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The Merchant of Venice

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ACT II SCENE II Venice. A street. 
LAUNCELOTCertainly my conscience will serve me to run from
this Jew my master. The fiend is at mine elbow and
tempts me saying to me 'Gobbo, Launcelot Gobbo, good
Launcelot,' or 'good Gobbo,' or good Launcelot
Gobbo, use your legs, take the start, run away. My
conscience says 'No; take heed,' honest Launcelot;
take heed, honest Gobbo, or, as aforesaid, 'honest
Launcelot Gobbo; do not run; scorn running with thy
heels.' Well, the most courageous fiend bids me
pack: 'Via!' says the fiend; 'away!' says the10
fiend; 'for the heavens, rouse up a brave mind,'
says the fiend, 'and run.' Well, my conscience,
hanging about the neck of my heart, says very wisely
to me 'My honest friend Launcelot, being an honest
man's son,' or rather an honest woman's son; for,
indeed, my father did something smack, something
grow to, he had a kind of taste; well, my conscience
says 'Launcelot, budge not.' 'Budge,' says the
fiend. 'Budge not,' says my conscience.20
'Conscience,' say I, 'you counsel well;' 'Fiend,'
say I, 'you counsel well:' to be ruled by my
conscience, I should stay with the Jew my master,
who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil; and, to
run away from the Jew, I should be ruled by the
fiend, who, saving your reverence, is the devil
himself. Certainly the Jew is the very devil
incarnal; and, in my conscience, my conscience is
but a kind of hard conscience, to offer to counsel30
me to stay with the Jew. The fiend gives the more
friendly counsel: I will run, fiend; my heels are
at your command; I will run.
[Enter Old GOBBO, with a basket]
GOBBOMaster young man, you, I pray you, which is the way
to master Jew's?
LAUNCELOT[Aside] O heavens, this is my true-begotten father!
who, being more than sand-blind, high-gravel blind,
knows me not: I will try confusions with him.
GOBBOMaster young gentleman, I pray you, which is the way40
to master Jew's?
LAUNCELOTTurn up on your right hand at the next turning, but,
at the next turning of all, on your left; marry, at
the very next turning, turn of no hand, but turn
down indirectly to the Jew's house.
GOBBOBy God's sonties, 'twill be a hard way to hit. Can
you tell me whether one Launcelot,
that dwells with him, dwell with him or no?
LAUNCELOTTalk you of young Master Launcelot?50
Mark me now; now will I raise the waters. Talk you
of young Master Launcelot?
GOBBONo master, sir, but a poor man's son: his father,
though I say it, is an honest exceeding poor man
and, God be thanked, well to live.
LAUNCELOTWell, let his father be what a' will, we talk of
young Master Launcelot.
GOBBOYour worship's friend and Launcelot, sir.
LAUNCELOTBut I pray you, ergo, old man, ergo, I beseech you,
talk you of young Master Launcelot?60
GOBBOOf Launcelot, an't please your mastership.
LAUNCELOTErgo, Master Launcelot. Talk not of Master

