Portia’s speech ‘The Quality of Mercy’ is a famous work of art found in Act IV, Scene One of the play The Merchant of Venice. This play one is one of the famous works by William Shakespeare. In the poem, the protagonist, Portia, explains the value of human mercy to Shylock and why the virtue is very important. According to the speech, mercy is an important human virtue which transcends all worldly powers; it is also divine upon combination with human morality and justice. Through its representation of the Renaissance ethos, this poem puts up a plea for acquisition of liberal values and virtues.
According to Portia’s speech, mercy is a form of compassionate treatment and is comparable to justice, which is applied by man as law. However, mercy is expected to be intrinsic and very natural and no one should ever be forced. This makes it sincere in its application. The expectation, according to the poem is for everyone to have mercy since this is the only way one can be like our God, our creator. While justice appeared bound to the earthly system, it condemns unlike mercy.
From the poem, the speaker follows the ‘standard approach’ to ask for Shylock’s mercy. In the process she reveals her own skills by use of methodical mind. This kind of speech and argument is based on a careful process of human reasoning and not emotion. If one, therefore, has mercy, then it will be possible to have godlike powers and status. In the speech, Shylock is deeply concerned with justice while Portia preaches the significance of mercy in human beings.
Although important thing is that, while the speech is well-reasoned and measured, Portia’s ideas nonetheless try to pronounce mercy as the major polarizing issue existing between Christianity and Judaism. For instance, she offers frequent references to what appears divine and appealing. Mercy among human beings emerges as the best virtue for Christians. While one may think that Portia in the speech is simply offering a form of appeal, in retrospect we observe that her speech ends up becoming an ultimatum. By so doing it becomes the final chance through which Shylock can adequately save himself. If he does not do that, then Portia would have the chance to crush all his legal expectations and arguments.
Within all dimensions of life, this speech by Portia offers a keen analysis and comparison between justice and mercy. By so doing, Portia manages to prove to the reader why the virtue is very important in our world and the best way to govern human behaviors. However, the speech stresses the need for individuals ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’ depending on the society there are in. To be on the safe side, having mercy is the best thing. Therefore the quality of mercy is intrinsic, unrivaled, and very natural.
Mercy is used to represent the New Testament, or Christianity, while justice signifies the Old Treatment or the Judaism. According to Christian’s mercy is the only decisive approach towards attainment of natural justice. With mercy, one forgives and loves even all enemies. This is therefore used as one of the best ways to present Godly love on earth. Generally, this speech by Portia is significant because it can be learned by many and also be applied in different situations confronting humanity today. By use of appropriate literary tools and poetic devices, this work remains one of the greatest works from the Shakespearean age.
Another important thing is the use of poetic devices in the speech. The first notable poetic device used in this poem is a simile. Portia compares mercy with rain in the second line to show it falls gently from the heavens, and the same way mercy should flow (Shakespeare 181). Another literary approach used in the poem is repetition of same sound in the same line known as alliteration. In the poem, alliteration occurs in line ten, ‘sceptred sway’. Another significant poetic device in the poem is the use of syllable.
The syllables used he include Too, The, Qua-li-ty, and Out. Another common device here is the foot. This consists of short or long syllables which make up what is called the ‘metre’ within a particular poetic line. A good example of a foot in this poem is ‘The Qua-li-ty of mer/-cy’ is not strained. Such kind of foot in poetry is known as ‘iambic’. The use of metre is a major poetic device is present in Portia’s poem. A metre usually consists of ‘beats’ or feet. In the line The Qua-li-ty of mer/-cy’ is not strained we have five feet in what we have ‘in iambus’.
There is also the frequent use in the poem. The poem is a complete unrhymed verse and is presented as in ‘iambic’ pentameter. Another form of poetic device employed is the use of allusions. In this poem, there is the use of biblical allusions to offer greater meaning the intended message. In the thirteenth line, the poet says that ‘mercy’ is a strong power on earth that is comparable or equivalent to God’s ability and mighty.