Skip to content

Merchant of Venice, C2v

Editorial note

Shakespeare introduces an complex scene here, in terms of the relationship between comedy and anti-semitism. The scene is comedic and the topics are treated lightly- Launcelet plays a trick on his father and whines about his work, his beard is compared to a horse’s tail- but at the same time, anti-semitism invades as he shames Shylock for being "very Jew." From the text, it is clear Launcelet blames Shylock’s cruelty as a boss on the fact that he is Jewish. We can see his anti-semitism mixed with his perverse attempt at comedy, when he remarks, "Give him a present. Give him a halter." The second line seems to be a punchline, as if he's expecting his father to laugh at Shylock's supposed death. This is one moment of many where the audience is forced to make a choice. If they laugh, they are complicit in the anti-semitism. If they don't, they're taking a stance that anti-semitism is not funny. This begs the question: is Shakespeare calling antisemitism a joke, or is he calling those with anti-semitic views a joke?

The use of money imagery further complicates this question. Shakespeare has established Shylock as the rich master, and Launcelot as the poor servant, who is "famished in his service," and whose ribs can tell "every finger I have." This reveals Shylock as greedy, a common anti-semitic stereotype, while Launcelot is the helpless victim. This could suggest that Shakespeare is leaning into the stereotypes that Jewish people have worked so hard to dispense, but he could also be emphasizing these stereotypes as extreme which would propose a satirical reading of the play.

Even Launcelet’s name leads to a complicated reading of anti-semitism and comedy. The name Launcelet seems to be a bastardization of Lancelot, a knight in King Arthur’s court who is hailed as a hero. Launcelet, however, is an anti-semitic clown who seems far from moral purity one would find in a hero. We are again confronted with a question of Shakespeare's intentions. Are we meant to associate Lancelot's pure moral alignment with Launcelot, which would justify his bigoted views as rightful? Or are we meant to view Launcelot as a satirization of Lancelot, the complete opposite, thus calling those with anti-semitic views as morally questionable?

To emphasize the relationship between anti-semitism and comedy, we will translate the spelling and spacing of the page as accurately as possible. Our page will highlight terms which relate to actors to animals in yellow, references to money in green, unflattering representations in red, and reversals of expectations in blue. In doing this, we believe that our digital edition poses questions about Shakespeare’s intentions for his anti-semitic characters in relation to comedy.

The comicall Historie of

   Launce. Pray you let’s haue no more fooling, about it, but giue
mee your bleffing: I am Launcelet, your boy that was, your fonne
that is, your child that fhall be.
   Gob. I cannot thinke you are my fonne.
   Launce. I know not what I fhall think of that: but I am Launce-
let the Iewes man, and I am fure Margerie your wife is my mo-
   Gob. Her name is Margerie in deede, ile be fworne if thou bee
Launcelet, thou art mine owne flefh and blood: Lord worfhipt
might he be, what a beard haft thou got; thou haft got more haire
on thy chinne, then Dobbin my philhorfe hafe on his taile.
   Launce. It fhould feeme then that Dobbins taile growes back-
ward. I am fure hee had more haire of his taile then I haue of my
face when I loft faw him.
   Gob. Lord how art thou changd1: how doft thou and thy Ma-
fter agree, I haue brought him a prefent; how gree you now?
   Launce. Well, well, but for mine owne part, as I haue fet vp my
reft to runne away, fo I will not reft till I haue runne fome ground;
my Maifter’s a very Iewe, giue him a prefent, giue him a halter, I
am famifht in his feruice. You may tell euery finger I haue
with my ribs2: Father I am glad you are come, giue me your prefent to
one Maifter Baffanio, who in deede, giues rare newe Lyuories, if I
ferue not him, I will runne as farre as God has any ground. O rare
fortune, heere comes the man, to him Father, for I am a Iewe if I
ferue the Iewe any longer3.

Enter Baffanio with a follower or two.

   Baff. You may doe fo, but let it be fo hafted that fupper be rea-
dy at the fartheft by fiue of the clocke: fee thefe Letters deliuered,
put the Lyueries to making, and defire Gratiano to come anone to
my lodging.
   Launce. To him Father.
   Gob. God bleffe your worfhip.
   Baff. Gramercie, wouldft thou ought with me.
   Gobbe. Heere’s my fonne fir, a poore boy.
   Launce. Not a poore boy fir, but the rich Iewes man that would
fir as my Father fhall fpecifie.


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, C2v. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by [your names]. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).




  1. Refers to how his son has changed into a man with the beard as an indicator of growth/change/masculinity. “In particular, it suggests that facial hair often conferred masculinity during the Renaissance: the beard made the man.” -”The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England” by Will Fisher (
  2. Starvation -> the metaphor of using fingers to feel a person's ribs to show extreme starvation is flipped, instead Shylock is proposing you could feel his fingers by touching his ribs. Catachresis is an impossible figure of speech, usually by mixing up grammar. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, catachresis is defined as  use of the wrong word for the context," but "especially paradoxical figure of speech" - “The Merriam-Webster Dictionary” (
  3. Iewe spelled as such looks like ewe, giving it a bestial interpretation, and Launcelot’s beard is spoken of in terms of a horses tail, which makes it sound as if he is transforming into an animal by working for a Jewish person. This is "bestialization", which "renders Jews killable and has been used as justification for genocide, slavery, and exploitation in many contexts.” - Animal Answers to the Jewish Question by Joela Jacobs (