Richard Nisley

The Quality of Mercy
History - World Released - Feb 01, 2013

It sounds like something from the Bible. It’s not.

It’s from “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare:

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 scepter’d 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 H. Matchett, an English professor at Washington University, has written a short book entitled “Shakespeare and Forgiveness.” He writes:

“In his earliest comedies, Shakespeare used pardon from the terms of a harsh law--often first presented as unbreakable--as a convenient plot devise to achieve a happy ending. Pardon, a legal concept, differs from forgiveness, which is a psychological concept involving the one who forgives as much as the one forgiven. The second concept (forgiveness) enters Shakespeare’s plays only gradually and not, in Two Gentlemen of Verona, convincingly. The Merchant of Venice is a major step in meaningful forgiveness, and in his learning the value of character contradictions.

“The opposite of forgiveness is revenge and this Shakespeare also investigates with increasing subtlety in Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Troilus and Cresida. In Measure for Measure his portrayal of forgiveness is damaged by the contrivance required to allow it to occur. It is only with King Lear that forgiveness is fully and movingly presented, rendering even more devastating the final destruction of Lear and Cordelia. Finally, in The Winter’s Tale, we see forgiveness as a miracle which can, unbelievably, occur. Here it is no plot device, but one of theater’s great moments.”

People continue to read Shakespeare because of his perceptive understanding of the human condition. Shakespeare knows: in order for the world to function properly, there must be forgiveness, tolerance, pluralism, a talent for viable compromise, and a profound commitment to that most wasteful of social organizations, democracy.
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