Launcelot, father; for the young gentleman,
according to Fates and Destinies and such odd
sayings, the Sisters Three and such branches of
learning, is indeed deceased, or, as you would say
in plain terms, gone to heaven.
GOBBOMarry, God forbid! the boy was the very staff of my
age, my very prop.70
LAUNCELOTDo I look like a cudgel or a hovel-post, a staff or
a prop? Do you know me, father?
GOBBOAlack the day, I know you not, young gentleman:
but, I pray you, tell me, is my boy, God rest his
soul, alive or dead?
LAUNCELOTDo you not know me, father?
GOBBOAlack, sir, I am sand-blind; I know you not.
LAUNCELOTNay, indeed, if you had your eyes, you might fail of
the knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his
own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of80
your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man's son
may, but at the length truth will out.
GOBBOPray you, sir, stand up: I am sure you are not
Launcelot, my boy.
LAUNCELOTPray you, let's have no more fooling about it, but
give me your blessing: I am Launcelot, your boy
that was, your son that is, your child that shall
GOBBOI cannot think you are my son.
LAUNCELOTI know not what I shall think of that: but I am
Launcelot, the Jew's man, and I am sure Margery your
wife is my mother.
GOBBOHer name is Margery, indeed: I'll be sworn, if thou
be Launcelot, thou art mine own flesh and blood.
Lord worshipped might he be! what a beard hast thou
got! thou hast got more hair on thy chin than
Dobbin my fill-horse has on his tail.101
LAUNCELOTIt should seem, then, that Dobbin's tail grows
backward: I am sure he had more hair of his tail
than I have of my face when I last saw him.
GOBBOLord, how art thou changed! How dost thou and thy
master agree? I have brought him a present. How
'gree you now?
LAUNCELOTWell, well: but, for mine own part, as I have set
up my rest to run away, so I will not rest till I110
have run some ground. My master's a very Jew: give
him a present! give him a halter: I am famished in
his service; you may tell every finger I have with
my ribs. Father, I am glad you are come: give me
your present to one Master Bassanio, who, indeed,
gives rare new liveries: if I serve not him, I
will run as far as God has any ground. O rare
fortune! here comes the man: to him, father; for I
am a Jew, if I serve the Jew any longer.120
[Enter BASSANIO, with LEONARDO and other followers]
BASSANIOYou may do so; but let it be so hasted that supper
be ready at the farthest by five of the clock. See
these letters delivered; put the liveries to making,
and desire Gratiano to come anon to my lodging.
[Exit a Servant]
LAUNCELOTTo him, father.
GOBBOGod bless your worship!
BASSANIOGramercy! wouldst thou aught with me?
GOBBOHere's my son, sir, a poor boy,--
LAUNCELOTNot a poor boy, sir, but the rich Jew's man; that130
would, sir, as my father shall specify--
GOBBOHe hath a great infection, sir, as one would say, to serve--
LAUNCELOTIndeed, the short and the long is, I serve the Jew,
and have a desire, as my father shall specify--
GOBBOHis master and he, saving your worship's reverence,
are scarce cater-cousins--
LAUNCELOTTo be brief, the very truth is that the Jew, having140
done me wrong, doth cause me, as my father, being, I
hope, an old man, shall frutify unto you--
GOBBOI have here a dish of doves that I would bestow upon
your worship, and my suit is--
LAUNCELOTIn very brief, the suit is impertinent to myself, as
your worship shall know by this honest old man; and,
though I say it, though old man, yet poor man, my father.
BASSANIOOne speak for both. What would you?150
LAUNCELOTServe you, sir.
GOBBOThat is the very defect of the matter, sir.
BASSANIOI know thee well; thou hast obtain'd thy suit:
Shylock thy master spoke with me this day,
And hath preferr'd thee, if it be preferment
To leave a rich Jew's service, to become
The follower of so poor a gentleman.
LAUNCELOTThe old proverb is very well parted between my
master Shylock and you, sir: you have the grace of
God, sir, and he hath enough.160
BASSANIOThou speak'st it well. Go, father, with thy son.
Take leave of thy old master and inquire
My lodging out. Give him a livery
More guarded than his fellows': see it done.
LAUNCELOTFather, in. I cannot get a service, no; I have
ne'er a tongue in my head. Well, if any man in
Italy have a fairer table which doth offer to swear
upon a book, I shall have good fortune. Go to,
here's a simple line of life: here's a small trifle
of wives: alas, fifteen wives is nothing! eleven170
widows and nine maids is a simple coming-in for one
man: and then to 'scape drowning thrice, and to be
in peril of my life with the edge of a feather-bed;
here are simple scapes. Well, if Fortune be a
woman, she's a good wench for this gear. Father,
come; I'll take my leave of the Jew in the twinkling of an eye.
[Exeunt Launcelot and Old Gobbo]
BASSANIOI pray thee, good Leonardo, think on this:
These things being bought and orderly bestow'd,
Return in haste, for I do feast to-night180
My best-esteem'd acquaintance: hie thee, go.
LEONARDOMy best endeavours shall be done herein.
GRATIANOWhere is your master?
LEONARDOYonder, sir, he walks.
GRATIANOSignior Bassanio!
GRATIANOI have a suit to you.
BASSANIOYou have obtain'd it.
GRATIANOYou must not deny me: I must go with you to Belmont.
BASSANIOWhy then you must. But hear thee, Gratiano;
Thou art too wild, too rude and bold of voice;190
Parts that become thee happily enough
And in such eyes as ours appear not faults;
But where thou art not known, why, there they show
Something too liberal. Pray thee, take pain
To allay with some cold drops of modesty
Thy skipping spirit, lest through thy wild behavior
I be misconstrued in the place I go to,
And lose my hopes.
GRATIANOSignior Bassanio, hear me:
If I do not put on a sober habit,
Talk with respect and swear but now and then,
Wear prayer-books in my pocket, look demurely,
Nay more, while grace is saying, hood mine eyes
Thus with my hat, and sigh and say 'amen,'
Use all the observance of civility,
Like one well studied in a sad ostent
To please his grandam, never trust me more.
BASSANIOWell, we shall see your bearing.
GRATIANONay, but I bar to-night: you shall not gauge me
By what we do to-night.
BASSANIONo, that were pity:
I would entreat you rather to put on210
Your boldest suit of mirth, for we have friends
That purpose merriment. But fare you well:
I have some business.
GRATIANOAnd I must to Lorenzo and the rest:
But we will visit you at supper-time.

