From the Archives: The Quality of Mercy by Barbara Ardinger

This was originally posts on October 4, 2020. You can see the original comments here.

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?

BIO: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, Pagan Every Day, a unique daybook of daily meditations, and other books. She really enjoys writing her monthly blogs for FAR. Her work has also been published in devotionals to Isis, Athena, and Brigid. Barbara’s day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 400 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. She lives in Long Beach, California, with her rescued calico cat, Schroedinger.



Categories: Art, Feminism, General, Women's Voices

Tags: ,

5 replies

  1. Of all days ‘good friday’ and mercy don’t exactly go together do they? And yet some idiot said this morning – “rejoice Jesus died for us today”. Forgive me if I have offended anyone but where do we see mercy in this story of betrayal?

    And on a personal level I am dealing with the financial consequences of one white woman’s lack of mercy – so mercy has been on my mind – One thing I believe. I never would have treated this woman the way she has treated me…

    Mercy is an underrated quality and one we need to resurrect – so much world suffering…Mercy is associated with being human but I see far more evidence of it in nature… swift kills for food…turning away rather than choosing to fight… I could go on here. I struggle to see the quality of mercy operating on a cultural level, but I do see it working in some individuals…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gee, yes, today is so-called Good Friday, as you say, a day of betrayal and death. I’ve never understood why people worship a man who has been tortured and is hanging on a cross when people should have listened to him and shown him and each other mercy.

      Back when I was doing research for my daybook, Pagan Every Day, I found a few resources that said instead of “good” Friday it should be “God’s” Friday. Well, nevertheless, it’s not a day of mercy, and especially now after the Covid and in a war in Europe and with the Orange T Rex and his followers still foaming and stomping around, we need mercy even more than we did a couple years ago. We ALWAYS need more mercy. Thanks for your comment. I hope you and the woman treat each other mercifully.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I treated this woman with decency and respect -she turned dark I’m too stupid to see it
        As for T this threat is ongoing – he and his minions are out there and must not be underestimated – and then there’s the present war…..how are we supposed to process all this?

        Like

  2. Barbara,
    Although you are absolutely right about the orange T-Rex. I’m sure we could find some other literature that doesn’t promote stereotypical Elizabethan antisemitic views that actually play into the hands of the white supremist followers of the Orange T-Rex.
    Thanks

    Like

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