Reflecting on the “Quality of Mercy”

To my people, to the broken hearted mother, to the orphaned child, to brother seeking vengeance against brother, I share with you these words at the eleventh hour of escalating violence in the Middle East. They are not my own, but that the Bard of Avon. The words are of pristine clarity and lasting benevolence, and as such stand on their own, with recourse neither to context nor petty wisdom.


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…
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.

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice


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