The Merchant of Venice Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In The Merchant of Venice, how is Christian hypocrisy evident in Portia's call for mercy?

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Portia’s famed speech, in which she argues for mercy for Antonio, may appear to be the height of decency; yet it unmistakably disregards Shylock’s Judaism and, later, proves to be hypocritical.

 

Portia begins her speech by stating that:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven

Her argument is set in a Christian context—mercy is handed down from heaven—and yet she disregards that Judaism views mercy differently, as something to be atoned for. Furthermore, Shylock’s own policy of usurance, in which he collects interest on money borrowed, indicates Shylock’s worldview: he does not believe in something for nothing. Such an idea of mercy must appear alien to him. One might imagine that in attempting to persuade Shylock to have mercy, she ignores his own moral and religious positions and substitutes her own; however, this seems at odds with Portia’s cleverness. Ignorance cannot be denied, but it seems more likely that she is appealing not to...

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