BE A CLOWN!
|Launcelot: "I am Launcelot, your boy that was, your son that is, your child that shall be."|
|Old Gobbo: "I cannot think you are my son."|
|"I 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."|
|"Lord, how thou art changed! How dost thou and thy master agree? I have brought him a present. How 'gree you now?"|
|"Well, well; but for mine own part, as I have set up my rest to run way, so I will not rest till I 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" (II.ii.81-103).|
auncelot Gobbo and his father, Old Gobbo, are the very obvious comic relief of Merchant. Though Old Gobbo only appears in Act II, scene ii (excerpt above), that scene (with Launcelot, whom he does not recognize at first) is a masterful comic team piece, with Old Gobbo as the straight man.
Launcelot appears several other times in the play, mostly interacting with Shylock, Lorenzo and Jessica. He serves an important purpose as the messenger between the lovers, and he is one of the audience's primary sources as to Shylock's character:
"To be ruled by my conscience, I should stay with the Jew my master, who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil...Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation; and, in my conscience, my conscience is but a kind of hard conscience, to offer to counsel me to stay with the Jew.
Although Launcelot is the clown of the play, he is not a caricature as some Shakespearean clowns are. Sure, he is funny, but he doesn't always mean to be. In the above speech, he speaks of his attempt to escape from his master, Shylock, who treats him terribly. Though Launcelot's way of considering his options may be humorous, his situation really isn't. He seems to be a real person who is in a bad position and is trying to get out of it. He is not just a simple jester or fool.
Of course, one could also argue that Launcelot, being a clown, is exaggerating the graveness of his situation at Shylock's in order to create humor. He may not be the best source of information in this case. But that just opens a big ol' can of worms. Let's just trust him for now (I realize I'm avoiding an issue, but hey, if you want real scholarly discussion, you should have realized by now that you are on the wrong website).
OK, that was short, I know, but these aren't huge parts here, people!
So hop on or try out the Gobbo Links (they're fun!).
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Portia / Shylock / Bassanio / Antonio / Gratiano & Nerissa / Lorenzo & Jessica / Salerio & Solanio / The Princes / The Duke / The Servants