In The Merchant of Venice, what does Portia say about justice and mercy in her "Quality of Mercy" speech?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this speech, Portia pleads with Shylock to be merciful towards Antonio. Justice dictates that since Antonio did not keep his part of the bargain and pay back his loan to Shylock in the allotted time, he should have to give up a pound of flesh, which Shylock wants to cut from his heart. Portia, disguised as a male lawyer, advocates for mercy towards Antonio.

Porita says that the quality of mercy is not strained. By this she means that mercy is not overworked, for many people are cruel, not merciful. She compares mercy to a soft rain that falls from heavens; like rain, mercy falls on us whether we deserve it or not.

Portia also argues that mercy is most moving when the mighty display it and notes that a person with power who shows mercy is acting in the image of God:

And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Portia notes, too, that none of us would be saved from paying for our crimes were there no mercy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act IV, Scene 1, Portia gives her famous 'Quality of Mercy' speech to the Court of Justice in Venice. She is disguised as a lawyer and has traveled to Venice to attempt to save the life of Antonio from his bond with the Jew, Shylock, who wants Antonio's pound of flesh. Portia implores Shylock to forfeit the bond and show mercy because mercy, in itself will be rewarded by the giving and taking," is twice bless'd." Also, mercy is the most important asset of monarchs (kings), for a king who employs mercy does not let his power overtake him:" becomes the throned monarch better than his crown." Portia pleads with the Jew to forego justice, for Shylock does have a just right to the pound of flesh through the signed bond and instead, she begs for mercy:" the course of justice none of us should see salvation; we do pray for mercy..." Unfortunately, Shylock wants justice; "I do crave the law." Ironically enough, in pleading for mercy in this case, we can later ask whether Portia and the Court showed Shylock mercy, perhaps a bigger question!!!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial