The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare
Characters

Jessica

Characters Jessica

Jessica abandons her father, Shylock, and her Jewish identity in order to marry Lorenzo and convert to Christianity. She makes it clear that she is unhappy living with Shylock, saying things like “our house is hell” and “though I am daughter to his blood / I am not to his manners” (II.iii). Lorenzo describes Jessica as “wise, fair, and true” (II.vi.56). She reveals her intelligence and independence when she escapes her father’s house by disguising herself in male clothing and taking money and other valuables with her. Jessica is aware that she is violating traditional expectations of showing loyalty to her father, but she ultimately chooses Lorenzo in hopes of becoming a loving wife. At the end, the play suggests that Jessica makes the right decision, as she enjoys a happy marriage and is rewarded with an income and inheritance that Antonio secured for her after Shylock lost the court case.

As a young woman with a particular suitor in mind, Jessica faces a similar challenge to Portia because both women are controlled by their fathers (dead or alive) and unable to freely choose whom they want to marry. In contrast with Portia, who honors her father’s wishes and takes a gamble in hoping that Bassanio will make the right choice, Jessica is more proactive and takes control of her own destiny. Jessica also functions as a sympathetic Jewish character and therefore as a kind of foil to the villainous Shylock. Lancelot describes her as the “most beautiful pagan, most sweet Jew” (II.iii.11-12). Lorenzo, who is a Christian, loves Jessica despite her faith and family origins. Thus, Jessica’s belovedness suggests that Shylock’s cruel and vicious nature is specific to him and does not reflect all Jews. At the same time, Jessica is harsh toward her own father, robbing him, escaping his household, and even trading his precious ring for a monkey. While Shylock is not blameless, the play asks us to consider if the mistreatment from his daughter is fully deserved.