This contemporary edition of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice focuses on the patriarchy and paternal relationships. We decided to color code, italicize, and bold in our reading of this page. We color-coded male-dominated words in blue because it is usually the color associated with masculinity. We wanted to highlight the words that related to the male gender because it exemplifies the historical context of the patriarchy, as well as Shakespeare’s own identifications and ideas on the subject matter. We color-coded words relating to age in green because it normally represents growth, and given that this page deals with a father and son, there is so much to be said on that cycle of growth, regeneration, and learning from the past. We chose purple to highlight matriarchal words because purple is typically associated with women. It is interesting to note that there are only two instances of words that relate to females. We think that this furthermore emphasizes the misogyny on this page. We bolded all letters that were arbitrarily capitalized, as in other than proper nouns. This bolding highlights that only male-centered words (“Sonne,” “Gentleman,” “Father”) are capitalized whereas “sisters” are not, which speaks to the lack of female power. Given that God is capitalized as well, it could convey the idea that a personified God is thought to be a man. We decided to italicize all questions on this page because we thought it was interesting that all these questions do not end in proper punctuation. This relates to the definitive language used at the end of the page (“I am sure”) as well as Lancelot’s prank on his father.
We did decide to change the spelling of some of the words from the original text for accessibility reasons. Since we decided to look at the reading from a modern point of view, that is pointing out the emphasization of male-oriented words, we thought it was appropriate to also translate it to contemporary spelling. We also decided to keep the speaker names how they were originally presented in the text because we believe that this plays into some of the ideas we express in the notes.
me whether one Launcelet that dwels with him,
dwell with him or no.
Launcelet. Talke you of young Master Launcelet, marke
me now, now will I raise the waters;1 talke you of young
Gobbo. No Maister sir, but a poore mans sonne, his Fa-
ther though I say't is an honest exceeding poore man,
and God be thanked well to liue.
Launce. Well, let his Father be what a will, wee talke of
young Maister Launcelet.
Gob. 3 Your worships friend and Launcelet.
Launce. But I praie you ergo old man, ergo I beseech you,
talke you of young Maister4 Launcelet.
Gob. Of Launcelet, ant please your maistership.
Launce. Ergo Maister Lancelet, talke not of maister Lance-
let Father, for the young gentleman according to fates and
destinies, and such odde sayings, the sisters three, & such
branches of learning, is indeede deceased, or as you
would say in plaine tearmes, gone to heauen.
Gobbo. Marry5 God forbid, the boy was the verie staffe
of my age, my verie prop.
Launcelet. Do I look like a cudgell6 or a houell-post, a staffe
or a prop: doe you know me Father.
Gobbo. Alacke the day, I know you not young Gentle-
man, but I praie you tell me, is my boy God7 rest his soule
aliue or dead.
Launcelet. Doe you not know me Father.
Gobbo. Alacke sir I am sand blinde,8 I know you not.
Launcelet. Nay, indeede if you had your eies you might
faile of the knowing me: it is a wise Father that knowes
his own9 childe. Well, old man, I will tell you newes of
your son, giue me your blessing, truth10 will come to light,11
murder cannot be hid long, a mans sonne may, but in the end truth will out.12
Gobbo. Praie you sir stand up, I am sure you are not Launcelet
Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.
Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, C2r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by [your names]. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/c2r.
- In the Book of Genesis, Jacob deceives his blind father, Isaac, highlighting the interpreted prosperity of being dishonest. In modern editions of this play, there is an aside present before Lancelot says “Mark me now.” His aside in “raising the waters,” enlightens audiences in his attempt to deceive his blind father in this scene by pretending to be someone else. Raising the waters, also interestingly reminds us of the geographical setting, Venice, which is surrounded by water. Raising water, in that sense, would drown the city, aligning with the misfortune of being deceived. Lancelot, in the Arthurian legend, deceives Arthur, if you will, by having an affair with his wife. King Arthur, as the heroic saviour of England and the King who knighted Lancelot, can be viewed as a potential father figure for Lancelot, corroborating his deception both in the Arthurian legend and explaining Shakespeare’s choices in this character’s name given his similar acts of trickery.
- Italicization of “Lancelot” accentuates the trick being played on Gobbo, since he doesn’t know who he is really speaking to (Lancelot).
- Gobbo’s shortened name, Gob, pays reference to Job, a key Hebrew Bible figure who is depicted as a family-oriented man who is challenged by Satan (and God) with incessant disasters that take everything from him. In the original text, Shakespeare has only abbreviated Gobbo for two consecutive lines. “Your worships friend and Launcelot” points out his simplicity, referring to himself as a “poor man.” Shakespare is likely trying to strengthen the comparison between Gobbo and Job from the Hebrew Book of Job in these lines to subtly depict Gobbo as a man with nothing left.
- The word Maister refers to the feudal system. The Feudal system was a social system where landowners provided housing for people that were of a lower social class. These people lived on their land in exchange for service. Master was a term used to address the landowning men. It is important to note that Master was a term used to describe men, as denoted through the capitalization. This shows the importance placed on men during the time that this was edited. Further, in thinking about the Book of Job (see note 3), Job has lost everything, including what he may have held as his title. For that reason, his son in this play, Lancelot, would also not be deemed a master: ”No Maister sir, but a poore mans sonne.”
- The use of the word marry is interesting here. In earlier versions of the text (http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/merchant_2_2.html ), marry was spelt “mary,” like the Virgin Mary. Shakespeare is subtly incorporating more religion into the play. We think it is important to note that Shakespeare makes a reference to the Virgin Mary during a conversation between father and son.
- Cudgell, noun. A short, thick stick used as a weapon.OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2020, www.oed.com/view/Entry/184702. Accessed 1 December 2020. All subsequent definitions come from the OED, unless otherwise noted.
- Originally fully capitalized as “GOD,” calling on the religious importance and relevance of this scene and corroborating the theory of capitalizing solely male-identifying words.
- Another reference to Isaac in the Book of Genesis (see Note 1).
- Written in the archaic text, this line reads like, “it is a wife Father that knowes his owne childe.” Though “wise” is the intended word, it is important to note the patriarchal interpretation of this line given the diction (e.g. “owne”) as “women were the property of their fathers” (https://www.jstor.org/stable/743394?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents).
- His line is paraphrased from the Bible when John in 3:21 writes: “But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light.” Here, Shakespeare is highlighting that what is kept will eventually come out. It is ironic that he says this here as Launcelot is keeping his identity secret from his father.
- The use of the word light here juxtaposes Gobbo’s blindness. It is also ironic that Launcelot is using the word light when speaking to his father, who obviously has a disability.
- Lancelot, by the end of the play becomes a father himself, as he has impregnated a Moor in Portia’s court. The persistent reminder of age on this page insinuates a cyclical relationship between father and son, where Lancelot, with time, will learn to inhabit the role of father and quit his antics.