The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Why does Launcelot use high-sounding words with Gobbo in Act 2, Scene 2 of "The Merchant of Venice"? How does Launcelot prove he is Gobbo's son and how does Gobbo react? Identify two humorous situations from this scene.

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  • Launcelot uses high-sounding words in order to confuse his father and disguise his own identity (he mentions intending to trick his father, since his father is half blind and clearly doesnt recognize his own son at first). We might assume that in everyday speech, or the mannerisms that his father would be familiar with, Launcelot doesn't talk like that.
  • Shakespeare probably wanted to convey at least two things; overly-complicated speech is confusing to "regular" people (as shown by Launcelot's convoluted directions to Shylock's residence), and that well-to-do people put on airs, adopting an unnatural manner of speaking that does distinguish them from everyone else, but not in a very positive way.
  • Launcelot calls old Gobbo "Father" in reference to his age; it's a term of respect in much the same way that a priest might be called Father as well. Launcelot is also using it as a little hint that he is Gobbo's son.
  • Gobbo reacts to the news of Launcelot's death by saying Launcelot was "the very prop" of his age. Basically, in the best sense, it's like saying his son is the light and life of his old age, or, in the worst sense, it's like saying "Oh no! Now who's going to help pay my bills?" The last option reverses the situation and makes Launcelot the one who needs comforting.
  • Launcelot is getting frustrated by the fact that his father doesn't (or pretends not to) recognize him, so he swears that he knows he is Gobbo's son, and that his wife, Margery, is his mother. Launcelot may be invoking her name as a way of saying "would a total stranger know the name of your wife?"
  • In actions, Gobbo had brought a present for Shylock - we might presume it is given on Launcelot's behalf in order to curry favor with Shylock. In words, Gobbo isn't very effusive in his affection for his son, but he does ask how he's been and whether he and Shylock are getting along, suggesting that he cares.
  • Two humorous situations would include Gobbo's mistaking of the back of Launcelot's head for the front, and Launcelot's reversal about being called Master ("you should definitely speak of MASTER Launcelot, oh but don't speak of him, because he's dead")

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