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Explain Portia's famous speech in The Merchant of Venice. "The quality of mercy is not...

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virgilio | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 24, 2009 at 9:24 AM via web

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Explain Portia's famous speech in The Merchant of Venice.

"The quality of mercy is not strained...that in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation..."

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lit24 | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted February 24, 2009 at 10:29 AM (Answer #1)

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In Act IV sc.1 Portia disguised as lawyer "Balthasar" arrives at the duke's court to save Antonio from the evil clutches of the malicious Shylock. Earlier the Duke and the others present in the court had failed to convince Shylock to be kind and merciful towards Antonio and spare his life, but Shylock remains adamant and unreasonable and replies:

"So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio, that I follow thus
A losing suit against him."

Portia, to begin with, requests Shylock to be merciful but he arrogantly turns down her plea. It is then that Portia makes a long and eloquent plea for mercy on Antonio's behalf.

She says mercy is a noble and tender feeling which should spring spontaneously from the heart of a person. It is like the gentle showers from heaven which nourish the earth. It blesses the person who shows mercy by making him feel good and earning for himself a heavenly reward in addition to the blessing of the recipient of his mercy. It is a powerful attribute "enthroned" in the heart of a mighty emperor. It is a noble and divine attribute and when a person tempers harsh justice with  mercy he becomes like God himself. She then directly appeals to Shylock to spare Antonio's life saying that just like how we all pray for mercy and are saved by God being  merciful towards us we should also be merciful to others.

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