The Quality of Mercy by Barbara Ardinger

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…

This speech (Act IV, scene 1) from The Merchant of Venice, given by Portia in disguise as a boy lawyer (and Bassanio doesn’t even recognize her!), may be one of Shakespeare’s most famous. In the play, as we know, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, and Antonio, a merchant waiting for his ships to come in, make a bargain, one part of which is that if Antonio doesn’t pay on time, Shylock gets to collect one pound of his flesh. Antonio’s ships don’t come in, the case is taken before the Duke of Venice, and Portia appears in disguise to solve the legal issues. She goes immediately to Shylock and speaks this speech to him.

Portia, The Merchant of Venice Act IV, sc. 1, Royal Shakespeare Company production

“Mercy,” she continues,
[I]s 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.

Why am I quoting Shakespeare again? Folks, just look around. We’re a month from the 2020 election. Listen to the TV news (though I suggest that we do not listen to The Faux News Channel). Watch a few of the Zoom rallies. Read the blogs, the social media posts, the newspapers. Listen to the speeches by the presidential candidates and by candidates for seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. Pay attention to what these politicians old and new are saying this month.

Are we hearing anything about the quality of mercy? Anything merciful? As I’m writing this in late August, denial is filling the air, making it harder for us to (at least metaphorically) breathe freely. The pandemic is getting worse, not better. We’re still out of work, our unemployment “benefits” are chancy, and our families are still hungry. Some of our children are being sent back into classrooms without masks or other protections. There’s still no live theater, no live concerts, no sports with fans in the stands. Idiots are gathering in protests and rallies and raucous parties and not wearing masks or social distancing or showing any care for anything but what they think is “correct” or fun. (I wonder if any of these folks have ever heard the word “mercy.”) We’ve been listening to too many people expressing misogyny, systemic racism, xenophobia, selfishness, and stupidity. The Orange T. Rex is still imitating his mentor, Roy Cohn (the most unmerciful human being that ever lived): he’s lying, attacking truth-tellers and reporters, and showing his ignorance of science, reality, and everything else.

So here’s my idea for this month. Well, actually, for days, weeks, months, and years. Let’s revive the quality of mercy. Let us be merciful, even to people with whom we strongly disagree. As Portia tells Shylock—and us—mercy “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath./ It is twice blest;/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes….” Look up into the sky. The sun and the moon are still shining. Birds are still flying. Trees are still growing. Can we say that Mother Nature is merciful? I think She mostly is. Look around your neighborhood or city. Food banks are still feeding hungry families. People are still donating to people in need. Well, yes, I don’t want to be naïve and stupid and say all’s right with the world when it obviously isn’t all right, but let’s try this: let’s try to tease out examples of merciful behavior in the world around us. Let’s try to spot tiny drops of mercy’s gentle rain touching both those who give and those who receive.

I am, alas, feeling pretty apocalyptic today. I’m not hearing much good news. Friends, excuse me—I gotta go out right now and look for that gentle rain. I have to consciously look for that earthly power of mercy and find it in small, mostly hidden, places. I have to remember that the grass keeps growing, that people keep caring about and for other people. It have to remind myself that the gentle rain of mercy will fall on us and somehow nourish us.

Friends, we all need to look for that gentle rain. But it may be hard to see. Where are you finding it? Any floods of mercy? Any trickles? Every drop counts! What drops of mercy can you see today?


Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (, is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every DayFinding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

Categories: Art, Feminism, Women's Voices

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10 replies

  1. Ah, the quality of mercy – just reading this post heartens me because mercy is a quality that is hard to conjure up with all the madness.

    In my heart I pray for mercy for the trees and plants, the animals, and for so many people who are suffering…this I can feel.

    When I heard t rex had covid my gut response was “great – he deserves it” – a response quite far from mercy – I am ashamed to feel like this but too honest not to admit it.

    I think I need to save mercy for those that need it and in my opinion this monster is not one of those that do. That he’ll come through I don’t doubt and then he’ll use it to tell the rest of us that anyone that has it will survive like he did or twist his experience to suit him in some other way. CHAOS IS KING.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Sara. I cannot, alas, feel much mercy for a man who seems to have never shown any mercy in his life. But I pray (to the Goddess of Birth, Life, Death, and Rebirth) that everyone else feels and shows mercy. Bright blessings to us all in a gloomy time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “What drops of mercy can you see today?” That is a wonderful question, Barbara. I will keep it in mind and heart. I begin my journal every day with a heading called “noticing beauty.” Beauty and mercy are mixed up in my mind. The first thought that came to me is that a heavenly blue morning glory bloomed, even though some of the vines succumbed to frost. It feels like an unexpected blessing. I will keep my eyes and ears open to acts of mercy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderfully powerful post. Without mercy, we as a species are lost. Mercy is how we heal as individuals, communities, nations, and as a planet. But you are right, it isn’t often talked about or thought about much and this is a great reminder that we need to bring mercy into our lives as we try to move ahead into the future, whatever happens.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dear Barbara, Thank-you for this generous, merciful, reminder of the virtue of mercy. I wish mercy for Gaia from the depredations of human civilizations.
    Wishing you plenitude,

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post my friend– necessary

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks for the final questions, dear Barbara. I am thinking that is amid the chaos that we appreciate more deeply when mercy and light come to our lives. I find mercy in the brave people helping other people that you mention. Even when our little actions, like donating food, seem silly or invisible, we are bringing mercy and light to others all the time and the universe brings it back to us in the most simple-beautiful- ways, like the plant growing in my living room.

    Liked by 2 people

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