The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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In Act 2, Scene 4 of The Merchant of Venice, please answer the following questions: 1. What information has Jessica given to Lorenzo regarding her elopement? 2. How can you conclude that Lorenzo has a high opinion of Jessica? 3. What does Lorenzo wish for Jessica? 4. According to him, how could misfortune come to Jessica? 5. According to Lorenzo, how could the Jew go to heaven? 6. Give an example of the racial discrimination hinted at in the passage above.

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Lorenzo's description of Jessica and what he says about her father reveals the discrimination faced by Jews at this particular point in history, and indeed during Shakespeare's time as well. Note what he says about Shylock and Jessica in the following quote:

If e'er the Jew her father come to heaven,
It will be for his gentle daughter's sake:
And never dare misfortune cross her foot,
Unless she do it under this excuse,
That she is issue to a faithless Jew.

Lorenzo says that the only way in which Shylock could go to heaven would be because of the goodness of his daughter, Jessica. Clearly, the fact that he is such a "faithless Jew" would exclude him otherwise. Jessica is so good, blameless and pure, according to Lorenzo, that the only way in which "misfortune" could come to her would be through her father and her relationship to him. This reveals the attitudes of Christians towards Jews, who saw them as a damned race who were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore they had no chance of going to heaven, and to be a Jew was akin to being cursed, from their perspective. This quotation therefore reveals the massive prejudice that Jews suffered at the time and the reason for their poor treatment.

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