The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What is the relationship between Jessica and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice?

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Jessica's situation in The Merchant of Venice is stated by her when she declares that

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me

To be ashamed to be my father's child,

But though I am a daughter to his blood,

I am not to his manners....

This sums up her feeling of guilt over the fact she will abandon her father. At the same time she expresses her alienation from her father, specifically from his behavior, as she observes it. In eloping with Lorenzo she abandons her father and her religion.

In Shakespeare's time, and later, Jewish women in literature who converted to Christianity and married Gentile men (or were simply attracted to them) were seen as especially virtuous and as exceptions to the anti-Semitic stereotypes commonly held at the time. Jessica is such a character, as are Barabas's daughter in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta and, much later (though by this time the attitude of writers was more enlightened and the woman was not depicted as abandoning Judaism) Rebecca in Scott's Ivanhoe. In The Merchant of Venice the rights and wrongs of this situation are ambiguously presented. Though Shakespeare clings to the stereotypes, he also portrays Shylock sympathetically at key points, or at least, he very strongly appears to. This becomes even more obvious if one compares Shylock to Marlowe's Barabas, a character portrayed in totally negative terms. The elopement of Jessica is a misfortune to Shylock that presages his final defeat at the trial. When he says,

I have a daughter.

Would any of the stock of Barrabas

Had been her husband, rather than a Christian....

we see another indication of Shylock's basic human feelings as a father and a man of his religion, despite the stereotyping in his portrayal. Jessica would have been seen by an audience of Shakespeare's time and later as a negation of the stereotypes, but one can detect an additional stereotype in her portrayal, in the assumption that non-Christians wish to become Christian.

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What kind of relationship did Jessica share with her father, Shylock?

The relationship between Shylock and Jessica is not a loving one. The text makes it apparent that he is domineering and prescriptive and that Jessica does not take kindly to his dictatorial manner. With Jessica's introduction in act 2, scene 3, it is apparent that she dislikes her father's mannerisms. In a brief monologue, she states the following:

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father's child!
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners.

Jessica, has at this juncture, given their manservant, Launcelot, a secret letter to give to her Christian sweetheart, Lorenzo. Since she is Jewish and her father despises Christians, he would prohibit the affair. Jessica wishes to elope with Lorenzo to, as she says, "end this strife."

In scene 5 of act 2, we witness Shylock's dictatorial attitude toward Jessica. He repeatedly calls out to her and, when she arrives, instructs her to look after his house while he reluctantly attends a supper. Shylock tells her:

Well, Jessica, go in;
Perhaps I will return immediately:
Do as I bid you; shut doors after you:
Fast bind, fast find;

Jessica is happy that her father is leaving, since she is planning to flee with Lorenzo during his absence.

In act 3, scene 1, we discover that Shylock seems to prize his material possessions more than his daughter. When he learns that she has left, he states that she is damned for her betrayal. On discovering that she has taken some of his money and precious jewels, he cries out,

The curse never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it till now: two thousand ducats in that; and other precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!

These shocking remarks may be born out of Shylock's frustration and dismay, but when he later confirms this sentiment, he reveals that his money and goods are more important than her.

I shall never see my gold again: fourscore ducats at a sitting! fourscore ducats!

It is ironic that Shylock has damned Jessica and expresses no desire for her return except in a coffin with his jewels, for the court later commands him to forfeit half his estate to his now-married daughter and her Christian husband. Shylock's bitter resentment and desire for revenge destroy him.

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