Page images

Anth. Ay, so he says.

Do you confess the bond ?
Anth. I do.
Por. Then must the Jew be merciful.
Shy. On what compulsion must I ? tell me

that. Por. The quality of mercy is not strain’d ;2 It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven 3 Upon the place beneath: It is twice bless'd ;4


that to be in debt and to be in danger, were synonymous terms.

Again, in Powels History of Wales, 1587 :

-laying for his excuse that he had offended “ manie noblemen of England, and therefore would “ not come in their danger.” MALONE.

2 The quality of mercy is not strain'd;] Strain'd is here used for-forced or constrained; Men cannot be compelled to acts of mercy; they must be voluntary. E.

3 It droppeth, as the gentle rain, &c.] That is freely, without compulsion; confirming what was observed in the preceding line: The comparison, at the same time, contains an allusion to the salutary effects of mercy. E.

În composing these beautiful lines, it is probable that Shakspeare recollected the following verse in Ecclesiasticus, xxxv. 20:'" Mercy is seasonable in " the time of affliction, as clouds of rain in the time of drought." Douce.

-It is twice bless'd ; &c.] However admirable this speech may, upon the whole, be justly esteemed, the thought conveyed by these words and those which follow, is inaccuratly expressed, and the active and passive therein oddly confounded : Mercy


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 shews 'the force 5 of temporal power,


is made both the blesser and the blessed. The verb is twice used in the same general sense of to make happy, varying only from passive to active: In its first application, however, mercy is the representative both of the person who exercises that virtue, and also of him who is the object of it; in its second, it is made a distinct agent from both, and regarded as conferring happiness upon each.

It may, perhaps, help to solve this perplexity, if we consider mercy as personified, and, under that notion, conceive her blessed, inasmuch as she enjoys the power of blessing, i. e. rendering happy, both the giver and receiver: or we may understand the word blessed in a signification which it frequently bears, that of--addressed or saluted with benediction ;. in the first place, (relatively to the passage before us) on the part of him that gives, for the pleasure which he derives from the consciousness of having acted mercifully, and again, on the part of him that takes, on account of the benefit communicated by the mercy shown to him. The personification of Mercy is still supposed here. I am not very well satisfied with either of these solutions, but they are the best I have to offer. E.

5 His scepter shers the force, &c.] Having affirmed that Mercy

-becomes “ The throned monarch better than his crown," she

passes on to the mention of the sceptre, another of the ensigns of regal authority, which she observes


The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this scepter'd sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, .


is but the emblem of an inferior characteristic of royalty, viz. temporal power, but

The attribute to awe and majesty," assigned to kings as suited to denote merely those circumstances of their greatness. The word attribute must here, I think, relate to sceptre and not to temporal power, since, though awe and majesty might properly, enough be said to be attributes to power, yet, (majesty being, as I take it, not used here to express the whole kingly character, or person of the monarch, as it sometimes is, but rather the pomp, state and ceremony with which it is surrounded) 'Í do not see how power can, with propriety, be called an attribute of them.

“ Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings ;” Which are and majesty are the source of that dread and fear which the presence of kings is apt to inspire. If it should be thought fit to refer attribute to temporal power rather than to sceptre, it will be most natural that the word wherein should have relation to the same; otherwise to

-awe and majesty,

“ But mercy is above this scepter'd sway,Mercy is a quality of a higher and more exalted nature than that coercive authority of which the sceptre is considered as the symbol.

“ It is enthroned in the hearts of kings," The word enthroned is well adapted to the supreme excellence of the quality of mercy, more especially as this latter generally implies-power. The propriety of establishing its throne in the heart is the more striking as it is almost ever the effect of compassion, or connected with it, which affection is


It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then shew likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice : 6 Therefore,


Though justice be thy plea, consider this,That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation : 7 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


commonly supposed to be seated in that part. The word heart should, I think, in this place be pronounced with a particular emphasis. E.

6 When mercy seasons justice :] So, in King Ed.' ward 111. a tragedy, 1596 :

“ And kings approach the nearest unto God, By giving life and safety unto men.”

MALONE. 7 in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation :] Portia referring the Jew to the Christian doctrine of salvation, and the Lord's prayer, is a little out of character. BLACKSTONE.

She may refer him only to the nature of prayer in general, a principal object of which is to supplicate for mercy ;

and that same prayer may signifywhatsoever prayer we use for that purpose. There is however an incorrectness in the construction, as there is no substantive expressed, to which that same prayer may have a relation. E,

Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant

there. Shy. My deeds upon my head! I crave the

The penalty and forfeit of my bond.

Por. Is he not able to discharge the money?
Bass. Yes, here I tender it for him in the

Yea, twice the sum :8 if that will not suffice,
I will be bound to pay it ten times o’er,
On forfeit of my hands, my head, my heart:
If this will not suffice, it must appear
That malice bears down truth.9 And I beseech

Wrest once the law to your authority :
To do a great right, do a little wrong;
And curb this cruel devil of his will.


8 Yea, twice the sum:] We should read--thrice the sum.“ -Portia, a few lines below says,

Shylock, there's thrice thy money offer'd thee.” And Shylock himself suports the emendation:

“ I take his offer then ;-pay the bond thrice.The editions, indeed, read this offer ; but the alteration that has been proposed ought to be adopted.

Ritson. 9--malice bears down truth.) Malice oppresses honesty; a true man in old language is an honest We now call the jury good men and true.

JOHNSON. apprehend that the word truth, here denotes that supreme rule of right and equity, by which all human actions ought to be directed. Heath.


« PreviousContinue »