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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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In a Venetian street, Launcelot Gobbo, the clown, is about to desert his master, Shylock. He wrestles with his conscience between loyalty and running away. He meets his old blind father, whom he has not seen for many years. Launcelot decides to have some fun with the old man and gives him crazy instructions for how to reach Shylock's house. Launcelot also insists that the old man's son, meaning himself, is now a gentleman. He finally relents and tells his father that he is the real Launcelot. He then tells his father that he plans to escape from Shylock's service and become Bassanio's servant.

Bassanio enters and agrees to take Launcelot on. When father and son leave, Gratiano meets Bassanio and asks to travel with him to Belmont. Bassanio fears that Gratiano's wild manner will damage his chances with Portia. He agrees to Gratiano's company on the condition that he will behave well. Gratiano swears he will behave, but requests that he enjoy himself at the party that Bassanio is giving for his good friends. They part looking forward to the party.


Launcelot is the clown of this play. He uses puns frequently and in a bawdy manner; he also uses parody and misuses words to make comedy. He is seen debating with himself about whether he should remain loyal to Shylock or leave his service. He declares that "a fiend" is tempting him to leave his master, but his conscience urges him to remain.

Launcelot provides a comic perspective of Shylock in which he calls him a devil, a common Elizabethan joke. He reflects that if he obeys the fiend and leaves Shylock, he would be following the devil; but to stay and continue in the service of Shylock means that he would live with "an incarnation" of the devil. He concludes, "I will run, fiend; my heels are at your commandment," humorously misusing words.

His father, Old Gobbo, enters. His eyesight is so poor that he does not recognize his son. He is at first convinced by Launcelot that his son is dead, and the conversation that follows is humorous. Old Gobbo, like his son, humorously confuses words, saying "infection" for "affection," "defect" for "effect," while Launcelot confuses "fruitify" with "certify" and "impertinent" with "pertinent." The conversation is a flashback to the one between Antonio and Shylock, in which Shylock distorted the meanings of the word "good" and "kindness." This encounter is also a parody of a traditional dramatic scene in which long lost relatives are united under unlikely circumstances.

Launcelot acts as another witness to Shylock's miserliness. He claims to have been starved in his service. He highlights the contrast between the characters of Bassanio and Shylock. While Shylock has wealth, Bassanio has "the grace of God." Bassanio agrees to take on Launcelot when the servant reveals that Shylock has constantly berated him for being an "unthrifty knave." Launcelot's appreciation of the difference between wealth and love has endeared him to Bassanio. Bassanio is also prepared to "rescue" Launcelot from Shylock so that the clown will have a Christian master.

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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Book Notes


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