In Act 2 of The Merchant of Venice, please comment on the main characters who are featured.   1) Bassanio, 2) Antonio, 3) Gobbo, 4) Launcelot, 5) Jessica, 6) Gratanio, 7) Shylock, 8) Prince of...

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The plot of The Merchant of Venice revolves around Bassanio's desire to marry Portia - for all the wrong reasons at first- and the problems Portia, an independent woman, has to face in the light of her late-father's will. The enduring problems of prejudice are responsible for many of the characters' actions throughout Act II and the entire play itself.

By the end of Act I, the plot is already wrapped up in several complications, all of which contribute to the characters and their behavior in Act II.   

The Prince of Morocco will develop the discriminatory, racial aspect - often explored by Shakespeare - and reveals Morocco's insecurities. Shylock and Antonio have already foreshadowed the difficulties when race or religion interfere with business - or life!  Portia's character develops by the end of Act II as we see that she is potentially prejudiced against Morocco and others of his "complexion" as she expresses her relief at his failure to choose the casket successfully.

Launcelot and his father, together with Gratiano who is something of a talker with little to actually contribute, serve, in this act, to reinforce the overriding issue of prejudice. Launcelot's pressing desire to leave Shylock's house and employment stem from his dislike of the fact that Shylock is a Jew. Shylock - being a Jew - is apparently a "kind of devil”  and the audience would be led to believe that this is because he is a Jew whereas Shylock claims that it is the Christians who have "taught" him and made him so resentful by their treatment of him. Old Gobbo's inclusion in Act II is perhaps an effort to release any tension that may be building up in the audience.

In order to reinforce the concept that Shylock is essentially evil, his daughter, Jessica, shows no respect for him and her desire to marry a Christian and herself convert to Christianity still further cements the Jew versus Christian problem and the ultimate insult to Shylock's religion.

Act II serves as a support to the main focus of The Merchant of Venice and as such some of the characters only develop later - or not at all. Bassanio does not have much, having squandered any wealth of his own previously. Choosing the correct casket - "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath" - belies the character we will see later. At this point, hazarding all he has will not cost Bassanio much because it is Antonio who has promised "a pound of flesh."

Antonio, at this point, is a kind and generous friend and his motives are unquestioned but later his intentions are questionable as his human compassion does not appear to extend to Shylock - the inference being, does not extend to Jews!

Care must be taken not to ask multiple questions at once as eNotes rules do not allow it. Hence, a general overview of characters and their part in the play - in terms of Act II - has been given, rather than individual character analyses.   



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