The Tragedy of Jessica: An Examination of Jessica and Lorenzo’s Interlude in "The Merchant of Venice"

Alexus Litchfield, Georgia Southern University

Abstract

I would like to present the paper I wrote for Dr. Villeponteaux’s Shakespeare class this past semester. The paper focuses on Jessica from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and analyses her conversation with Lorenzo, her husband, at the beginning of Act V Scene 1. I break down the allusions used throughout their conversation and argue that while their conversation may seem like playful banter between lovers, it is actually full of tension and shows just how isolated Jessica is. Throughout their conversation they allude to famous betrayed or doomed lovers, such as Troilus and Cressida, Thisby and Pyramus, Dido and Aeneas, and Medea and Jason. Lorenzo is exceedingly aggressive with his allusions and often alludes to lovers where the female is either the betrayer or emotionally dependent, and he is the one who ultimately shifts the allusions from classical to personal and alludes to Jessica’s father, Shylock. Their conversation comes off more as Lorenzo attempting to flaunt his power and control over Jessica. The scene also directly reflects the tension that is present throughout the rest of the scene. After Jessica and Lorenzo’s conversation, the rest of the characters return to Belmont and the two other pairs of lovers, Portia and Bassanio and Nerissa and Gratiano, argue over Bassanio and Gratiano giving away the rings that Portia and Nerissa had given them. The women in the scene prove that they have power, and that they are not merely objects for the men to do whatever they want with. While Portia and Nerissa have resolution though, Jessica and Lorenzo’s conversation is interrupted and is ultimately left unfinished.