By Min Park (10th Grade, Newton South High School)



Mercy is showing compassion or forgiveness toward someone instead of exerting punishment. Portia is not a merciful person in nature and does not fit the standards of being a merciful person, but she does grant mercy to some and not others in the play. Portia does not grant forgiveness for Shylock, But she does exhibit her mercy for Bassanio, because she believes that they are similar people.

     Portia does not show mercy to Shylock in this play because she holds Shylock as someone who has no resemblance to her including how they symbolize money. Portia believes that money is her way of being able to achieve things she wants. She is aware that money has expanded her to many suitors, including Bassanio and paved a way for her to achieve power. Shylock on the other hand uses money as a security blanket. Money was a part of his job, and without his job he would not have a place in Venice. Being Jewish, he understands that if he does not have the wealth to support himself, he would not have the smallest amount of authority similar to the amount he has now. This is a big part of the reason why Shylock is so stubborn with his bond because Antonio let people borrow money without an interest, risking Shylock’s business and job which does require interest. Shylock tells Solanio, “I’ll have my bond. I will not hear thee speak” (3,3,13) to show that he will get what he deserves with Antonio. Portia sees that Shylock is up against Bassanio and Antonio, who she does see herself resemble with. She feels that since Bassanio who is her partner is against Shylock, she feels a patriotism from her marriage with Bassanio in order to feel that she has an obligation to be against Shylock herself. This is shown during the trial. Portia goes overboard with the power and authority that she has, although she could have forgiven Shylock after he says that he will forget about the bond, but instead she tells him “Soft, no haste! He shall have nothing but the penalty” (4,1,335), which is unnecessary because she could have easily ended the trial without harming anyone.

     Portia and Bassanio have similar characteristics that make them a compatible couple which is the reason why she is able to grant him forgiveness, and she shows hospitality to Bassanio’s friends. They are both clever, intelligent and loyal to each other. Portia describes Bassanio as her “king”, and Bassanio describes her as a “secret pilgrimage”, meaning that she is a “goddess”. Portia realizes that Bassanio and herself are similar people and would like to keep their relationship therefore attempts to forgive him quickly which varies from how she treated Shylock. Although Portia does test Bassanio using the ring, she does forgive him after she realizes that everything ended well. Portia tells Bassanio, “Let us go in, and charge us there upon inter’gatories, and we will answer all things faithfully”(5,1,320). She is willing to show compassion and forgive Bassanio because she has a reason to and wants to fix their relationship. Portia can be considered a merciful person because she shows kindness to Lorenzo, Antonio and Jessica. Mercy and kindness could be interchangeable because many times, people with more sympathy and kindness for others will show compassion. Portia shows hospitality to Lorenzo and Jessica, as well as offer to pay back Antonio’s debt. She tells Bassanio to pay back Antonio’s bond twice the original bond so “a friend of this description shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault” (3,2,313). Portia is extremely generous to anyone that has a relation to Bassanio because she is empathetic to Bassanio’s situation because she believes that they are similar people.

     Portia is not a merciful person in nature, but for some cases, she shows mercy to others if she believes that she sees a similarity between herself and the other. This shows that people although who are not merciful in nature, could show mercy to others depending on the situation. Many times, one will show more sympathy to someone who they believe is a similar person, because you feel that you feel that you could be in their situation. This is exemplified by Portia’s actions which differentiated how she treated Shylock and Bassanio.