Please explain to me the poem the quality of mercy in The Merchant of Venice.

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the play The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, the author examines the themes of justice, mercy and forgiveness. Shylock is looking for an excuse to be vindictive, to exact revenge, to punish, to hurt and to be spiteful and vengeful. In some ways, Portia is wasting her breath trying to show him what mercy should be like - he is glad of the opportunity to get his own back and therfore mercy has use for him. Portia also tries to explain that mercy is gentle and no respecter of class or staus - it should "fall" on,or be available to, all. It is enobling for the giver to be capable of offering mercy - but Shylock does not want to be noble,he just wants to be avenged.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The speech that has these words in it is spoken by Portia in Act IV, Scene 1 of this play.  In it, she is lecturing Shylock about mercy.

What she is telling Shylock is that mercy is not something that can be forced (strained).  Instead, it has to be given freely.  She says that when you act mercifully, you help yourself and you help the person that you are showing mercy to.  She tells Shylock that what he should strive for is not justice, but rather mercy.

By saying these things, she is asking him not to try to get his "pound of flesh" from Antonio.

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