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. ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes

The thronéd monarch better than his crown.

– The Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1

For those of us interested in current debates about English/British identity and modern culture and with a particular interest in how our national literary heritage is taught in British schools, it is not hard to be struck by the appropriateness of the timing of Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy in the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s death.

During this time of debate about political sovereignty and spiritual reflection among Catholics, it is worth revisiting Shakespeare on the subject of mercy in his plays, in connection with an understanding of his religious identity.

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