How does Portia in The Merchant of Venice display mercy in three different ways (with examples)?

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tinandan eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  1. In Act III, Scene 2, Bassanio has come to see if he can win Portia's hand. To do so, he must choose one of three caskets. If the one he opens turns out to have Portia's picture inside, he and Portia can wed. If not, the suitor has to leave immediately, tell no one which casket he chose, and never marry. Portia really likes Bassanio. When he first arrives, Portia asks him to wait "a day or two," or even "some month or two," before he chooses. She wants to enjoy his company; if he chooses wrong, she will lose him. Bassanio responds, "Let me choose,/For as I am, I live upon the rack." Portia, hearing that he is in such agony of suspense, quickly explains the rules to him and lets him choose a casket.
  2. In Act IV, Scene 1, Portia (disguised as a young male lawyer) urges Shylock to show mercy to Antonio. After many opportunities to show mercy, Shylock still refuses, so she turns the law around on him and shows him that, by law, he cannot legally collect his pound of flesh and his life is forfeit for trying to kill a Venetian citizen. She then urges the Duke and Antonio to show mercy to Shylock. They end by letting him keep his life and half his wealth, but they do require him to convert to Christianity. 
  3. In Act V, Scene 1, Portia shows cruel playfulness, and ultimately mercy, toward her husband Bassanio. While disguised as the lawyer Balthasar, Portia managed to get Bassanio to give her his wedding ring. He does this as a token of gratitude for Balthasar's saving Antonio's life. Bassanio arrives home to find his wife, Portia (who has only just arrived home and taken off her disguise), asking him what happened to the ring. When he tries to explain, she pretends to be very offended and claims that she will sleep with this young lawyer the next time she sees him. After Bassanio promises he will never do such a thing again, Portia gives him a "new" ring, which he immediately recognizes as the old one they were just fighting over. She then explains the joke to her relieved husband.
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The Merchant of Venice

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