In act IV, scene 1, what does Portia mean by telling Shylock the quality of mercy is not strained?  in act 4 scene 1 what is portia means by telling shylock of the quality of mercy is not...

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What Portia is saying here is that mercy knows no limits.

By the time Portia delivers this speech, Shylock has refused payment of the money and turned down an offer of double the amount.  For Shylock, it has gone beyond the money.  For him, it has become a chance for him to strike a blow for all those personally suffered at the hands of Antonio plus symbolically he was avenging all the injustices his people had suffered.  He had made a pact with god.

For Portia it would appear simple.  In her world, it is the Christian thing to do to be merciful.  This is easy for her to say since she has never experienced the prejudice and abusive treatment that Shylock has experienced.

She appeals to his humanity knowing she has an ace up her sleeve.  Since he has not been treated humanely by the Venetian society, this idea is totally alien to him.

She is telling this man that mercy knows no limits, yet he has never in his life experienced mercy.

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