In Act 2 scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, what is the meaning of the following speech: Ergo, Master Launcelot. Talk not of MasterLauncelot, father; for the young...

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As act two scene two of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice begins, we hear Launcelot (also known as Launcelot Gobbo) walking down the street and talking to himself; more accurately he is arguing with himself. Launcelot is one of the comic characters in this play, and this monologue which opens this scene is quite amusing. His father, Gobbo (also known as Old Gobbo), enters the scene and approaches Launcelot.

Gobbo asks his son (though he does not know it is Launcelot) for directions to Shylock's house. Launcelot tells the audience (us) that his father, "being more than sand-blind, high-gravel blind," does not recognize him and decides to have some fun at his father's expense. Launcelot gives ridiculous, complicated, and inaccurate directions to Shylock, but all Gobbo wants to know is whether Launcelot knows if someone named Launcelot (confusing, right?) still works for Shylock. 

Launcelot comically (and for his own perverse pleasure) tries to keep insisting that Gobbo refer to Launcelot as "Master Launcelot," but it does not work. In the end, Gobbo asks again whether Launcelot knows whether a man (not a "Master") named Launcelot still works for Shylock. This is when Launcelot finally answers Gobbo's simple question:

Ergo, Master Launcelot. Talk not of Master
Launcelot, father; for the young gentleman,
according to Fates and Destinies and such odd
sayings, the Sisters Three and such branches of
learning, is indeed deceased, or, as you would say
in plain terms, gone to heaven.

The short explanation of this speech is that Launcelot tells Gobbo that Launcelot is dead. It is certainly a cruel trick for a son to play on a father, to tell him that his son is dead; however, these two obviously do not have a typical father-son relationship.

One thing you will note when you listen to these two Gobbos speak is that they often mis-speak, often using malapropisms: words or phrases incorrectly used, usually for a humorous effect. Launcelot and Gobbo both use ergo incorrectly, solidifying their relationship but adding no meaning whatsoever to their dialogue.

The ironically named Launcelot (for he is clearly not a man of knightly virtue and honor like the famous Launcelot) talks for five or six lines before he gets to his point that Launcelot is dead. He refers to the mythical Fates, the three sisters who are said to control all aspects of life, and he sounds quite erudite (scholarly)--until he refers to them as "branches of learning." Then he finally gets around to his point, but even then he uses the euphemisms "deceased" and "gone to heaven" instead of the simple word dead.

So, the entire speech is the comical Launcelot's way of humorously torturing his father by telling him, in a roundabout, pseudo-scholarly way, that Launcelot is dead. Which of course is a lie. 

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question