The Merchant of Venice: An Analysis

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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. 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. 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. 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. Analysis: Act II, scenes i–iv

The elaborate excuse the prince of Morocco makes for his dark colouring serves to call attention to it and to his cultural difference from Portia and from Shakespeare’s audience. His extravagant praise of his own...
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