The Merchant of Venice By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 5

Summary

In a garden at Belmont, the jester Launcelot is teasing Jessica that he fears that she is damned because she is a Jew ("the sins of the father are to be laid on the children"), but she reminds Launcelot that her husband Lorenzo has made her a Christian by marrying her. "The more to blame he," Launcelot jokes: "This making of Christians will raise the price of hogs."

Lorenzo joins them then and pretends jealousy on finding his wife alone with Launcelot. He orders Launcelot to go inside and "bid them prepare for dinner." He suddenly turns to Jessica then and asks her, "How dost thou like the Lord Bassanio's wife?" Jessica praises Portia as being without equal on earth. Lorenzo jokingly responds, "Even such a husband / Hast thou of me as she is for a wife." Jessica is ready to comment to his teasing when he urges her to save her comments "for table-talk." So with loving jests, they go in to dinner.

Analysis

As in the previous scene, the light comic and romantic relief in this scene is dramatically in order, since it will be immediately followed by the courtroom scene, which is the longest scene in the play and certainly the most emotional scene in the play.

Much of this scene focuses on Launcelot Gobbo's clowning and punning. For example, Launcelot uses "bastard" in a sense that can be both figurative and literal; in addition, he plays elaborately on the two senses of the word "cover" — laying a table and putting on one's hat.

The tender, affectionate exchange between Lorenzo and Jessica at the end of the scene serves to establish their new happiness. They will reappear in Act V in the same roles. In both scenes, we see a Jessica who has changed and blossomed in the environment of Belmont, and this has its significance. Portia and Nerissa are, for example, "to the manner born," but Jessica is an outsider. She was reared by a miser and a man who keenly felt his alienation in the Venetian community. Jessica's character and personality were molded by these attitudes. Now we see her maturing, and her new happiness suggests that Belmont (symbolically, a beautiful mountain) is not so much a place as a state of mind. Jessica's journey from Shylock's dour household to the sunlight and freedom of Belmont is, in its way, a symbolic journey — one from hatred to love and, especially in Jessica's case, a journey from sterility to fruition.

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