The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Who is the boy referred to in the following quote from The Merchant of Venice? "The boy was the very staff of my age, my very prop." 

"The boy was the very staff of my age, my very prop" are words uttered by Old Gobbo in act 2, scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice. He is talking about his own son, Launcelot Gobbo, whom he believes to be dead.

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In act 2, scene 2 of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot Gobbo is having a realization. He does not want to be Shylock's servant anymore, and he is doubting whether he should stay out of loyalty, or just run away. As he is engaging in self-analysis, he realizes that he would rather be Bassanio's servant than Shylock's. Even though Shylock is rich and Bassanio is not, Launcelot would much rather work for someone who treats him right.

At this point, Launcelot's father, the blind Old Gobbo, enters the scene with a basket with a gift for Shylock. He tries to make good with Shylock for Launcelot's sake. However, when he asks for directions to Shylock's house, he does not realize that it is Launcelot himself who is talking to him. This is why Launcelot decides to have fun at his father's expense and starts to act silly.

First, he gives his father very hard directions to Shylock's. Since the poor, old, blind man cannot see or recognize his son, he asks whether the "stranger" helping him knows where Launcelot lives.

Second, Launcelot asks Old Gobbo if he is asking about "Master" Launcelot. To this, Old Gobbo humbly responds that his son is not a master, but the son of a poor man.

Third, Launcelot goes for a third try, telling his unsuspecting father,

The young gentleman, according
to Fates and Destinies, and such odd sayings, the
Sisters Three, and such branches of learning, is
indeed deceased, or, as you would say in plain
terms, gone to heaven.

This is a very cruel joke to make to any parent, especially when you are making the joke to your own parent. As a result, a very grieved Old Gobb says,

The boy was the very staff of my age, my very prop.

Eventually Launcelot has mercy on his father, stops joking around, and clarifies who he really is. His father is so kind that not only does he forgive Launcelot but he also supports Launcelot's decision to go to work for Bassanio.

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