The Merchant of Venice, Act 2 Summary

Scene 1

The scene opens in Belmont at Portia’s house. The prince of Morocco has arrived to win Portia’s hand in marriage. He requests Portia to not be hasty in judging him for his dark complexion as he is so because of the place where he lives falls under the direct rays of the Sun.

Despite his complexion, he is as brave as any fair-skinned European men. Portia politely reminds him that his complexion has nothing to matter in this as she will marry whoever fulfills her father’s last wishes by choosing the right casket.

The prince then goes on to give a lengthy detailed account of his bravery and valour to Portia, for which the latter has very little interest. Finally he entreats Portia to lead the way for the casket choosing. Portia warns him that if he failed he will never be able to marry again. The prince of Morocco accepts the condition and follows Portia to the caskets, where his fate will be decided. 

Scene 2

The scene shifts back to Venice where Shylock’s servant, Launcelot Gobbo is introduced and is seen on the verge of a dilemma as whether he or not he should run away from Shylock. A part of him argues and says that he should flee while he still has the chance, whereas his conscience convinces him to say for his honest work.

Launcelot doesn’t vile Shylock but calls him “a kind of devil” which might imply that Launcelot has a problem working for a Jew. Just as he is about to give up, his old blind father turns up, looking for directions to visit his son working at Shylock’s place. Since Old Gobbo doesn’t recognize his son, Launcelot decides to have fun with him and tricks him by giving him confusing directions and finally claiming that his son is dead.

After some time, Launcelot reveals his true identity to his father, however, Old Gobbo remains wary of him until Launcelot finally convinces his father of his identity. He tells his father that he is not going to serve Shylock anymore but wants to work under the kind nobleman, Bassanio. Both of them spot Bassanio and pleads with him to accept Launcelot as his servant.

Bassanio is initially confused but after sometime understand what they are saying and accepts Launcelot as his employer. Bassanio  then meets Gratiano, who requests the former to take him to Belmont also. Bassanio agrees but warns Gratiano to be on his best behaviour and not embarrass him by being his usual wild self. Gratiano agreed and they both leave to plan a night of merriment before leaving for Belmont. 

Scene 3

Launcelot goes over to bid Shylock’s daughter, Jessica goodbye, who is saddened at his farewell. She tells him how Launcelot had made her time bearable by being there and she is saddened to see him go but knows that it’s for the best.

Launcelot tearfully says that he had stayed for so long under Shylock’s employment only because of her and he too was sad at his going away. Jessica then gives him a letter to carry to Bassanio’s friend, Lorenzo and wishes Launcelot all the best.

Jessica, while left alone, reflects how ashamed she is to be her father’s daughter. She knows she is Shylock’s daughter by blood and not by actions and hopes to end this relationship between them by marrying her lover, Lorenzo band converting to Christianity. 

Scene 4

The four men, Gratiano, Lorenzo, Solanio and Salarino, meet one night at a street in Venice to construct a plan to unite Lorenzo with Jessica. Gratiano fusses over the fact that perhaps they are underprepared but Lorenzo assured him that the plan will be executed perfectly. Launcelot enters the spot and hands over Jessica’s letter to Lorenzo, who immediately recognizes her handwriting and says “whiter than the paper it writ on.”

After reading the letter, Launcelot believes things will go to plan and sends Launcelot over to Shylock’s house to tell Jessica that he will not let her down. After Launcelot exits, Lorenzo prepares for the plan and tells them that they will dress up as torchbearers and Jessica will be dressed up as Lorenzo’s torchbearer, as in this way no one will suspect anything. Lorenzo then hands over the letter to Gratiano to read and leaves to make arrangements for the night’s outcome.

Scene 5

On hearing that Launcelot will be leaving Shylock’s employment, he warns Launcelot that Bassanio is not as lenient as him and he can no longer over sleep and over eat under his employment like he used to do while working for Shylock. Shylock then calls for his daughter and tells her that he has been invited for a dinner. Anticipating something bad to happen, he tells Jessica to lock the dooos and guard the jewels and not look out the windows at the Christians making merry. 

Launcelot takes the moment and whispers to Jessica to disobey her father’s order by looking out the window for a Christian who “will be worth a Jewes eye.” Shylock catches Launcelot whispering to Jessica and asks the latter what conversation took place and says that though Launcelot is kind, he eats and sleeps way too much and in one way is happy to lose him. After Shylock exits, Jessica thinks while bidding him farewell if everything goes well, Shylock will soon lose a daughter and she will lose a father. 

Scene 6

According to the plan, Gratiano and Salarino meet up in front of Shylock’s house, getting anxious as Lorenzo is being late. Salarino says that he used to believe that lovers always tend to be early, to which Gratiano argues that the fun lies in chasing the love but once it is attained and declared, the lover tends to tire and lose interest in the relationship.

Lorenzo finally shows up and beckons for Jessica, who appears on the balcony dressed as a page. She throws a casket of gold and jewels to Lorenzo and descends and finally exits with Lorenzo and Salarino. Antonio appears and informs Gratiano that Bassanio is about to depart for Belmont and that she should make haste. Gratiano thanks Antonio and quickly makes way towards the port. 

Scene 7

The scene once again shifts to Belmont where Portia leads the prince of Morocco to the room where the caskets are kept. The suitor is to try his fate in marrying Portia by choosing the correct casket inside which her portrait is kept. The first casket, which is made of gold, has the inscription “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” The second casket, which is made of silver, has the inscription “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”

The final casket, which is made of lead, has the inscription “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” The prince of Morocco ponders on his choice, explaining it in detail and finally chooses the gold casket as he believes for a woman like Portia that is the most precious metal to contain her portrait.

He is however disappointed when upon opening the casket, instead of finding Portia’s portrait, he finds a skull with a scroll in its eye socket. The scroll rebuffs him for being greedy and making a folly. Ashamed, the prince of Morocco quickly makes his departure which brings happiness to Portia. 

Scene 8

Solanio describes Shylock’s rage to Salarino when he discovers his daughter’s elopement with the jewels. He is in a fit as he shouts about his daughter and his ducats and clamors for legal justice on this. Solanio worries about Antonio and hopes that he is able to pay his debt to Shylock. Salarino reminds him of the rumors that Antonio’s ships have capsized in the English Channel. The two men remembers how Antonio on Bassanio’s departure warned him not to worry about his debt or danger but to focus on courting Portia. 

Scene 9

Meanwhile, the prince of Arragorn arrives at Belmont to try his hand in winning Portia. He is taken to the room of the caskets and after pondering for sometime, the prince of Aragorn confidently chooses the silver casket. However upon opening it, he finds a portrait of of a blinking idiot and a poem which labels him as a fool. Immediately he departs from there and a servant arrives to announce that a promising young Venetian has come to court Portia. Portia, upon hearing that, hopes that it is Bassanio who has come and goes out with Nerissa to greet the suitor.