The Merchant of Venice By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 8

Summary

Salarino and Salanio discuss developments in Venice. When Shylock discovered that Jessica was gone, he demanded that the Duke of Venice have Bassanio's ship searched; this proved to be impossible because Bassanio had already sailed. Antonio, however, assured the duke that Lorenzo and Jessica were not on board Bassanio's ship. Salanio then describes how Shylock raved in the streets, crying, "My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! / Fled with a Christian," while "all the boys in Venice" followed him, mocking him, his daughter, and his ducats.

Salanio worries about what will happen to Antonio: He knows Shylock's temper. Jessica's elopement and Antonio's swearing that Bassanio had no part in her escape "bade no good" for Antonio. He knows that Antonio must "keep his day" (repay his debt when it comes due) or else "he shall pay for this." Salanio is likewise worried about Antonio's future. Only yesterday, a Frenchman told him about an Italian ship that had sunk in the English Channel. He immediately thought of Antonio, hoping that the ship was not one of his. The news about the shipwreck must be broken gently to Antonio because Antonio is a sensitive man. Realizing that Antonio may need cheering up, Salanio and Salarino decide to pay him a visit.

Analysis

Salarino's and Salanio's opening lines are hurried and excited. Here and elsewhere in the play, notably in Act I, Scene 1, these two act more or less like a chorus; that is to say, they discuss developments of the plot not shown on the stage so that the audience will be aware of them and also of their importance. Here, they are concerned about Antonio's fate, since Shylock is in a terrible temper, and the once "merry bond" is no longer "merry."

Salanio's speech, beginning at line 12, is introduced here for two reasons: First, Shylock's rage must be described before it is shown so that we can anticipate his state of mind at his next entrance. Second, Shylock's loss of both his daughter and much of his money are important for our understanding the extent of Shylock's desire for revenge. At the beginning of the play, he has only two real reasons for hating Antonio — a commercial hatred and a religious hatred. To these is now added a shattering personal loss — he has lost his daughter, his only child, to a Christian, a friend of Antonio — making plausible his implacable desire for revenge against all Venetian Christians in the person of a man whom he has legally cornered: Antonio. In a very real sense, our sympathy goes out to Shylock, yet Shakespeare keeps us from pitying the man by having Salanio enact a sort of exaggerated parody of Shylock's greedy, histrionic behavior as he tells his friend Salarino how Shylock was chased in the streets by young boys, howling after him. Shylock's repetitions of "O my ducats! O my daughter! . . . my ducats and my daughter" indicate that Jessica is simply, at this point, another possession, like his coins. Thus we are prevented from being too oversympathetic to an obsession which has blinded the old moneylender to the true difference between monetary and human values.

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