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In society the actions of certain members of a family can shape a child into how they are viewed as an adult. We judge an individual for being the way they are and put the blame on how they were brought up by their parents or we can begin to understand by closely researching the family relationships and why they have either succeeded or failed. The “The Merchant of Venice,” is more than a play, it is a study of the struggles between Christians and Jews. It is mixed with love and unselfishness, hate and vengeance, companionship and matrimony, alienated loyalties, and financial and emotional bonds. One pattern in this play that is overlooked is Shakespeare’s analysis of families and the relationships between father and child. Shakespeare gives three specific examples of parent-child relationships and the examples of these relationships include, Portia and her father, Jessica and Shylock, and Lancelot Gobbo and his father.
Portia’s relationship with her father may not have been perfect but I take it as the most obedient of the three. Portia’s father is overprotective, controlling, and he goes as far as to reach out from the grave to protect his daughter. She resents her father’s way of making sure she has a lifetime of happiness: “So is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none” (Act 1 Scene 2 23-26)? This shows how frustrated Portia is about the control her father has over her life when she says to her gentlewoman. But his actions show a lack of faith in Portia; she feels he doesn’t trust her to make a wise choice on her own. He constructs his will in a way to protect her from fortune hunters and to ensure that she’s married to a man who would value everything she is and not only for her money and beauty. Still filled with frustration she vents by insulting her suitors when they are out of the room but she honors her father’s wishes even when the significance of her suitors tempts her to use sabotage when encounters the German duke of Saxony’s nephew. Portia asks Nerissa: “For fear of the worst, I pray thee set a deep glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket, for if the devil be within and that temptation without, I know he will choose it” (Act 1 Scene2 94-97). Portia isn’t tested because the suitor leaves without even making a guess at which casket it is. Portia expresses her eagerness to just rid herself of the test: “I will do anything, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a sponge” (Act 1 Scene 2 97-98) from this she would just marry any guy that even winks at her. But her gentlewoman is there to put her back on track and remind her of task at hand: “If he should offer to choose, and choose the right casket, you should refuse to perform your father’s will if you should refuse to accept him” (Act 1 Scene 2 91-93). When Bassanio steps up to try his hand Portia is again tempted to throw a few hints his way about the right casket. But even then she turns down the thought of dishonoring herself and disobeying her father even though it means risking the loss of the only suitor she can stand. Her obedience is shown when she realizes the faith in her father’s words and she tells Bassanio, “If you do love me, you will find me out” (Act 3 Scene 2 41). Now regardless of her displeasure with her father’s wishes, Portia accepts her role as obedient daughter and respectfully follows the will of her father who wished for her to select her husband through this game of riddles that he created before his death. She is also obedient; which at this time is a value of high importance especially from a daughter. Through all of this she is still able to find a sense of individual strength within the context of her duties as daughter. Shakespeare conveys the message that strong women are ones who find their strength inside the environment of the hierarchy which placed fathers and then husbands as superiors to daughters and wives.
