The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What does Portia say in the trial scene in act 4, scene 1, and why does she say it?

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The most famous part of Portia's court room scene in disguise as Balthasar the young lawyer is her "mercy" speech, in fact, this speech is altogether one of Shakespeare's most famous and beloved speeches. Portia begins by discussing the fact that Shylock is legally within his rights in enforcing the contract with Antonio as it stands. She then, as Balthasar, states that since Shylock is within his rights and may legally press his strange suit, he must be merciful in order to spare Antonio, to which Shylock asks what it is that should compel him to mercy. Portia's answer is to explain and laud the equalities of mercy, saying mercy "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven" and that it is an "attribute to awe and majesty." By this argument, Portia hopes to convince Shylock of the high noble value of mercy and paint it as a quality held by kings and by "God himself."

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