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Famous Speeches: The Merchant of Venice

SHYLOCKI am a Jew. Hath

not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with

the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject

to the same diseases, healed by the same means,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as

a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison

us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,

what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian

wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by

Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you

teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I

will better the instruction.


  1. Which parts of this speech foreshadows the courtroom scene?
  1. Why is repetition (or parallel phrasing) such an important part of Shylock’s oratory?
  1. What is another language feature Shylock uses to build his case? Why is it fitting?
  1. Rather than asserting his own humanity and dignity, Shylock vows to sink as low as the Christians. Where does he say this? What are the implications of this statement?
  1. What does he mean by ‘I will better the instruction’?
  1. What different emotions do you feel for Shylock as he progresses through the speech?

Famous Speeches: The Merchant of Venice

PORTIAThe 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. Therefore, Jew,

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;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.


  1. What kinds of imagery does Portia use? Why?
  1. Explain these lines:

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power…

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation

  1. Where in the speech is the Christians’ lack of mercy foreshadowed?
  1. What sense does the word ‘justice’ carry as Portia uses it here?


There are perhaps fewer disturbing lines in all of Shakespeare than Shylock’s promise to Solanio and Salerio in Act III, scene i, that he will outdo the evil that has been done to him. Shylock begins by eloquently reminding the Venetians that all people, even those who are not part of the majority culture, are human. A Jew, he reasons, is equipped with the same faculties as a Christian, and is therefore subject to feeling the same pains and comforts and emotions. The speech, however, is not a celebration of shared experience or even an invitation for the Venetians to acknowledge their enemy’s humanity. Instead of using reason to elevate himself above his Venetian tormenters, Shylock delivers a monologue that allows him to sink to their level: he will, he vows, behave as villainously as they have. The speech is remarkable in that it summons a range of emotional responses to Shylock. At first, we doubtlessly sympathize with the Jew, whose right to fair and decent treatment has been so neglected by the Venetians that he must remind them that he has “hands, organs, dimensions, senses” similar to theirs (III.i.50). But Shylock’s pledge to behave as badly as they, and, moreover, to “better the instruction,” casts him in a less sympathetic light (III.i.61). While we understand his motivation, we cannot excuse the endless perpetuation of such villainy.

Even as she follows the standard procedure of asking Shylock for mercy, Portia reveals her skills by appealing to his methodical mind. Her argument draws on a careful process of reasoning rather than emotion. She states first that the gift of forgiving the bond would benefit Shylock, and second, that it would elevate Shylock to a godlike status. Lastly, Portia warns Shylock that his quest for justice without mercy may result in his own damnation. Although well-measured and well-reasoned, Portia’s speech nonetheless casts mercy as a polarizing issue between Judaism and Christianity. Her frequent references to the divine are appeals to a clearly Christian God, and mercy emerges as a marker of Christianity. Although it seems as if Portia is offering an appeal, in retrospect her speech becomes an ultimatum, a final chance for Shylock to save himself before Portia crushes his legal arguments.