The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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In act 2 of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, who is giving the dinner party? Whom does Launcelot invite for dinner?

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The best place in the play to look for the answer to this question is act 2, scene 5. This scene will answer both parts of the question.

I beseech you, sir, go. My young master doth expect your reproach.

That line is spoken by Launcelot to Shylock. Shylock is Launcelot's former master; however, Launcelot now works for Bassanio. Bassanio is having a dinner party, and he has decided to invite Shylock. As a servant, Launcelot can not make the decision to go and invite someone that Bassanio has not expressly invited. Launcelot is not doing the actual invitation. Launcelot is simply the messenger for Bassanio's invitation of Shylock. Shylock openly admits that he does not want to go to the party; however, he tells Launcelot to return home and announce that Shylock will attend the party.

By Jacob’s staff, I swear,
I have no mind of feasting forth tonight.
But I will go.—Go you before me, sirrah.
Say I will come.
Then Shylock gives a great little set of lines that talk about why he's glad to see Launcelot working for somebody else. Apparently Launcelot is lazy and eats a lot, and Shylock is glad that Launcelot is going to waste someone else's money.
The patch is kind enough, but a huge feeder,
Snail-slow in profit, and he sleeps by day
More than the wildcat. Drones hive not with me.
Therefore I part with him, and part with him
To one that would have him help to waste
His borrowed purse.
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The dinner is being held by Bassanio, Launcelot's new master.

Launcelot, a servant with a comical sense, has been debating whether to leave the employment of his current master, Shylock. Shylock is arguably the "villain" of the play, and Launcelot reasons that his mistreatments by this "devil" are sufficient reason to quit, but he knows he would feel bad if he did. He would greatly prefer to work for Bassanio, a gentleman; when Bassanio appears coincidentally, Launcelot manages to express his interest in working for him. Bassanio agrees to this, and welcomes Launcelot's praise.

Launcelot then invites his old boss, Shylock, to dine that evening with Bassanio. Although we don't actually see Bassanio order this, it seems clear that this was actually Bassanio's idea; Launcelot would neither desire nor have the power to invite people to dinner. Likewise, Shylock has no desire to go to dinner, but goes anyway so that he can eat Bassanio's food out of spite, and to make some showing of how much better a master he really is.

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