The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In Act 2, Scene 4 of The Merchant of Venice, why do Lorenzo and his friends plan a disguise, how prepared are they, and what is the role of the torch-bearer?

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Lorenzo and his friends in this scene are planning to go to Shylock's house and take Jessica away with them in secrecy. This is what Jessica has communicated to Lorenzo in the letter that Launcelot delivered for her. She is going to elope with Lorenzo, and of course, because she is a Jew and Lorenzo is a Christian, this is a rather risky undertaking. She will be turning her back on her father's faith and her identity, and she will have to convert in order to marry her lover. Clearly Shylock would be completely against such a move, so this explains why Lorenzo and his friends have to disguise themselves in order to help her escape. Note what Lorenzo says to his friends about the plan they have concocted to help her leave:

She hath directed
How I shall take her from her father's house,
What gold and jewels she is furnish'd with,
What page's suit she hath in readiness.

It is interesting to note that the emphasis is on Jessica organising this escape and the robbery of her father's wealth, suggesting that Lorenzo is going along with her plan and that it is she who has planned all of this. However, Lorenzo, unfortunately, has not planned this very well, as Gratiano says "We have not made good preparation." He has not organised the disguises and the other things that they need in order to put this plan into practice. It is a good thing, therefore, that they still have two hours before they need to rescue Jessica to obtain what they need.

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