Next: The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 3


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 2
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.

The old stage direction reads: "Enter the Clowne alone." This term, like the term fool, was carelessly employed in Shakespeare's time. Launcelot is neither a fool nor a clown within the strict meaning of either word. The student is advised not to try too narrowly to make sober sense out of Shakespeare's inimitable nonsense. Logic is not Launcelot's forte; and as to some of his phrases, we may well echo Dr. Furness's warning in the words of Bottom: "Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this." In this scene Launcelot changes his service from Shylock to Bassanio, and Gratiano is granted his suit to accompany Bassanio to Belmont.

9. scorn running with thy heels. To scorn a thing with the heels, to kick at it, was a proverbial saying. Compare Much Ado About Nothing, iii. 4. 51: "I scorn that with my heels."

11. Via! Italian for away; and very commonly employed.

12. for the heavens, for heaven's sake.

17. did something smack [of the knave] ... grow to, has been explained as "a household phrase applied to milk when burnt to the bottom of the saucepan, and thence acquiring an unpleasant taste."

25. God bless [or save] the mark, is used as a parenthetical excuse for the use of a profane or disrespectful word. Launcelot is here waggishly apologizing for using the word devil. Compare the clause, "Saving your reverence," below, line 27, used in precisely the same manner.

29. incarnal, Launcelot means incarnate. The "nice derangement of epitaphs," as Mrs. Malaprop afterwards called this use of a word of similar sound but of different sense for ludicrous effect, is very common in the old drama.

37. sand-blind, purblind, half-blind. Compare stone-blind, wholly blind; high-gravel-blind is of course Launcelot's jest.

39. confusions, Launcelot's word for conclusions; but Launcelot's conclusions are confusions, as the rest of this interview discloses.

44. marry, originally Mary, a remnant like by'r Lady (by our Lady), God's sonties below, and dear me (Deus meus) of a ruder age in which everyday conversation was interlarded with oaths. These terms had by Shakespeare's day ceased to have more force than mere exclamatory phrases or expletives.

47. sonties. Variously derived from sanctities or from saints, saunties, little saints. Compare by'r Lakin, "by our Ladikin."

55. well to live, with every prospect of living long.

