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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT II, SCENE 3
Launcelot goes to bid farewell to Shylock. When he arrives at the Jew's home, Launcelot finds that Shylock's daughter Jessica is alone. Jessica is sorry to see Launcelot go. She gives him a ducat and asks him to deliver a letter to Lorenzo, who is to be a guest of Bassanio for dinner. Jessica hopes to marry Lorenzo and become a Christian. She is ashamed to be her father's child and feels she has nothing but blood in common with him.
Jessica is portrayed as an unlikely daughter of Shylock. She is a warm, gentle woman, who is soft-spoken and attracted to joviality and wit. Being a Christian in spirit, she longs to become one by faith. She intends to elope with Lorenzo, who is a Christian and who has promised to marry her.
Jessica is unhappy with her present circumstances. She claims, "Our house is hell." She resents her father, which she knows is a " heinous sin;" but she feels she has nothing in common with him and wants to leave home. She is well aware that, by moral code, she should not desert her father; but to become a Christian, she must leave home. In Elizabethan time, being a Christian overrode all other obligations. Even though Jessica is committing an act of filial ingratitude by leaving home, it would be deemed the right thing since it would lead to her conversion to Christianity. Therefore, deception of her parent is depicted as a virtue under the circumstance.
When Launcelot comes to bid farewell to Shylock, Jessica is sorry to see him go. With his merry humor and clownish wit, Launcelot is the only one who has relieved the somber atmosphere of the house for Jessica. Launcelot acts as a ready catalyst to Jessica's Christian conversion.
ACT II, SCENE 4
Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino, and Salanio, make plans for the evening. Lorenzo suggests that they meet at his house to put on their disguises. Between four and six o'clock, they will find torchbearers to accompany them. Launcelot arrives with Jessica's letter to Lorenzo. Lorenzo recognizes the handwriting. She has asked him to take her from her father's house the same night. She will have with her much of Shylock's gold and jewels. Launcelot is in a hurry to leave, for he has to invite Shylock to dine with Bassanio. Lorenzo gives Launcelot some money to tell Jessica that he will meet her. As Salarino and Salanio leave, Lorenzo tells Gratiano of his plans to elope with Jessica. Jessica will disguise herself as a pageboy and pose as Lorenzo's torchbearer during the masked parade later in the evening.
The masked parade to be held later in the evening is a typical scene of the festive atmosphere of Venice. The participants dress up in various costumes, forming a procession that weaves its way through the streets of the city. The festivities proceed to a hall, where an elaborate performance of song, dance, and pantomime is enjoyed. Salarino and Salanio, in keeping with their earlier elegant speech and turn of phrase, are concerned with the fact that they have no torchbearers to accompany them. They feel that they should attend the masque properly accompanied or not attend at all. It is agreed that torchbearers will be found.
As Launcelot arrives with Jessica's letter, Lorenzo recognizes the handwriting and says, "a fair hand, and whiter than the paper it writ on, is the fair hand that writ." He commends Jessica further by saying, " If e'er the Jew her father come to heaven, it will be for his gentle daughter's sake." Lorenzo believes that Jessica is so virtuous that even a loathsome person may be given admittance to heaven by the sole fact of being her father.
Launcelot is in a hurry to leave for he must "bid my old master, the Jew, to sup tonight with my new master, the Christian." Before departing, he does accept some money to deliver Lorenzo's message to Jessica.