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Examination Questions on The Merchant of Venice

Question: Jessica's character and conduct, particularly with reference to Shylock's influence and training; in contrast with Portia's home-influence?

Answer: Jessica had in her all the rudiments of a very lovely womanhood; but a deal of cultivation was needed to develop them to anything like perfection. It is highly improbable that Shylock had ever consciously given her any training whatever, save such as might be conveyed to her through numerous injunctions to "fast bind" in order that she might "fast find." Though his evil influence had failed to injure to a really dangerous extent her innate truth and purity, yet it had had such an effect upon her character as to make it perfectly easy and natural to her to deceive and desert her unloving father, who made her home a hell, and to cling in preference to her Christian lover. True to the precepts which had been dinged in her ears through her whole life, she did not make her escape without a fair supply of the needful gold. But though this general principle has been imparted to her by Shylock, she has failed to learn the lesson of the value of money; and she spends his hard-earned ducats with a freedom and recklessness that is positive torture to her grasping father.

To me, one of the most pitiful evidences of Jessica's lack of proper home training is the way in which she speaks of her father after her arrival at Belmont. That she should have lost all respect and love for him, and that she should have voluntarily deserted him without apparently feeling the slightest compunction, is perhaps no more than natural; but when she listens to, and even joins in, the accusations of wickedness and cruelty made against him, we cannot but deplore the blemish which ignorance of the good and the beautiful has left upon her character. Had she had the refining influences thrown around her which Portia enjoyed in her home life, though she might never have been the force which the latter was, she might have been, as she doubtless afterwards became, as true, beautiful, and loyal as her instincts would direct.

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How to cite this article:
Miller, Bessie Porter. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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