritage, which she sees as a stain on her
    • honor. Jessica even brings the morality of her own actions into
    • question when she calls her shame at being Shylock’s daughter a
    • sin, and she feels enormous guilt at her own sentiments. Her desire
    • to convert would undoubtedly have been applauded by Elizabethan
    • audiences, but here it is expressed as a kind of young recklessness
    • that borders on selfishness. The negative impression that Shylock
    • has given us with his first appearance is somewhat counteracted
    • by the words of those closest to him, who feel guilty even as they
    • speak ill of him.
  7. Summary: Act II, scene v
    • Shylock warns Launcelot that Bassanio will not be as lenient
    • a master as Shylock himself has been, and that Launcelot will no
    • longer be at liberty to overeat and oversleep. Shylock calls for
    • Jessica and tells her that he has been summoned for dinner. Worried
    • by a premonition that trouble is brewing, Shylock asks Jessica to
    • keep the doors locked and not look out at the revelry taking place
    • in the streets. Launcelot whispers to Jessica that she must disobey
    • her father and look out the window for the Christian who “will be
    • worth a Jewës eye” (II.v.41). Shylock asks
    • Jessica about her furtive conversation with Launcelot, and says that,
    • though Launcelot is kind, he eats and sleeps too much to be an efficient,
    • worthwhile servant. After Shylock has left to see Bassanio, Jessica
    • bids him farewell, thinking that, if nothing goes wrong, Shylock
    • will soon have lost a daughter, and she, a father.
  8. Summary: Act II, scene vi
    • As planned, Gratiano and Salarino meet in front of Shylock’s
    • house. They are especially anxious because Lorenzo is late, and
    • they think that lovers tend always to be early. The garrulous Gratiano expounds
    • on Salarino’s theory that love is at its best when the lover chases
    • the object of his affection, and that once the lover captures his
    • lady and consummates the relationship, he tends to tire and lose interest.
    • Lorenzo joins them, apologizes for his tardiness, and calls up to
    • Jessica, who appears on the balcony dressed as a page. Jessica tosses
    • him a casket of gold and jewels. Jessica descends and exits with
    • Lorenzo and Salarino. Just then, Antonio enters to report that Bassanio
    • is sailing for Belmont immediately. Gratiano is obliged to leave
    • the festivities and join Bassanio at once.
  9. Summary: Act II, scene vii
    • Back in Belmont, Portia shows the prince of Morocco to
    • the caskets, where he will attempt to win her hand by guessing which
    • chest contains her portrait. The first casket, made of gold, is
    • inscribed with the words, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many
    • men desire” (II.vii.37). The second, made
    • of silver, reads, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves”
    • (II.vii.23). The third, a heavy leaden casket,
    • declares, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” (II.vii.16).
    • After much pondering, the prince chooses the gold casket, reasoning
    • that only the most precious metal could house the picture of such
    • a beautiful woman. He opens the chest to reveal a skull with a scroll
    • in its eye socket. After reading a short poem chastising him for
    • the folly of his choice, the prince makes a hasty departure. Portia
    • is glad to see him go and hopes that “[a]ll of his complexion choose
    • me so” (II.viii.79).
  10. Summary: Act II, scene viii
    • Having witnessed Shylock’s rage upon learning of Jessica’s
    • elopement, Solanio describes the scene to Salarino. Shylock, he reports, railed
    • against the loss of his daughter and his ducats, and he shouted a
    • loud, urgent appeal for justice and the law to prevail. Solanio hopes
    • that Antonio is able to pay his debt, but Salarino reminds him of
    • rumors that the long-awaited ships have capsized in the English Channel.
    • The two men warmly remember Bassanio’s departure from Antonio, wherein
    • the merchant insisted that his young friend not allow thoughts of
    • debt or danger to interfere with his courtship of Portia.
  11. Summary: Act II, scene ix
    • The prince of Arragon is in Belmont to try his luck at
    • winning Portia’s hand in marriage. When brought to the caskets,
    • he selects the silver one, confident that he “shall get as much
    • as he deserves” (II.ix.35). Inside, he finds
    • a portrait of a blinking idiot, and a poem that condemns him as
    • a fool. Soon after he departs, a messenger arrives to tell Portia
    • that a promising young Venetian, who seems like the perfect suitor,
    • has come to Belmont to try his luck at the casket game. Hoping that
    • it is Bassanio, Portia and Nerissa go out to greet the new suitor.
  12. Analysis: Act II, scenes v–ix
    • In these scenes, Shylock is again portrayed as a penny-pinching,
    • but not wicked, master. Indeed, he seems to think himself quite
    • lenient, and when he calls Launcelot lazy, this jibe seems likely
    • to be an accurate description of the buffoonish retainer. Shylock’s
    • fear for his daughter and his distaste for the Venetian revelry
    • paint him as a puritanical figure who respects order and the rule
    • of law above all else, and who refuses to have “shallow fopp’ry”
    • in his “sober house” (II.v.34–35).
    • Shylock’s rhetoric is distinctive: he tends to repeat himself and
    • avoids the digressions common to other characters. As more than
    • one critic has pointed out, he is characterized by a one-track mind.

    • Happily, Jessica and Lorenzo’s romantic love triumphs,
    • but a number of critics have pointed out the ambiguity in the scene
    • of their elopement. The couple’s love for one another is not in
    • doubt, but Jessica’s determination to bring a hefty store of treasure
    • reminds us that she is still an alien, a Jew among gentiles, who
    • may be insecure about her reception. Indeed, her shame at her boy’s
    • costume may reflect a deeper concern for her place in her husband’s
    • Christian society. Later, at Belmont, she will be all but ignored
    • by everyone save Lorenzo, suggesting that despite her husband and
    • her conversion, she remains a Jew in others’ eyes.
    • The prince of Morocco’s choice of the caskets is wrong,
    • but his mistake is understandable, and we sympathize with him. There
    • is something casually cruel about Portia’s unwillingness to spare
    • even a moment’s pity for the Moor. Portia is a willful character—while her
    • independence is often appealing, at other times she can seem terribly
    • self-centered. She wants Bassanio as a husband and seems to have
    • no regrets in seeing other suitors sentenced to a life of celibacy.
    • Salarino and Solanio are the least interesting characters
    • in the play. They are indistinguishable from one another and serve
    • primarily to fill us in on events that take place offstage—in this
    • case, Shylock’s reaction to his daughter’s flight and the parting
    • of Antonio and Bassanio. Shylock’s cries of “My daughter! O, my
    • ducats! O, my daughter!” are meant to be comic—the moneylender is,
    • after all, a comic villain (II.viii.15).
    • He bemoans the loss of his money as much as his loss of Jessica,
    • suggesting that greed is as important to him as familial love. However,
    • we cannot be sure that Shylock really reacted in this way, since
    • we hear the story secondhand. Salarino and Solanio are poking fun
    • at the Jew, and their testimony must be balanced by the concern
    • that Shylock expresses for his daughter in the earlier scenes.
    • Arragon, a Spanish prince, completes the parade of nationalities competing
    • for Portia. He lacks the nobility of the prince of Morocco, and
    • his arrogance almost makes us feel that he deserves his punishment.
    • His quick dismissal from the scene clears the way for Bassanio.
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Act 2 Merchant of Venice
2012-03-27 22:20:10

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