The Quality of Mercy

William Shakespeare was born and died on the same date, April 23 (1564–1616). I must confess to that I’ve never read much of his works. I did, however, see a movie some years ago, The Merchant of Venice (2004, starring Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons, and Lynn Collins). I highly recommend it. See the Parent Warning HERE.

Here is a Wiki summary of the actual work (not the movie, though it tracks closely):

The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio defaults on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599.

Although classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies, the play is most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and it is best known for Shylock and his famous demand for a “pound of flesh” in retribution, as well as its “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech on humanity. As a result a debate exists on whether the play is anti-Semitic or not. Also notable is Portia’s speech about “the quality of mercy”.

You can read the play or about it of course. I want to focus on Portia’s speech. Here it is:

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.

Portia, in William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1.

What a beautiful speech. A couple of things stand out to me:

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.

It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

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

Wow! Isn’t it true? Of course God demands justice for the unrepentant. And he provides mercy for his people.

Has he shown us justice or mercy? As Portia gets correctly, if we demand justice from God, we would get what we deserve — — damnation. But he shows us mercy, which we don’t deserve. Amazing!

How do we treat others when they do us wrong? Antonio had wronged Shylock. Shylock was within his rights to exact the penalty, his “pound of flesh.”**

We may be in our “rights” to exact a penalty on those who wrong us. Should we? None of us can make that judgment for others. But just remember…

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

As the court grants Shylock his bond and Antonio prepares for Shylock’s knife, Portia deftly appropriates Shylock’s argument for “specific performance”. She says that the contract allows Shylock to remove only the flesh, not the blood, of Antonio. Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio’s blood, his “lands and goods” would be forfeited under Venetian laws. She tells him that he must cut precisely one pound of flesh, no more, no less; she advises him that “if the scale do turn, But in the estimation of a hair, Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate.” Wiki

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Les Talk

I am a follower of Christ, changed from my old self, but not perfect by a long shot. Husband, father, grandfather. I’m thankful to be on God’s journey.