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HOME > Merchant of Venice Study Guide > Merchant of Venice Commentary - Act II.

Merchant of Venice Commentary - Act II.

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Act II. Scene I. - Belmont. A Room in Portia's House.

The Prince of Morocco is willing to take the challenge set by Portia's father for Portia's hand in marriage....

Back at Belmont, The Prince of Morocco has sought the fair Portia's hand in marriage. Unlike the previous suitors, he is willing to take his chances for the fair Portia.

Act II. Scene II. - Venice. A Street.

Meanwhile, Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock's servant has a problem; he hates his boss. Bassanio arrives and after some conversation, Launcelot becomes Bassanio's new servant.

Act II. Scene III. - The Same. A Room in Shylock's House.

Jessica, Shylock's daughter plans to elope with Lorenzo against her father's wishes, were he to know. Jessica reveals her shame for her father...

At Shylock's house, Jessica is planning to leave her father. She tells Launcelot that "Our house is hell, and thou [you, Launcelot], a merry devil, / Didst rob it of some taste of tediousness" (our home is hell and you, a merry devil, have at least robbed it of some of its boredom for me), (Line 2).

Jessica also reveals that Launcelot will help her to escape her father Shylock by conveying a letter to Lorenzo, the man Jessica intends to marry by elopement.

She bids Launcelot, Shylock's servant good-bye and privately expresses her shame of her father Shylock and her intention to reject her father and his Jewish religion, to become Lorenzo's wife and a Christian, thereby rejecting all that her father Shylock believes in...

Jessica: "Alack, what heinous [terrible] sin is it in me / To be asham'd to be my father's child! But though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo! If thou [you] keep promise, I shall end this strife, [conflict] / Become a Christian, and thy [your] loving wife" (Lines 16-20).

Act II. Scene IV. - The Same. A Street.

Lorenzo: "tell gentle Jessica I will not fail her; speak it privately."

Lorenzo explains to his friends Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino and Salanio, how they will help him help Jessica run away from her father. Launcelot, Shylock's former servant delivers to Lorenzo a letter from Jessica explaining that Jessica will be waiting at her house for Lorenzo and friends and that she has taken some of her father's jewels and gold as well. The letter also explains that Jessica will be disguised as a boy to aid her escape from her father...

Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino and Salanio enter, Lorenzo telling his friends what preparations are required of them for their plan to help Jessica escape Shylock to be with him.

Lorenzo explains that they will help Jessica escape by disguising themselves, returning in an hour (Lines 1-3). Salarino makes reference to torch-bearers being needed so Bassanio's party, a masque (masked ball) to be held that night will be well lit.

Lorenzo explains that they have much to do adding that is now "four o'clock:" and they have just two hours left...

Launcelot enters, bearing a letter. Lorenzo reveals to Gratiano that the letter comes from Jessica and tells them how they will proceed...

Thanking Launcelot for conveying the letter, Lorenzo tells Launcelot to return to Jessica and to "tell gentle Jessica I will not fail her;" telling Launcelot to tell Jessica this privately (Lines 20-21).

Jessica in her letter has told Lorenzo how he will take Jessica from her father Shylock's house, Jessica explaining that she will be bringing some of Shylock's jewels and gold with her.

This "dowry" of sorts will help Lorenzo and Jessica once they have eloped and are married. She also explains that she has a "page's suit" (Line 33) or the uniform of a male page ready which she will wear to disguise herself as a boy.

Lorenzo speaks glowingly of his future bride by saying, "If e'er [ever] the Jew her father [Shylock] come to heaven, / It will be for his gentle daughter's [Jessica's] sake;" (Line 34).

Lorenzo now tells Gratiano that it is Jessica who "shall be my torch-bearer", a metaphor for her love always guiding him (Line 39).

Act II. Scene V. - The Same. Before Shylock's House.

Shylock bumps into Launcelot, learning that Bassanio's party which he will be reluctantly attending, will be a masque. Shylock tells his daughter Jessica to stay at home and to do her best to ignore the Christians' revelry which Shylock despises.

