The quality of mercy (Shakespeare quote)

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"The quality of mercy" is a quote by Portia in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice; it occurs during Act 4, Scene 1, set in a Venetian Court of Justice. It is the speech in which Portia begs Shylock for mercy.

Speech[edit]

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant
there.

Critical commentary[edit]

The speech is regarded as one of the great speeches in Shakespeare and is made by Portia, disguised as young lawyer Balthazar, who speaks with heightened eloquence to beg Shylock for mercy after traveling from the fictional town of Belmont to Venice.[2]

Mercy and forgiveness are enduring themes that pervade Shakespeare's works.[3] The quote is an example of the esteem Shakespeare held for those who showed mercy as expressed in his poetry. Shakespeare presented mercy as a quality most valuable to the most powerful, strongest and highest people in society.[4]

Professor Harold Fisch, formerly of Bar-Ilan University, argued that the words of Deuteronomy 32:2, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb,” were echoed in the first words of the speech, “The quality of mercy is not strained. / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.”[5]

Notes[edit]

All references to The Merchant of Venice, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Folger Shakespeare Library's Folger Digital Editions texts edited by Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. Under their referencing system, 3.1.55 means act 3, scene 1, line 55. Prologues, epilogues, scene directions, and other parts of the play that are not a part of character speech in a scene, are referenced using Folger Through Line Number: a separate line numbering scheme that includes every line of text in the play.

  1. ^ The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.190–212.
  2. ^ Shakespeare, William (2010). Bate, Jonathan and Eric Rasmussen, ed. "The Merchant of Venice". Modern Library. pp. 150–151. ISBN 978-1-58836-874-4. 
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron (2006). "The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups". Random House. ISBN 0375503390. 
  4. ^ Meron, Theodor (1998). Bloody Constraint: War and Chivalry in Shakespeare. Oxford University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0195123832. 
  5. ^ Harold Fisch. “The Song of Moses: Pastoral in Reverse.” In Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation, page 55. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-253-34557-X.

Further reading[edit]