The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice | Act 2, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Gratiano and Salarino meet Lorenzo outside Shylock's house, speaking about the wonders of love to pass the time because Lorenzo is late. When Lorenzo arrives, he asks them to keep watch, and Jessica appears above disguised as a boy. They exchange greetings, then Jessica throws down a chest filled with gold and jewels. She is embarrassed by her appearance as a boy but she believes it is safer for her to travel in disguise. Lorenzo reassures her she is lovely anyway. When she goes back into the house to collect a little more money, Gratiano says she is "a gentle and no Jew!" Lorenzo describes how he loves her for her wisdom, fairness, and loyalty. Jessica returns, and she, Lorenzo, and Salarino leave while Gratiano remains behind. Antonio arrives, looking for Gratiano. Bassanio's masquerade has been cancelled because the winds have changed and Bassanio is ready to depart, so Gratiano is off to join the voyage.

Analysis

The Christians are much more readily accepting of Jessica than they are of Shylock, as Gratiano's declaration of Jessica's status as a gentle, or Gentile—a Biblical word commonly used to describe non-Jews—indicates. He has just met her, observed her in a window for a few minutes, and reached this conclusion. As a woman, especially a woman who intends to convert and marry a Christian man, Jessica may be subject to different standards than her father faces. Gratiano's assessment of her may also be a comment on her other positive characteristics. She is clearly brave, as she is willing to take a tremendous risk, leave her family, her society, and her culture to be with the man she loves. She generously brings as much gold as she can carry to their union, which indicates a sense of equality; she does not expect Lorenzo to provide their sole means of financial support. These traits are reflected in her choice of disguise for the escape. She dresses as a page or servant boy. She might have dressed as an old woman or something else more feminine, but she has chosen a costume that outwardly reflects a rejection of traditional femininity—obeying her father, marrying a man who will take care of her, following her culture's rules—in addition to being practical for her escape.

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