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The vast majority of Shakespeare's plays are concerned with order and its restoration, and this is frequently expressed in parallels between the commonwealth (or nation), on the one hand, and either the natural world or the king's court. If civil war was Shakespeare's worst nightmare, then it is a benign and just ruler holding mild sway over a peaceable kingdom who embodied the playwright's most valued quality. In all probability, it is Portia's, at the end of her "quality of mercy" speech in The Merchant of Venice who most closely captures what Shakespeare prized most by saying that "earthly power doth then show likest God's/When mercy seasons justice" (IV, i., ll.184-197). While he was not overtly religious, Shakespeare embraced the two-edged Christian value of justice and mercy, particularly among the powerful, as his core moral guide. In Shakespeare's plays, romantic love is fickle and easily confused, an individual's sense of personal honor can turn against him, and power itself can be good or evil, but mercy is always in season.
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