Shakespeare shows that Shylock is victimized for his religion and in turn takes it out on Jessica. He feels as if his possessions are all he’s worthy of and he’s been repeatedly ill-treated by his fellow residents and also used for his money. From these indiscretions he treats Jessica as another one of his possessions and in this we encounter the next parent-child relationship between Shylock and Jessica. This is a difficult relationship because feelings of anger and betrayal spew from his overprotection. Jessica isn’t as loyal as in the other relationships in this theme; she meets in secret with Lorenzo and allows him to court her, lies to her father, abandons him, and even goes as far as stealing from him. She isn’t the respectful daughter that Shylock thinks she is. But she does start to get some feelings of guilt: “Alack, what heinous sin is it in me To be ashamed to be my father’s child! But though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners” (Act 2 Scene 3 16-19). At this point she realizes she is Shylocks daughter but she acts nothing like him. After she runs away, he cries out in doubt “My own flesh and blood to rebel!” (Act 3 Scene1 32). Jessica expresses her feelings: “Our house is hell” (Act 2 Scene 3 2) and Lancelot’s descriptions of Shylock’s actions seem to bring this feeling out. Shylock is penny-pinching and follows his religion strictly by keeping Jessica locked up and trying to seclude her from the world. I feel as if he doesn’t trust her anymore than he would trust his money: “Hear you me, Jessica: Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum And the vile squealing of the wry-necked fife, Clamber not you up to the casements then, Nor thrust your head into the public street To gaze upon Christian fools with varnished faces; . . . Let not the sound of shallow fopp’ry enter My sober house” (Act 2 Scene 5 28-36). He believes she is obedient and doesn’t give it a second thought because he is too busy thinking about money and revenge. Shylock discovers that Jessica has left and it’s clear that he is just as upset that his valuables have disappeared along with her. “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter ! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, Of double ducats, stol’n from me by my daughter! And jewels—two stones, two rich and precious stones, Stol’n by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl! She hath the stones with her, and the ducats!” (Act 2 Scene 8 15-22). And it is evident which of the two he values more: “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!” (Act III Scene 1 83-85). Shylock displays how much he wishes she was dead at his feet and it shows how he could care less about her. These aren’t words of a loving father they seem like they are full of hate and shows that Shylock would not grieve for her death. He just appears more concerned over the loss of his Ducats than her. So from this I get the feeling his controlling manner could be associated to the over protectiveness of a loving single parent. The relationship between father-daughter vanishes as we see Shylock treat Jessica as another possession and with that all the values that a child is supposed to have for a parent also fades away.
The relationship between Launcelot Gobbo and his father isn’t as uncontrolled as Jessica and Shylock and not as considerate as Portia and her father. Launcelot shows little respect for his father when he jokes: “Well, my conscience . . . 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” (Act 2 Scene 2 13-18). But Launcelot has little confidence in his father’s wisdom maybe with a good reason but I believe he should have confidence in what he says because elders have a lot more wisdom then they appear to have and his father doesn’t know his him. He fails to recognize his son when he meets him on the street, fails to distinguish his voice and his own son’s personality. The only thing which he is certain about is his son’s social status. He isn’t “Master Launcelot” but just regular Launcelot, servant and that his father isn’t fooled by. Launcelot is unreasonably nasty, he teases his father when he refers to himself in the third person as “Master Launcelot” and telling his father that “Master Launcelot . . . is indeed deceased, or as you would say in plain terms, gone to heaven” (Act 2 Scene2 60-65). But his father seems fond of his son even when he doesn’t have the sense to recognize him. When he thinks Launcelot is dead, he says: “The boy was the very staff of my age, my very prop” (Act 2 Scene 2 66-67) and when Launcelot requests, his father very considerately helps him in acquiring a new place away from Shylock. This relationship is unlike the other two, in this relationship even though Launcelot isn’t recognized by his father his father is still there for him no matter what.
The three family relationships have significant similarities, they differ widely in success. In a way Portia’s father is just as controlling as Shylock because he insists on choosing his daughter’s husband from the grave. But Portia is one of the most strongest-minded characters in the play and respects his wishes while Jessica on the other hand betrays and abandons her father. Even though Launcelots father is affectionate, he is a satisfactory parent at best like Shylock they don’t understand their children. Shylock the least successful parent and is a combination of the other two fathers worst characteristics without any of their positive ones. He is a dominant but he is oblivious and fails to show his daughter the love she needs. The message that arises from these three different relationships from The Merchant of Venice is that parental control is best combined with loving alarm and that a good parent not only loves and cares for their child but also knows and appreciates him or her. The bond between parent and child should contain more than responsibility, more than love, and even though both are significant it should also contain a healthy amount of knowledge and thoughtfulness.
In conclusion the actions of a single family member can significantly affect how a child can grow in life. A child’s role can then reflect on their personality and finally the way in which they define themselves in society as a whole. So sharing values and ideas is important in a family. Parents shape who a child is and who he or she will become in the future. Parents should take time to think about what they want their child to be like in life and they should never underestimate how influential they are in their child’s life.
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