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This is an extract from Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice“. These lines are spoken by Portia, one of the main characters in the play from Act 1 Scene 1, she argues with Shylak saying why mercy is the greatest virtue of all. The poem is a sonnet having three quatrains and one couplet. There is no particular rhyme scheme.
In the first stanza, the poet says that the quality of mercy is never affected by anything. It has come down on earth from heaven like gentle rain i.e. it is as gentle as the raindrop and is sent down on the earth by God Himself. Mercy is a blessing for both the giver and the taker.
To the giver, the mercy rewards him fame, appreciation and love while to the taker, it is the lifesaver, it helps him from avoiding the punishment which he would have otherwise suffered.
According to the poet, mercy is the most powerful thing in the universe. It is something that makes a king better than his crown i.e. his kingship. He walks with his scepter (his staff when moves with him to show his sovereignty) to show his power over his subjects which makes the people honor him and fear from him.
Stanza 3 continues from the last line of the previous stanza. The might of the king might fill fear in the hearts of people yet his quality of mercy is better than his scepter if it is in him because it is the quality of God Himself. Thus if a king is merciful, he will be liked by the people and treated as God.
According to the poet, when a king shows mercy, then his powers become like that of God because it will make even his enemy love and respect him. The one who will receive mercy will always remain grateful to him and the people will love him more.