The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Explain, line by line, Lancelot Gobbo's opening speech in act 2, scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice.

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This speech by Lancelot Gobbo, the clown, reveals his indecision over whether or not to leave his master, Shylock

Certainly my conscience will serve me to run from this Jew, my master.

His conscience will work to make him feel guilty if he runs away.

The fiend is at mine elbow and tempts me, saying to me, “Gobbo,” “Launcelot Gobbo,” “Good Launcelot,” or “Good Gobbo,” or “Good Launcelot Gobbo” —“use your legs, take the start, run away.”

The devil is urging him to leave, to simply take to his heels and flee.

My conscience says, “No. Take heed, honest Launcelot. Take heed, honest Gobbo,” or as aforesaid, “Honest Launcelot Gobbo, do not run. Scorn running with thy heels.”

Again, his conscience intervenes to try and dissuade him, appealing to him as an 'honest man’ to 'scorn' the idea of flight.

Well, the most courageous fiend bids me pack. “Fia!” says the fiend. “Away!” says the fiend. “For the heavens, rouse up a brave mind,” says the fiend, “and run".

The devil continues to tempt him to 'pack' up his things, to pluck up enough courage - 'rouse up a brave mind' - to leave.

 Well, my conscience, hanging about the neck of my heart, says very wisely to me, “My honest friend Launcelot, being an honest man’s son”—or rather an honest woman’s son, for indeed my father did something smack, something grow to. He had a kind of taste.

But his conscience burdens him, weighs him down (as the image of 'hanging round the neck of my heart' suggests). it says to him not to run away, being 'an honest man's son, or rather an honest woman's son'. This is a bawdy play on the common phrase 'an honest man's son', and suggests that his father was not honest, and cheated on his mother - 'for indeed, my father did something smack'.

Well, my conscience says, “Launcelot, budge not.” “Budge!” says the fiend. “Budge not,” says my conscience. “Conscience,” say I, “you counsel well.” “Fiend,” say I, “you counsel well.” To be ruled by my conscience I should stay with the Jew my master, who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil. And to run away from the Jew I should be ruled by the fiend, who, saving your reverence, is the devil himself.

However, the devil continues to urge him to leave. 'Budge!'—while his conscience just as firmly declares, do not go, ‘budge not’. He thinks that both are right, that both 'counsel well'. If he obeys his conscience, he says, he will stay with his master who is a devil in himself, and if he runs away, he will be obeying his devilish tempter, who is the devil himself. Therefore he feels caught in a very sticky situation.

Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation.  And in my conscience, my conscience is but a kind of hard conscience, to offer to counsel me to stay with the Jew. The fiend gives the more friendly counsel. I will run, fiend. My heels are at your command. I will run.

Because his master is such a devil in himself, Lancelot concludes that it is too difficult to obey his conscience and stay. Therefore, he will follow the ‘more friendly’ advice of the devil, the tempter, and run away.

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