The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice | Act 3, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Launcelot and Jessica talk in the gardens at Belmont, and Launcelot tells Jessica she should hope Shylock isn't really her father, lest she someday suffer for his sins. Jessica counters by saying if her mother cheated on Shylock she would have to suffer for her mother's sins. Launcelot agrees Jessica is doomed either way, and Jessica declares "I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian." Lorenzo appears and teases Launcelot for trying to steal his wife, and Jessica tells him why Launcelot has declared them both unfit for heaven: Jessica was born a Jew, and Lorenzo has raised the price of pork by converting Jessica. Lorenzo then tells Launcelot he has impregnated a Moor, and Launcelot jokes "if she be less than an honest woman, she is indeed more than I took her for." Lorenzo sends Launcelot to ask the household to prepare for dinner. Then he and Jessica share a quiet moment in which they speak of Bassanio's good fortune at finding a wife as good as Portia. Lorenzo talks of his own good fortune.

Analysis

Even though Launcelot is joking with Jessica, his prejudice against Jews is on full display. His jokes about Jessica still being unworthy of heaven because of her father and her birth as a Jew raise questions about how fully she will be accepted into Christian society. Lorenzo clearly loves his wife unreservedly, and Portia's household has made her welcome. However, Launcelot's joke gives voice to the possibility of small elements of prejudice lingering in Jessica's future interactions. Despite the hospitality she has been shown, she will never really be one of them in the same way as if she had been born into their society.

Jessica's rejection of her father is understandable given his treatment of her in Act 2, Scene 5 and her subsequent isolation. This exchange provides hints of Jessica's relationship with her mother. Shylock's lament in Act 3, Scene 1 when he hears Jessica traded for a monkey the ring his wife gave him before they married indicates Jessica's mother is dead. The absence of a monkey in Belmont indicates Jessica did not take part in such an exchange, but her attitude about her dead mother is disturbingly lighthearted. It is possible she does not understand the sentimental value of the ring she took, and she may have traded it for something. She jokes with Launcelot about her mother's loyalty to her father, which implies Jessica's mother is an abstract concept to her. It is possible, based on this scene, that Jessica never knew her mother, which also explains why Shylock has been so overprotective of his daughter. She has lacked a second parent to reign in her father's strict influence and to make her feel comfortable in her own home.

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