Plot Summary / The Story-line
Shylock’s servant Lancelot Gobbo is in trouble to make up his mind whether or not he should run away from his master. His conscience instructs him to remain with his master (Shylock). Launcelot has no specific complaint though. The problem is that his master is a Jew and very cruel towards him. According to Lancelot Shylock is “a kind of devil”.
When Launcelot decides to run away, his father Old Gobbo enters. He is half blind. He asks Launcelot about Shylock’s address where his son (Launcelot) works. Actually, he does not recognize Launcelot. In this situation, Launcelot wants to play a trick on his father. He tells him a confusing address and informs that Launcelot is dead. When Old Gobo expresses his grief, Launcelot reveals himself.
At first Old Gobbo does not believe that the man before him is his own son. Soon Lancelot convinces his father and presents proof of his real identity. He also confesses to his father that he is leaving Shylock’s job and wants to work for Bassanio.
At this moment Bassano enters with Lorenzo and other followers. Launcelot and his father request Bassanio to engage Launcelot as his servant. With their incomplete and funny utterances, Launcelot and his father makes the situation so messy that Bassanio takes quite some time to understand the situation and then accepts the proposal. Old Gobbo gives Bassanio the gift which he brought for Shylock.
Bassanio orders his men to give Launcelot a new uniform. He meets Gratiano who wants to accompany him to Belmont. Bassanio also requests Gratiano to control his wild behaviour. Gratiano promises to comply. The two men are planning for a night of gaiety to celebrate their departure to Belmont.
Commentary on Act II, Scene 2
This scene serves the comic element for the audience. Here, Shakespeare represents Lancelot as a clown to provide the comic reliefs. Launcelot’s conversation with his father and his double-talk (with his conscience) serve the comic purpose at first. After Bassanio’s arrival, Launcelot hides himself behind his father and speaks with Bassanio from behind providing more humour.
A poor man’s simplicity and love for his son is presented through Old Gobbo. On the other hand, cruel behavior of a child towards his parent is reflected in Launcelot’s behaviour. He plays prank on his father. He informs his father about his own death in a cruel manner. The audience, however, enjoys all this.
Launcelot’s decision to discard Shylock is less for his cruel treatment and more for his Jewishness. His conscience instructs him to stay with Shylock and generally it is the right way to select the best option. But Launcelot does not do this because of his prejudice towards Jews. He thinks he will become a Jew if he continues working with the Jew for long. Here Launcelot points out an important question about the identity — is Jewishness inborn? Or can one be a Jew in contact with a Jew?
On the other hand, the apparent ill-treatment Launcelot as a servant receives in the hands of Shylock is shown in contrast to that of Bassano. Bassanio is depicted to have a bigger heart to be so kind to his servants giving new uniforms while Shylock has apparently been cruel to his servants.
About Bassanio, we see he is conscious about his prestige. So, he requests Gratiano to control his wild behavior at Belmont lest it creates a bad impression in Portia’s mind for him (Bassanio).