Mercy, enthroned in hearts, seasons justice

September 15, 2007 at 3:57 pm | Posted in English, Globe Theatre, Justice, Language, Merchant of Venice, Mercy, Portia, Shakespeare, Speech | 2 Comments

The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest,
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

PORTIA, The Lady of Belmont
IV.1 181-202
The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare

This most memorable and inspiring speech was delivered brilliantly by Portia in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside, London today. All the actors were world-class, but Kirsty Besterman’s eloquence was stunning.

We learned this part by heart at school, but I did not appreciate its power and insights then. Though I have not heard it since, the words came flooding back as clear as day, making more sense this time round.

I love the free-flowing nature of the rhythm and choice of language in these merciful lines, and the way Portia lifts the argument above worldly actions to place it in a heavenly context, before bringing our thoughts back down to Earth to deal with the case before her with a jolt of stark reality!

Part of Cast in The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 15 September 2007

Portia in blue dress near the centre of this photograph taken today



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  1. True, it is wonderful poetry, but Portia’s speech also conceals a good deal of hypocrisy and deception, as is explained in “The Shakespeare Diaries” (published a few months back)

  2. Dear William Shakespeare,

    It is a delight to hear from you in person!
    I must tell you how much I enjoyed Portia’s speech, as excerpted above. At face value, your words do serve as a noble and merciful appeal to Shylock to go easy on Antonio. (I wish he had heeded them.)
    I like the way you set-up Portia (a woman disguised as a man) to deceive the court as a lawyer, which we all know she is not qualified to be. That is the humour and irony of the setting …
    After all, I am not really a dog called Daisy. Well, I am, but nobody would believe me if they learned the truth 😉
    It is wonderful to experience and enjoy your plays in your Globe Theatre with my family, at whatever level of appreciation each of us has.
    Thank you for your insightful comment. I do hope your diaries sell well.

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