Before his house, Shylock happens upon Launcelot who is returning Lorenzo's message to Jessica that Lorenzo will soon come for her. Shylock makes his lack of love clear to Launcelot for working for Lorenzo by telling him "thou [you] shalt not gormandize, / As thou hast [has] done with me;" and to "sleep and snore," as he has done whilst employed by Shylock (Line 3).

Shylock now announces that he is leaving for supper, to go to Bassanio's party where Shylock intends to "go in hate, to feed upon / The prodigal Christian" by using his hospitality out of spite (Line 14). Shylock reveals that he does not feel right, that "There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest, / For I did dream of money-bags to-night" (Line 17).

Launcelot now scares Shylock by telling him that Bassanio and friends have decided to make Bassanio's party a masque or a masked ball.

This terrifies Shylock who tells Jessica to "Lock up my doors;" and to not "thrust your head into the public street / To gaze on Christian fools with varnish'd [the masks] faces, / But stop my house's ears," so as to prevent the sounds of these Christian activities from penetrating into his house or as Shylock describes it, "the sound of shallow foppery enter / My sober house" (Lines 32-34 and Line 35).

Shylock explains to Launcelot that he will go to the party despite his misgivings, Launcelot then exiting (Lines 36-43).

Shylock now remarks that his former servant Launcelot "sleeps by day / More than the wild cat:" (Line 47), reminding Jessica again to "Do as I bid [tell] you; shut doors after you: / 'Fast bind, / 'Fast bind, fast find,' / A proverb never stale in thrifty mind" (Lines 53-54).

Jessica who now is conveniently alone where she can make her escape, ends the scene, bidding her father farewell: "Farewell; and if my fortune be not crost, I have a father, you a daughter, lost" (Lines 55-56).

Act II. Scene VI. - The Same.

Jessica escapes from her father's house to live a new life as a Christian and as the wife of Lorenzo. Jessica is embarrassed to be dressed as a boy. The masque is canceled and Lorenzo and Jessica are to sail with Bassanio instead of attending the masque...

Gratiano and Salarino, described as "masqued" or masked in the text, are waiting anxiously for Lorenzo at the "penthouse under which Lorenzo / Desir'd [desired / wanted] us to make stand" or under the extended (overhanging) roof of Shylock's house (Line 1).

They are surprised that Lorenzo is not already there waiting for them for as Gratiano comments, "lovers ever [always] run before the clock" (Line 4) or are usually extremely punctual. Salarino agrees and Lorenzo now enters (Line 21), thanking his friends for their patience and explaining that "my affairs," have made them wait (Line 22).

Asking who is within Shylock's house, Lorenzo discovers that it is his beloved Jessica, dressed in boy's clothes who is waiting for them from above. Jessica asks if she hears Lorenzo, Lorenzo replying that he is: "Lorenzo, and thy [your] love" (Line 28).

Jessica now tosses down a casket to Lorenzo and company, explaining that its contents (Shylock's jewels and gold) are "worth the pains" or the trouble of receiving it (Line 33).

Jessica now makes it clear that she is reluctant to be seen in boy's clothes, saying that she is glad it is night, "For I am much asham'd [ashamed / embarrassed] of my exchange [into a man];" (Line 35), famously adding "But love is blind, and lovers cannot see / The pretty follies [silly things] that themselves commit [do]; / For if they could, Cupid himself would blush / To see me thus transformed to a boy" (Lines 36-39).

Lorenzo now tells Jessica to descend or climb down to him, asking Jessica to be his "torch-bearer" (Line 40). Jessica is not so happy about this, asking why she must "hold a candle [a torch] to my shames?" a reference again to her wearing men's clothes (Line 41).

In Jessica's opinion, her appearance "should be obscur'd" (Line 43) or covered from sight and she makes it quite clear that she is reluctant to be seen this way at Bassanio's masque.

Lorenzo however makes it clear he does not mind and that she will be his "torch-bearer" at Bassanio's party, which they will soon go to.

Before leaving. Jessica dutifully says that she will "make fast the doors," or lock Shylock's house as her father requested and then take some more ducats (money) and return to Lorenzo immediately (Line 49).

