"The Quality of Mercy"
From Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Portia, disguised as a lawyer in the court of Venice, declares that the bond between the money-lender Shylock and the merchant Antonio is in good legal order, and that therefore he may cut, according to that bond, a pound of flesh from the merchant’s body wherever he may please. Well, it pleases Shylock to cut it nearest to Antonio’s heart, because he has been Antonio’s enemy and he has been seeking his life, for reasons good and bad and very bad. “Then must the Jew be merciful,” Portia says. At which he replies, with some surprise, “On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.”
What follows is one of the best-loved speeches Shakespeare ever wrote, and it strikes to the heart — both the heart of the play, and that hard heart that is man’s, especially when he thinks he has all the justice on his side, and so he may proceed with vengeance as he likes. The key to it is the difference between constraint and freedom, which is like the difference between law and grace, between a bond of duty, and the firmer and freer bond of love. I’ll suggest here that we misunderstand what Shakespeare is doing if we think that the scene that follows is meant just to force Shylock to back down. Please, let’s not convict Shakespeare of terrible sins that men of our time have committed, and that the man himself would have found most appalling. The scene is meant to set Shylock free — free from his self-righteousness, because he really does believe he is a just man, justified in the sight of God; free to love his daughter again, whom he has disowned; free to pray to God for mercy, and to be saved at last. The lesson is really for us in the audience, all of us. It is the lesson we must learn again and again, and it’s confirmed by the end of the play, which is not this court scene, but a wedding feast, and one in which forgiveness and merriment come together.
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 throned monarch better than his crown. His scepter 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 sceptered sway: It is enthroned 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.
Mercy trumps justice but it is best served when requested or given.
Many thanks and Amen! Thus do we pray for mercy from our merciful--but just Father. However,
mercy is not available for us if we are not merciful to others, as our Lord teaches us in His prayer.