Summary and Analysis
Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino, and Salanio discuss their plans for Bassanio's dinner party and masque that night. All of the preparations have not been made; for example, one of the things which they have neglected to do, and which must be done, is to hire young boys to act as torchbearers for the evening so that the gala party will be brightly lighted. This is to be a special evening, and all details must be considered.
While they are talking, Launcelot enters, on his way to invite Shylock to the party, and he delivers Jessica's letter to Lorenzo. Lorenzo reads it and sends Jessica a reply: "Tell gentle Jessica / I will not fail her; speak it privately." Lorenzo then tells his friends that he has found a torchbearer, and he confides to Gratiano that Jessica is going to disguise herself as a page tonight and elope with him; furthermore, she will escape with enough gold and jewels for a proper dowry. Lorenzo feels sure that Jessica, in a page's attire, can successfully disguise herself as a torchbearer for Bassanio's party and not be recognized.
The masque, which the characters discuss, never occurs; perhaps the play has been cut, or perhaps Shakespeare felt that there was simply not enough time for a masque. In any event, however, the anticipation of the masque causes the audience to envision it, and thus it suggests a youthful and romantic background to the Jessica-Lorenzo development ("Fair Jessica shall be my torchbearer"), a mood which is clearly antithetical to the self-denying and puritanical life of Shylock's household.