The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Jessica's elopement plans and Lorenzo's perception of her in "The Merchant of Venice" Act 2, Scene 4

Summary:

In Act 2, Scene 4 of "The Merchant of Venice," Jessica plans to elope with Lorenzo, disguising herself as a page to escape her father, Shylock. Lorenzo perceives Jessica as wise, fair, and true, expressing his admiration for her courage and loyalty in their plans to be together.

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In Act 2, Scene 4 of The Merchant of Venice, what information does Jessica give Lorenzo about her elopement and how does Lorenzo view her?

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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What information does Jessica give to Lorenzo about her elopement in Act 2, Scene 4 of "The Merchant of Venice"?

"I must needs tell thee all. She hath directed...torch bearer"

1. In Act II Scene 4, there is further development of the sub-plot (the romance between Jessica, a Jewess, and Lorenzo, a Christian) begun in Scene 3; Jessica sends Lorenzo a missive via Launcelot that instructs him when to meet her along with other details. After Launcelot departs, Lorenzo informs his friend Gratiano about the contents of Jessica's letter in which Jessica writes that she is going to disguise herself as a page and take with her gold and jewels.

After Lorenzo tells Gratiano these details, he then reflects upon the Jew/Christian issue that also surrounds the main plot. For, Lorenzo magnifies the dislike of the Venetians (Christians) for the Jew as he says,

And never dare misfortune cross her foot
Unless she do it under this excuse
That she is issue to a faithless Jew. (2.4.35-37)

In other words, Lorenzo, pre-occupied with the "Jew-for-Jew's-sake" idea, says that if the Jew Shylock ever makes it to heaven it will be because his daughter is so good. And, if she suffers misfortune it is also because she is Jewish.

2. The atmosphere in this scene is one of secretiveness and danger as Jessica plans to disguise herself as a man, a page, or "torchbearer," as Lorenzo describes her. Also, she plans to take gold and jewels from her father's house; this is an act that will have a tremendous impact upon her father since, as Launcelot has told Jessica in the previous scene, Shylock is very stingy and excessively greedy. Clearly, Jessica's plans to steal from her father and, then, to marry a Christian--one of those loathed by Shylock--are so disrespectful to Shylock that they are sure to anger and incite her father's hatred against her.

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