'The Merchant of Venice' Act 2 Summary

Analysis of 'The Merchant of Venice' Act 2, Scenes 1-3

Shylock from 'The Merchant of Venice'
Shylock from 'The Merchant of Venice'. NYPL Digital Gallery

The Merchant of Venice is often criticized for being anti-Semitic. There is truth in this allegation.

You can see the Antisemitism theme from Act 2. Reviewing how Shylock is talked about below in this The Merchant of Venice Act 2 Summary, the theme is clear.

Act 2 Scene 1

The Prince of Morocco enters with his entourage. He asks Portia to look past his dark complexion and assures her that he is as valiant as any European man.

She tells him that he has as much chance as marrying her as any man, that it is not her place to judge his looks as this is not how she will choose a husband but by her father’s will. At length, the Prince goes on to tell Portia how brave and valiant he is. Portia listens and then dispassionately tells him that he must take his chance and choose a casket but reminds him that his forfeit for choosing wrongly would be to remain unmarried.

You must take your chance, And either not attempt to choose at all, Or swear before you choose, if you choose wrong Never to speak to lady afterward In way of marriage. Therefore be advised.
(Act 2 Scene 1)

She directs the Prince to dinner and then tells him that afterward he can make his choice.

Act 2 Scene 2

Enter Lancelot the clown. Lancelot Gobbo is wrestling with his conscience unsure whether to run away from his master Shylock. He is concerned that Shylock is a Jew and that he should not work for him because of that, despite having no other grievances with him.

As he resolves to run away his blind father arrives looking for Shylock.

Lancelot decides to have some sport with his father and pretends not to know him at first. Gobbo, the elder, is looking for his son and Lancelot gives him confusing directions and suggests that his son is dead. Eventually Gobbo, the elder, realises that he is talking to his son, although at first he wouldn’t believe that his son would treat him as cruelly.

Lancelot explains that he no longer wants to work for Shylock as his Jewishness would rub off on him, he tells his father that he is leaving his employment.

Just then Bassanio arrives and Lancelot and his father ask him to take Lancelot on as his servant. Bassanio is bemused unsure as to why Lancelot would want to work for him when he had no money, Lancelot’s father gives Bassanio some Doves to encourage him to take his son on. Bassanio agrees.

Graziano asks Bassanio if he can accompany him to Belmont. Bassanio is concerned that Graziano’s manners are too rough and rude for the Belmont Court, Graziano assures him that he will be on his best behaviour.

Act 2 Scene 3

Enter Jessica, Shylock’s daughter and Lancelot the Clown

Jessica tells Lancelot that she is very sad that he is leaving her father’s service. She felt that he brought some merriment to their tedious house. She bids him farewell with a ducat and asks him to secretly pass on a letter to Lorenzo who is one of his new master’s guests. She makes her excuses as she does not want Shylock to see her talking with him. Lancelot bids her a tearful fairwell. Jessica explains that she is ashamed of Shylock and his manners. She hopes that Lorenzo is true to his word that he will make her his Christian wife.

Fairwell good Lancelot. Alack, what heinous sin is it in me to be ashamed to be my father’s child! But though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo, If thou keep promise I shall end this strife, Become a Christian and thy loving wife.
(Act 2 Scene 3)

You can continue reading by visiting our The Merchant of Venice Study Guide page and selecting more scene-by-scene summaries.