Summary: Act II, scene v

Shylock warns Launcelot that Bassanio will not be as lenient a master as Shylock himself has been, and that Launcelot will no longer be at liberty to overeat and oversleep. Shylock calls for Jessica and tells her that he has been summoned for dinner. Worried by a premonition that trouble is brewing, Shylock asks Jessica to keep the doors locked and not look out at the revelry taking place in the streets. Launcelot whispers to Jessica that she must disobey her father and look out the window for the Christian who “will be worth a Jewës eye” (II.v.41). Shylock asks Jessica about her furtive conversation with Launcelot, and says that, though Launcelot is kind, he eats and sleeps too much to be an efficient, worthwhile servant. After Shylock has left to see Bassanio, Jessica bids him farewell, thinking that, if nothing goes wrong, Shylock will soon have lost a daughter, and she, a father.

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Summary: Act II, scene vi

As planned, Gratiano and Salarino meet in front of Shylock’s house. They are especially anxious because Lorenzo is late, and they think that lovers tend always to be early. The garrulous Gratiano expounds on Salarino’s theory that love is at its best when the lover chases the object of his affection, and that once the lover captures his lady and consummates the relationship, he tends to tire and lose interest. Lorenzo joins them, apologizes for his tardiness, and calls up to Jessica, who appears on the balcony dressed as a page. Jessica tosses him a casket of gold and jewels. Jessica descends and exits with Lorenzo and Salarino. Just then, Antonio enters to report that Bassanio is sailing for Belmont immediately. Gratiano is obliged to leave the festivities and join Bassanio at once.

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Summary: Act II, scene vii

Back in Belmont, Portia shows the prince of Morocco to the caskets, where he will attempt to win her hand by guessing which chest contains her portrait. The first casket, made of gold, is inscribed with the words, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (II.vii.37). The second, made of silver, reads, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (II.vii.23). The third, a heavy leaden casket, declares, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” (II.vii.16). After much pondering, the prince chooses the gold casket, reasoning that only the most precious metal could house the picture of such a beautiful woman. He opens the chest to reveal a skull with a scroll in its eye socket. After reading a short poem chastising him for the folly of his choice, the prince makes a hasty departure. Portia is glad to see him go and hopes that “[a]ll of his complexion choose me so” (II.viii.79).

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Summary: Act II, scene viii

Having witnessed Shylock’s rage upon learning of Jessica’s elopement, Solanio describes the scene to Salarino. Shylock, he reports, railed against the loss of his daughter and his ducats, and he shouted a loud, urgent appeal for justice and the law to prevail. Solanio hopes that Antonio is able to pay his debt, but Salarino reminds him of rumors that the long-awaited ships have capsized in the English Channel. The two men warmly remember Bassanio’s departure from Antonio, wherein the merchant insisted that his young friend not allow thoughts of debt or danger to interfere with his courtship of Portia.

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Summary: Act II, scene ix

The prince of Arragon is in Belmont to try his luck at winning Portia’s hand in marriage. When brought to the caskets, he selects the silver one, confident that he “shall get as much as he deserves” (II.ix.35). Inside, he finds a portrait of a blinking idiot, and a poem that condemns him as a fool. Soon after he departs, a messenger arrives to tell Portia that a promising young Venetian, who seems like the perfect suitor, has come to Belmont to try his luck at the casket game. Hoping that it is Bassanio, Portia and Nerissa go out to greet the new suitor.

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Analysis: Act II, scenes v–ix

In these scenes, Shylock is again portrayed as a penny-pinching, but not wicked, master. Indeed, he seems to think himself quite lenient, and when he calls Launcelot lazy, this jibe seems likely to be an accurate description of the buffoonish retainer. Shylock’s fear for his daughter and his distaste for the Venetian revelry paint him as a puritanical figure who respects order and the rule of law above all else, and who refuses to have “shallow fopp’ry” in his “sober house” (II.v.3435). Shylock’s rhetoric is distinctive: he tends to repeat himself and avoids the digressions common to other characters. As more than one critic has pointed out, he is characterized by a one-track mind.

Happily, Jessica and Lorenzo’s romantic love triumphs, but a number of critics have pointed out the ambiguity in the scene of their elopement. The couple’s love for one another is not in doubt, but Jessica’s determination to bring a hefty store of treasure reminds us that she is still an outsider, a Jew among gentiles, who may be insecure about her reception. Indeed, her shame at her boy’s costume may reflect a deeper concern for her place in her husband’s Christian society. Later, at Belmont, she will be all but ignored by everyone save Lorenzo, suggesting that despite her husband and her conversion, she remains a Jew in others’ eyes.

The prince of Morocco’s choice of the caskets is wrong, but his mistake is understandable, and we sympathize with him. There is something casually cruel about Portia’s unwillingness to spare even a moment’s pity for the Moor. Portia is a willful character—while her independence is often appealing, at other times she can seem terribly self-centered. She wants Bassanio as a husband and seems to have no regrets in seeing other suitors sentenced to a life of celibacy.

Read more about the harshness of the law as a motif.

Salarino and Solanio are the least interesting characters in the play. They are indistinguishable from one another and serve primarily to fill us in on events that take place offstage—in this case, Shylock’s reaction to his daughter’s flight and the parting of Antonio and Bassanio. Shylock’s cries of “My daughter! O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” are meant to be comic—the moneylender is, after all, a comic villain (II.viii.15). He bemoans the loss of his money as much as his loss of Jessica, suggesting that greed is as important to him as familial love. However, we cannot be sure that Shylock really reacted in this way, since we hear the story secondhand. Salarino and Solanio are poking fun at the Jew, and their testimony must be balanced by the concern that Shylock expresses for his daughter in the earlier scenes.

Arragon, a Spanish prince, completes the parade of nationalities competing for Portia. He lacks the nobility of the prince of Morocco, and his arrogance almost makes us feel that he deserves his punishment. His quick dismissal from the scene clears the way for Bassanio.

Read important quotes by Portia about her various suitors.