The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice | Act 2, Scene 8 | Summary

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Summary

Salarino and Solanio meet in the city square to review recent events. They have seen Bassanio set sail with Gratiano, but they say Lorenzo and Jessica did not depart with them. Shylock wanted to search Bassanio's ship and got the duke's approval to do so, but the ship was already gone. Antonio has assured Shylock and the duke that Jessica and Lorenzo did not set sail with Bassanio, so Shylock has been seen in the streets wailing for his lost daughter and lost money. Children mock him. There has also been some discouraging news about a ship from Venice lost near England, and Antonio hopes it is not his. Salarino and Solanio both express their liking for Antonio, saying "A kinder gentleman treads not the earth." They talk about Antonio's sadness at Bassanio's departure and speculate that Antonio "only loves the world for [Bassanio]." They decide to go try to raise Antonio's spirits.

Analysis

It is a typical conceit in Shakespeare's plays to use conversation between characters to explain what has happened or is happening offstage. Since Salarino and Solanio are gossips, they are perfect for taking on this important role of providing plot exposition. From a practical standpoint, their conversation in Act 2, Scene 8 spares the time (as well as the expense of sets and props) of staging scenes showing Shylock attempting to search Bassanio's boat, the loss of the ship near England, and Antonio's farewell to Bassanio.

As much as Salarino and Solanio seem to like Antonio and want good things for him, their dialogue also carries a tone that indicates they enjoy the drama unfolding around them. Solanio delights in speculating about Antonio's grief when he hears of the wrecked ship. Salarino relishes the details when he describes Bassanio's departure from Venice. Yet in these cases their enjoyment is subtle. When Solanio recounts Shylock's anguish at the loss of his daughter, he emphasizes how Shylock cries out for his lost money and calls Shylock a dog with a confused passion, as if Shylock does not know which loss upsets him more. The Christian merchants take Shylock's confusion as evidence of his greed instead of evidence of simple confusion over his family having been turned upside down. After all, his daughter has not only left and betrayed him, but has abandoned the principles of their religion.

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