Saturday Quotable – Shakespeare on The Quality of Mercy

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.

The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1

[This quote came to mind on Wednesday, the first day of Spring, as a light rain fell on me during my morning run.]

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14 Responses to Saturday Quotable – Shakespeare on The Quality of Mercy

  1. This is my most favorite passage from Shakespeare, ever.

    And now I feel like a nerd because I have a favorite passage from Shakespeare. Ah well.

    • That’s okay Anne…. Shakespeare is wonderful and before modern translation, made the King James Version of the Bible accessible to all as the language was from the same era. People studied Shakespeare, viewed Shakespeare and found nothing ‘odd’ in KJV or Shakespearean language.
      God blessed Shakespeare and Shakespeare has blessed us.
      Merchant of Venice was the first Shakespearean play I ever saw – age 9. Loved it then; love it now. Thanks for this, Tim!

      • Tim says:

        I can’t remember when I first read it, but I’m sure i wasn’t as young as 9! The last time I went through the whole play was in a class with a bunch of judges. We read this and a few other authors’ works in a short course on literature and judicial reasoning.

    • Tim says:

      Your favorite passage? Anne, you’ve just made my day!

      I love the line “mercy is above this sceptered sway.” It seems like Shakespeare is saying that authorities can exercise power in ungodly ways, but when it comes to mercy it is by definition a reflection of God himself and therefore perforce above the power of earthly rulers.

  2. Adriana says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never seen or heard this passage before.
    I feel like I’ve just received a gift.

    • Tim says:

      I’m pleased to have acquainted you with this wise and pleasing passage. Now hie thee to this site for the entirety of the noble work!


      • Adriana says:

        Thanks Tim! Up to now, my exposure to Shakespeare has been in the form of Kenneth Branagh movies! I’ve seen Henry V twice, also Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve read a handful of sonnets through the years. That’s about it.

        A blog friend of mine, Jeannette from A Classic Case of Madness, has studied Shakespeare quite a bit. When we read Moby-Dick together, she was able to see all kinds of fascinating connections Melville made to his works.

        I’ll be studying drama in depth in a few years. I just glanced ahead at my list: Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet.

        • Tim says:

          For more on Melville and Shakespeare, you should read the novella Billy Budd. It has Captain Vere, and that touches on the Vere/Shakespeare authority controversy. Clever, clever Melville!

        • Mary Anne says:

          Richard III—well, with all the hoorah about them just having discovered his final resting place, now is the perfect time to read that play. Be sure (if you haven’t already) to watch Olivier’s stunning depiction. Creepy and brilliant.

          As for Hamlet . . . well. My favourite play, EVER. And there’s recently been a very fine version with David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius. This is also the first time I’ve seen a version where the Ghost is truly scary. I’ve seen eerie and atmospheric and tragic and mysterious, but the Ghost scenes in this nearly made me jump out of my skin.

          BTW, I first read Hamlet when I was twelve. Say it loud—I’m a nerd and I’m proud! 😉

        • Adriana says:

          Thank you for the great tips, Mary Anne! I’m glad you brought the Richard III news to my attention. I let my mom take home my latest (unread) copy of National Geographic and I think there was an article about that in there. I’ll have to read about that online today!
          Nerds unite! 🙂

  3. Tracey Louis says:

    This is my first time to this blog and what a wonderful passage to see as an introduction! It is a great reminder of what’s temporary and what’s everlasting. Power can be taken from us, but mercy is truly in the heart because it’s a divine gift. People will always remember who showed them power, however they may soon forget who had what power.

  4. Love this quote. Do you use it in the court room ever?

    I thought of your blog this morning as I called in a railroad crossing arm that was on the tracks. Hopefully my call helped avoid a train wreck. I was on my way to teach a class for DUI offenders. One of the students (rare when I teach these classes) reported at the end that he would continue to drive after drinking. He is a train wreck waiting to happen again and I do hope he does not kill someone.

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