The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary



Lorenzo makes plans with Gratiano, Salarino, and Solanio to "slink away in supper time" and disguise themselves to prepare for a masquerade at Bassanio's dinner. Launcelot delivers Jessica's letter to Lorenzo, and Lorenzo sends him back to her with word that "[he] will not fail her." After Salarino and Solanio leave for the party, Lorenzo tells Gratiano that Jessica has told him how to get her away from her father's house and that she will be waiting, disguised as a page and carrying "what gold and jewels she is furnished with."


Lorenzo's friends support his pursuit of Jessica and are happy to see he has received a letter from her. They will later assist him as he escapes with her from Shylock's house. The decision to hold a masquerade as part of dinner mirrors the deception and disguise that will be necessary to carry out the elopement and also adds a touch of authenticity as such masquerades were part of Venetian culture. Even today masked celebrations remain a traditional part of the celebration of Carnival in Venice. Carnival is a Christian tradition that marks the week before Lent, the 40 days before the observance of Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent strict Christians are supposed to give up eating meat, so Carnival—which draws its name from the Latin word for meat, carnem—is the last period during which Christians can eat meat for 40 days (in the United States these traditions of masked revelry are part of the celebration of Mardi Gras). While this masquerade is not definitively affiliated with Carnival, it does imply a connection to this Christian tradition and a contrast with Shylock's strict austerity seen in Act 1, Scene 3 and in Act 2, Scene 5.

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