Mercy is rarely mentioned in today’s feverishly hyperbolic world of media sound bites and distorting news copy. It is not noisy enough for editors who assume their readers are perpetually connected to outrage.
Yet here is one of the most resonant speeches ever written and even if Portia may have her own agenda in court against Shylock (and she does) then the words still enjoy a ‘quality’ that exceeds such agendas.
For mercy exceeds the human limitations of the giver. It is inspired by something or someone larger than ourselves. It is a gift of loving kindness and acceptance.
Mercy is about compassion, a sense of respecting the other’s fallibility because we each are fallible too. It is not ‘strained’ , limiting or limited. Mercy is an active prayer-a healing practice and behaviour.
The clarity of Portia’s rational exploration of the benefits of mercy is beautifully crystalline: the soft vowel sounds bestow a sense of peace and even grace as we read (and listen) ourselves into a quieter, better place.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is mightiest in the mightiest,
It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
An attribute to awe and majesty.
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power dost the become likest God’s,
Where mercy seasons justice
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