Analysis of Portia Speech on Mercy

Portia's Speech on Mercy in The Merchant of Venice 





Portia in The Merchant of Venice 


The action in The Merchant of Venice reaches the climax in the Trial Scene, act IV scene I. Portia in the guise of a judge takes the chair in the court of law in Venice and Nerissa in the guise of a lawyer's clerk is by her side. Portia knows very well the case of Shylock against Antonio, the merchant of Venice. She remarks to Shylock that his case is of a strange nature. Of course, he is pursuing it in such tricked legal form that no technical objection can be raised to his procedure. Then she turns to Antonio, the borrower of money from Shylock and asks him whether he knows the bond. Antonio replies in the affirmative way. Then Portia says that the Jew must be 'merciful' this is how she thinks. At this point, Shylock presses hard to have a pound of flesh from the breast of Antonio according to his bond. 
Shylock replies indignantly, 

"On what compulsion must I?"


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Then comes Portia's inimitable ground appeal to Shylock, the stoney hearted Jew. She makes a fervent appeal to Shylock to show mercy to Antonio. Portia observes that mercy can not be forcefully obtained from a person. It is a divine quality. It spontaneously comes out of a man's heart for a distressed person. It is just like the gentle rain drops from Heaven on the earth below. 
Portia observes:

"The quality of mercy is not strained"

"It is twice blessed"

It brings happiness both to the giver and receiver. It shows itself the mightiest in those who have the greatest power. It appears more graceful in a king than his crown. The king's sceptre is only a symbol of his earthly power which creates fear in others preaches the king's dignity and majesty. But heavenly mercy is exalted far above this earthly power. When the king's justice is tempered with mercy, the earthly power of a king approaches nearer to God. So Portia appeals to Shylock who demands strict justice should be considerate. Portia appeals to Shylock by saying that none are completely free from fault on this earth. If God judges properly none can escape from punishment and none can have salvation. So, if he wants to have God's mercy, he must be merciful to others. Portia further says that in our everyday prayer we pray for the mercy of God and the same prayer ought to teach us to show mercy to others. Portia reminds this to Shylock so that he may not press to much for justice. She actually fervently appeals to Shylock to show mercy to Antonio to save his life. However, if Shylock remains strict in his plea, then she must pass the sentence in favour of Shylock, according to the law of Venice. 
    
    This speech on mercy is a sublime speech ever found in literature. It reveals Portia's character. It shows that her heart is full of milk of human kindness. At the same time, she is rational, judicious, honest, essentially humanistic and fully conversant with law. 

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