The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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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?

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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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