Faith in Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice

Antonio is the Merchant of Venice. He has lent money to the moneylender Shylock, guaranteeing a pound of his flesh if he can't pay on time. Not surprisingly his ships go astray, he can't pay up and Shylock, who is sore for a variety of reasons goes to court to get his pound of flesh. Portia, a young woman much sought after for marriage, dresses up as a lawyer to try the case, and in this memorable extract pleads with Shylock to show some mercy. But Shylock insists on strict justice according to the law. Later, by clever arguing, she turns the table on Shylock who gets more strict justice than he bargained for.

Portia: The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
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 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 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. 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.

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Student Assignments
1. Would this speech make sense to a person who hasn't read the whole play?
2. How are the ideas in this speech still relevant today?

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