Portia’s Speech
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene 1 passage: William Shakespeare’s character Portia from “The Merchant of Venice” is considered one of his best female characters. This passage from the play is Portia’s address to the court to defend Antonio. After reading the speech, students will answer questions on the theme and the language.

Topic(s): Dramatic Comedies. Skill(s): Theme, Figurative Language. Genre(s): Poetry, Drama

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Passage

In Shakespeare’s comedy The Merchant of Venice, the merchant Antonio has taken a loan from the money-lender Shylock who dislikes him very much. The terms of the loan say that if Antonio does not pay the loan back on time, Shylock may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh which would certainly disable, if not kill, Antonio. Antonio loans the money in turn to his friend Bassanio so Bassanio may marry Portia. As the play progresses, Bassanio can’t repay Antonio. Antonio does miss the loan deadline, and Shylock demands the pound of flesh.

Antonio appeals to the Duke of Venice, who refers the case to court. Portia disguises herself as a man and presents herself to the court as a lawyer in order to defend Antonio. Below is part of her speech to Shylock as she asks for mercy for Antonio.

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The 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…

Comprehension Questions
Answers

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