The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In Act 2, Scene 4 of The Merchant of Venice, please answer the following questions: 1. Whose letter does Launcelot bring? 2. Why is it an important confidential letter? 3. How does the dinner party facilitates the elopement of Jessica with Lorenzo? 4. How does Lorenzo guess whose letter it is? 5. Who is giving the dinner party? 6. Whom does Launcelot invite for dinner?

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The letter that Launcelot brings to Lorenzo at Jessica's request, is of course from Jessica, as Launcelot identifies from the "fair hand" that it is written in. However, what is most important to realise about this scene is how Launcelot's news of where he is going and the purpose of his visit, which he explains as follows:

Marry, sir, to bid my old master the
Jew to sup to-night with my new master the Christian.

This is crucial to the plot of the play, because Lorenzo and Jessica now have the opportunity to enact their elopement. With Shylock out of his house for the evening, this gives Lorenzo and his friends the chance to go to Shylock's house and help Jessica run away so that they can elope together. It also gives Jessica the chance to rob her father of his wealth and riches that he has at his home as a kind of dowry (however unwilling) for Lorenzo as they marry. The way in which she brings her father's wealth with her when they elope is something that must not be ignored, as it ties in to a theme that is presented throughout the play. The intersection between love and wealth is a rather interesting one, as the audience are left to wonder whether Jessica, or Portia, would be as attractive to Lorenzo and Bassanio respectively if they didn't have the wealth that their new husbands would gain through marrying them.

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