The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial

What does William Shakespeare mean in act 2, scene 5 of The Merchant of Venice when he has Shylock make his "The patch is kind enough" comments, and what did he mean by the phrase "Fast bind, fast find"? What does the scene portend for Shylock?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the character of Shylock is an angry, bitter man who has endured a lifetime of anti-Semitic abuse at the hands of those he encounters, especially those who would come to him for a loan in times of need.  His bitterness has been reflected in the observations he makes in the presence of his resentful daughter, Jessica, who has long-grown tired of living under her father’s strictures and seeks an escape to a better life – an escape that will eventually involve the close friend of the man on whose behalf the loan at the heart of the story has been made, Bassanio.  While it is Bassanio’s friend Antonio who borrows the money under terms of repayment that include “a pound of flesh,” the money is intended to help Bassanio court the beautiful and wealthy Portia.  In the meantime, Shylock’s, Launcelot, who Shylock is about to fire and will next appear in the employ of Bassanio.  It is following an exchange with Launcelot that Shylock, in Act II, Scene 5, states:

“The patch is kind enough, but a huge feeder; Snail-slow in profit, and he sleeps by day More than the wild-cat: drones hive not with me; Therefore I part with him, and part with him To one that would have him help to waste His borrow’d purse. Well, Jessica, go in; Perhaps I will return immediately: Do as I bid you; shut doors after you: Fast bind, fast find; A proverb never stale in thrifty mind.”

What Shylock is saying is that Launcelot, who is now in the service of Shylock’s enemies, is an amiable individual, but is lazy and eats too much, and will be relieved of his duties as an employ of the money-lender.  “Patch” refers to Launcelot.  Shylock is convinced that Launcelot’s tendency to waste money will forthwith come at Bassanio’s expense instead of his own.  The phrase “fast bind, fast find,” uttered in the context of Shylock’s bidding his daughter goodnight, simply means “secure your possessions or they surely will be stolen.”

Unaware of the extent of his daughter’s discontent, Shylock is unaware of and unprepared for Jessica’s imminent elopement with Lorenzo.  That Jessica, as soon as her father exits, states “A Farewell; and if my fortune be not crost, I have a father, you a daughter, lost,” she is declaring her impendence from her father and her intent to leave his home for good.  This scene from The Merchant of Venice portends Shylock’s ultimate demise.  He is about to lose his daughter to one of the hated gentiles, and his business with Antonio will be undermined by the subterfuge of Portia and others who have conspired to ensure his arrangement with Antonio is not carried out and that he will remain an isolated, defeated figure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team