I mentioned that Lancelot
is a key figure from a thematic perspective. Here are some of the ways he is
his debate with the devil, he parodies the stage psychomachia (soul
- When he tries “confusions” with his father, he parodies Jacob’s deception of
Isaac to obtain Esau’s blessing.
- Trying confusions calls to mind the gold and sliver caskets whose “outward
show” is deceptive.
- The dish of doves, which Old Gobbo gives Lancelot as a gift for Bassanio,
represents Christian mercy and peace; it also highlights the other risks in
the play. Lancelot will venture his service in much the same way that the
suitors risk perpetual bachelorhood to marry Portia.
- Lancelot’s shift of allegiance from Shylock to Bassanio reflects the shift
from the Judaic to the Christian dispensation. Think about other
conversions—Jessica’s, Shylock’s. Lancelot parodies Jessica’s conversion at
3.5.21ff by putting it in terms of the rising price of hogs.
- Lancelot creates an unwanted life—gets a black servant pregnant. Think
about what would have happened if Morocco had chosen the right casket.
- Lancelot’s use of language: Compare fools who “for a tricksy word / Defy the
matter” at 3.5.66-67 to Gratiano’s use of language—“an infinite deal of
nothing” at 1.1.114. Lancelot’s manipulation of language foreshadows
Portia’s use of words to turn Shylock’s bond against him.
- Lancelot participates in Gratiano’s anti-Semitism.