Lorenzo now reaffirms his love for Jessica by saying, "I love her heartily;" (Line 52) adding that she is "wise," as well as "fair, and true" and so "Shall she be placed in my constant soul" (Always be in my heart or soul), (Line 57).

Jessica returns and we learn from Antonio that the masque has been canceled, the wind has changed direction and that Bassanio and his men will sail tonight; they have sent twenty men to tell Lorenzo this. Gratiano makes it clear that he is happier to be sailing than at a masque.

Act II. Scene VII. - Belmont. A Room in Portia's House.

The scroll within the gold casket: "All that glitters is not gold; / Often have you heard that told...."

The Moroccan Prince undergoes the three-casket challenge for Portia's hand in marriage, choosing the gold casket and losing.

Back at Belmont, The Moroccan Prince reads the inscription on the gold casket. The inscription says: "Who chooseth [chooses] me shall gain what many men desire" (Lines 5-6). Obviously Portia is desired by many...

The second, a silver casket bears the inscription, "Who chooseth (chooses) me shall get as much as he deserves" (Line 6).

The third casket is lead, bearing the inscription, "Who chooseth [chooses] me must give and hazard [risk] all he hath [has]" (Lines 8-9). The Prince dismisses this. Why would anyone risk all they have "For lead?" (Lines 16-22).

We are told the right casket bears Portia's picture. The Prince hesitates between choosing the gold or silver chests. He reasons that he deserves Portia as the inscription says on the silver chest but decides on the gold casket (Lines 36-62) and finds "a carrion Death [a human skull], within whose empty eye / There is a written scroll" (Line 63).

The scroll famously says "All that glitters is not gold; / Often have you heard that told:" (Lines 65-73).

In choosing the wrong casket, the Prince has failed and must now depart empty handed, never to see Portia again nor ever to marry...

Act II. Scene VIII. - Venice. A Street.

Salarino and Salanio comment that a ship has recently floundered, hoping it is not one of Antonio's. We learn that Lorenzo and Jessica escaped successfully from Shylock who was too late to prevent his daughter's escape. Shylock is furious at having lost his daughter, his gold and his precious jewels to a Christian and knows that Antonio was partially involved and swears revenge...

Meanwhile, back in Venice, Salarino and Salanio, friends of Bassanio, Antonio, Gratiano and Jessica, comment on news of a ship floundering "in the narrow seas that part / The French and English,-" (Line 28).

They hope it isn't one of Antonio's ships. We also learn of Jessica and Gratiano's escape; Shylock (Jessica's father) attempted to find Jessica on Bassanio's ship but "He came too late, the ship was under sail:" (Line 6).

Antonio pledges to the Duke that, "They were not with Bassanio in his ship" (Line 11). We also learn of Shylock's immense anger at the loss of his daughter and her theft of his ducats: "'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!'" (Line 16).

Salarino ends this scene, commenting that Bassanio has now departed for Belmont to woo the fair Portia:

I saw Bassanio and Antonio part: / Bassanio told him he would make some speed / Of his return: he answered 'Do not so; / Slubber [slur over, soil, ruin] not business for my sake, Bassanio, / But stay the very riping of the time; / And for the Jew's bond which he hath [has] of me, / Let it not enter in your mind of love: (Lines 36-45).

Act II. Scene IX. - Belmont. A Room in Portia's House.

The scroll inside the silver casket: "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves."

Meanwhile, at Belmont, another suitor has arrived, The Prince of Arragon. Not blinded by the inscription on the gold casket which bears the phrase, "Who chooseth [chooses] me shall gain what many men desire" (Line 24), he instead chooses the silver casket which bears the inscription, "Who chooseth [chooses] me shall get as much as he deserves" (Line 21) since he believes that what many men desire is superficial, the Prince realizing that those men who would choose the gold casket are being led by appearances and nothing more (Line 50).

Opening the silver casket, he finds a "portrait of a blinking idiot," (Line 54), mocking him and presenting a schedule or letter to him which he reads (Lines 64-72), and realizing he has lost, The Prince of Arragon heads home in failure.

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