58. Your worship's friend and Launcelot, sir. Launcelot whimsically endeavors to get his father to speak of him as Master Launcelot, which his father is unwilling to do out of respect for his "worship," whom he thinks he is addressing.

59. But I pray you, ergo, old man. Launcelot is not without some sense of the meaning of the learned word which he uses. I pray you, ergo [for that reason, because he is my worship's friend, call him] Master Launcelot. But enough: Launcelot is trying his "confusions" on us as well as on his father.

61. an't, if it.

64. father, a general term used in addressing old men. Gobbo does not as yet recognize his mischievous son.

71. hovel-post, post supporting a shed.

82. give me your blessing. Here, according to an old stage tradition, Launcelot kneels with his back to his father, who, groping about, touches his son's long hair, and mistaking it for a beard, of which Launcelot has no sign, says, "Pray you, sir, stand up: I am sure you are not Launcelot, my boy." See below lines 86-91.

100. fill-horse, shaft-horse.

110. set up my rest, a phrase taken from the fashionable game of primero, signifying, to stand by the cards one has in one's hand; and hence to determine, make up one's mind.

114. tell, count.

115. give me [i.e. for my benefit] your present. The old dative of the personal pronoun is often used where we should use for me or to me; sometimes where the word would seem unnecessary to the modern reader. Compare the phrase, "Do me a favor."

115. your present. Old Gobbo is the bearer of a gift from the country to Shylock, Launcelot's master. This gift Launcelot diverts to Bassanio, with whom he desires to take service.

119. I am a Jew. An asseveration used elsewhere. Compare Much Ado About Nothing, ii. 3. 272: "If I do not love her, I am a Jew."

121. The old editions read, "Enter Bassanio with a follower or two."

121. hasted, hastened.

123. put the liveries to making, have the liveries made. The old termination en was often confused with ing in Elizabethan English.

125. anon, at once.

128. Gramercy! French grand merci, much thanks.

133. infection, for affection, desire.

139. cater-cousins, a word of doubtful derivation and original meaning, applied to persons on intimate terms with each other, and used occasionally as if synonymous with cousins-germain. It has been thought that the word is connected with cate or cake, and caterer; and means mess-fellows.

142. fruitify, for certify.

146. impertinent, for pertinent.

152. defect, for effect.

155. preferr'd, recommended for promotion.

158. The old proverb. Launcelot alludes to the saying, "The grace of God is gear [wealth] enough."

162. inquire...out, seek by asking.

164. guarded, trimmed with braid.

166. Well, if any man, etc. Table is the palm of the hand in chiromancy or palmistry. Take the relative which as referring to table and in the causal relation equivalent to for it doth. The meaning of the passage then is: There is no hand in Italy offering fairer signs of palmistry than mine, for it doth offer to swear upon a book that I shall have good fortune.

169. Go to, equivalent to our Come, come. To is here an adverb. Compare its use to "to and fro," and the nautical expressions, "heave to, come to."

169. a simple line of life, literally a mean, poor line of life. But Launcelot is speaking ironically in reference to his good fortune. The line of life is the circular line surrounding the thumb. The table line or line of fortune runs from the forefinger, below the other three fingers, to the side of the hand. Launcelot pretends to be reading his own fortune by palmistry, and discovers that he is to be married fifteen times, and other like matters.

176. gear, matter.

178. Notice how the play falls again into blank verse with the departure of the low comedy of Launcelot from the scene.

194. liberal, licentious.

196. skipping spirit. We should say vivacious or frivolous temper. Compare 1 Henry IV, iii. 2. 60: "The skipping king, he ambled up and down." Spirit is pronounced as one syllable. See below, v. 1. 86.

202, 203. hood mine eyes Thus with my hat. Hats were commonly worn by all persons of station at dinner. To take off the hat, except for courtesy in company, was an acknowledgment of inferiority.

205. ostent, appearance. Compare below, ii. 8. 44: "Fair ostents of love."

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co., 1903. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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