The Merchant of Venice Act II, Scenes 1-9: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scenes 1-9: Summary and Analysis

Act II, Scene 1
New Character:
Morocco: an African prince, suitor to Portia

The Prince of Morocco arrives at Portia’s house in Belmont, seeking her hand in marriage. He asks Portia to disregard their racial difference and judge him instead by his personal merits. Portia reminds Morocco that the choice is not hers to make; he, like the other suitors, must face her father’s challenge of the three caskets. She assures him, however, that she regards him “as fair/ As any comer [she has] looked on yet/ For [her] affection” (lines 20-22). Morocco laments that, in spite of his valor, mere chance may deprive him of Portia. Portia refers him to the terms of her father’s will, which he accepts. They agree to perform the test after dinner.

This short scene introduces the audience to the Prince of Morocco, who will make the first unsuccessful attempt to pass the test designed by Portia’s father to determine who will marry her. In terms of the play’s themes, its chief interest is its explorations of racial animosity, which we have seen earlier in the encounter between Shylock and the two Christians. Morocco requests that Portia “Mislike [him] not for [his] complexion” (line 1) but rather consider him for his personal worth. Although Portia claims that this is her policy, the sincerity of her claim is later called into question at the close of Act II Scene 7. After Morocco fails the test and departs, Portia says in relief “A gentle riddance…/ Let all of his complexion choose me so” (lines 78-9). Unlike Shakespeare’s contemp¬oraries, who may have endorsed such sentiments, more modern audiences might perhaps have an ugly impression of the attitudes of the Christians in the play. Though Morocco is a minor character, such scenes may inform the audience’s feeling about Shylock and his indictments of Christian hypocrisy.

Act II, Scene 2
New Characters:
Launcelot Gobbo: ex-servant of Shylock

Old Gobbo: Launcelot’s father

Leonardo: servant of Bassanio

This scene opens with Launcelot Gobbo debating whether or not to leave Shylock’s service. Just as he decides to quit, his near-blind father, Old Gobbo, arrives with a gift for Shylock. Since his father doesn’t recognize him, Launcelot toys with him for a time before revealing his identity. He asks his father to give the gift instead to Bassanio—who subsequently enters with Leonardo—as a means of begging a position in his household. The Gobbos make their pitch and Bassanio accepts, hiring Launcelot on the spot. Bassanio then dispatches Leonardo to prepare his household to receive Antonio for dinner. Gratiano enters and asks Bassanio if he may attend him on his journey to Belmont. Bassanio agrees, but not before cautioning Gratiano to curtail his ribaldry.

Little of this scene actually bears much relation to the plot of the play, save the establishment of Gratiano as Bassanio’s attendant. It is more or less an excuse for Shakespeare to indulge his audience with a bit of linguistic comedy, in the form of the Three Stooges-like double-talk spoken by the Gobbos. We should note, however, that even in a scene as light as this one, Shakespeare keeps the issue of racial hostility before his audience. Launcelot’s desire to leave Shylock’s employ stems largely from the fact that his boss is Jewish, coupled with his belief that the Jew “is a kind of devil” (line 24). Significantly, Shylock is never referred to in this scene by name, but simply as “the Jew.”

Act II, Scene 3
New Character:
Jessica: daughter of Shylock

At Shylock’s house, Jessica, his daughter, bids farewell to Launcelot as he prepares to leave her father’s service. She entreats him to deliver a message to Lorenzo. After he departs, she expresses her desire to marry Lorenzo and become a Christian.

This scene sets in motion another important subplot—the romance between Shylock’s daughter and Bassanio’s and Antonio’s friend. Some critics speculate that it is...

(The entire section is 3,065 words.)