Explore the theme of the parent/child relationship in The Merchant of Venice through the characters of Jessica and Shylock and Lancelot and Gobbo. What kind of relationship do these characters share with their parents?

The parent/child relationships between Lancelot Gobbo and Old Gobbo, and between Jessica and Shylock, are cold and distant, without love or respect, particularly on the part of the children.

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Lancelot Gobbo, the clown in The Merchant of Venice, speaks disrespectfully of his father even before the old man appears in person:

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.

When Old Gobbo does appear, Lancelot takes advantage of his blindness to play tricks on him. The fact that Old Gobbo does not recognize Lancelot's voice, even after his son addresses him as "father" shows how distant their relationship is.

The comic disrespect and distance in the relationship of Lancelot Gobbo and his father is echoed tragically in the filial relations of Jessica and Shylock. Jessica compares her father's house to hell, and continues:

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father's child!
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners.

Jessica feels some sense of duty to her father, but it is not strong enough to affect her behavior. She does not love him or respect him. She is content to steal from Shylock, and to desert both him and the religion in which he raised her. Modern audiences often feel sympathy for Shylock, and those who do will also be inclined to condemn Jessica for her treachery. However, the Christian characters in the play see Jessica as a virtuous girl who has had the misfortune to be born into the wrong family and the wrong faith. They therefore think that she has sensibly taken the opportunity to correct this error as soon as she could.

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