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In The Merchant of Venice, how does Shakespeare portray the relationship between...

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locoops012 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 4, 2009 at 9:29 AM via web

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In The Merchant of Venice, how does Shakespeare portray the relationship between Shylock and Jessica, who are father and daughter?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 23, 2010 at 2:36 AM (Answer #1)

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The relationship between Shylock and his daughter Jessica is one that is never clearly spelled out in The Merchant of Venice. We know that Jessica says to Launcelot that their house is "hell." We know that Jessica says she is not a daughter to Shylock's "manners" and the she wants to "end this strife." But "strife" is not defined; most people think it refers to discord between Shylock and Jessica.

As to Shylock, we know that he speaks decently to Jessica. When he comes home and is out of sorts because he had a trying day with Antonio at the marketplace; he is losing his servant; he has to go out to dinner; and there is a Christian celebration in the street, he speaks calmly with her without showing any kind of temper toward her. Granted, he calls to her because she isn't immediately present, but this cannot constitute ill-natured yelling. He is snappish with his defecting servant, though.

A reasonable conclusion is that "this strife" is not strife between Jessica and Shylock but the strife any Jew is subjected to: given unequal status, restricted movement in society and continual disparagement and persecution. By this reading, "his manners" would refer to Shylock's devoted adherence to his ethnicity and his religion, both of which make him a Jew.

Their relationship is complicated even more because Jessica runs off with a Christian to begin living with the freedom of a Christian life-style, like spending 80 ducats in one spot in one night, and fashions herself a dowry. Recall that dowries were an integral part of a marriage contract until recent history; women were not welcomed in a marriage unless they could add something to the financial prospects of the couple. So Jessica steals what she believes her just dowry would be.

In summary, the father-daughter relationship between Shylock and Jessica seems to be sound on the person-to-person level but they part ways on the ideological level. Jessica doesn't want to remain a Jewish outcast whose life options are restricted and constrained, whereas Shylock clings devotedly to his religion and ethnicity and, therefore, to his position as an outcast. In fact, Shylock turns the tables and casts out the Christians. this is illustrated when he tells Jessica to protect his house and keep the sounds of the Christian celebration out of his house.

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