It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Today’s guest blogger, William Shakespeare, who offers for your delectation Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy, from The Merchant of Venice.

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.

–William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

2 thoughts on “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven”

  1. Because we view “mercy” as a good thing, most people read this speech — and most productions of Merchant of Venice act it — as a rational, almost sweet, explanation of why the Duke should be lenient. But I saw a fabulous production by Chicago Shakespeare Company a couple years ago where the entire speech was performed in an angry tone of voice as a harsh and generally vicious attack on Shylock. This was a production that didn’t shy away from either the fact that Shakespeare’s Shylock is not a nice man, but that Portia and her compatriots never bother to question their casual and overt anti-Semitism. It was a terrific production, and watching it was a revelation.

  2. I haven’t ever seen a production of Merchant that tried to hide the fact that Shylock was not a nice man. Portia is the closest to a “nice person” in the play, and she’s quite the schemer.

    Casual and overt anti-Semitism having been the order of the day, I do have a hard time with the productions that feel they need to Hit! the! audience! over the head with it, but perhaps modern audiences are less attentive than audiences in Shakespeare’s day.

    Kudos to the actor who managed to read a wheedling speech in tones of anger. I didn’t see the production, so I can’t say how much of revelation it would have been to me. I expect it would have annoyed me, since it’s obviously spoken to try to wheedle Shylock out of his contracted rights. Yelling at him clearly wouldn’t have done any good — he was already angry and ill-used. Sweet words might actually have worked, and Portia rightly tried those first. That the sweet words also baited the trap…Well, I did say there weren’t any nice people in the play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.