From Act 2, Scene 5 in The Merchant of Venice, please answer the following questions:
Who are the 'Christian fools with varnished faces?' What were they planning against the speaker? What warning did the speaker have of it earlier?
Does the person to whom the advice is given, follow the speaker's advice? Why?
Summarize the advice of the speaker in your own words.
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In this scene, Launcelot, who has been sent by Bassanio, his new master, to bid his old master, Shylock, come and dine with him, also tells Shylock that there is going to be a masque that evening. A masque was a carnival celebration where individuals dressed up in disguises and masks, and engaged in various acts of revelry, accompanied by lots of noise. It was very much part of the culture in Venice and was distinctly associated with the inhabitants who were Christian, as opposed to the Jews, since masques drew upon Classical Greek and Roman mythology, suggesting a pantheon that that would have been unapproachable by Jews. Shylock is very concerned when he hears this news, not only because he is going out and leaving Jessica by herself, but also because he has had a dream about his money, and therefore worries about something bad happening. Shylock therefore commands his daughter, Jessica, to shut up the house and make sure she does not look out at the revelries:
Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter
My sober house.
Note how Shylock personifies his house as being, like him, "sober." He draws a contrast between his own demeanour and the serious nature of Jews and the "shallow foppery" of Christians who engage in such activities and clearly show themselves to be irresponsible and not to treat life seriously, as Shylock thinks they should do. The quote makes clear his disdain for these "Christian fools with varnished faces." Note how the reference to the "varnished faces" also indicates that Shylock feels there is an element of hypocrisy amongst these revellers: they put on make up to give themselves disguised faces whilst hiding their true selves, just as they are Christian on the one hand but engage in acts of drunken licentiousness during these masquerades on the other hand. However, it is Lorenzo who is one of these "Christian fools" who is going to use the opportunity of the masque to steal away his daughter. Jessica has no intention of following the advice her father gives her.
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