1596 | Venice

Mightier Than the Scepter

What is the quality of mercy?

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.


William Shakespeare

From The Merchant of Venice. The moneylender Shylock, who has been demanding from the Venetian court justice in the form of a pound of flesh from his debtor, Antonio, is here reprimanded by the cross-dressing Portia, disguised as a lawyer named Balthazar. Later in her speech she directly opposes mercy to justice: “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.”