Monday, January 16, 2017

Old postcard: Shakespeare
and "The quality of mercy"

To start the week, here is a dirty and scuffed old postcard that was produced by F.A. Owen Company of Dansville, New York, and postmarked a century ago, in 1917. It features an excerpt from one of William Shakespeare's most famous speeches, the speech on mercy delivered by Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Here is the speech in full:
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;
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. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
* * *

On the back, we learn that this postcard was postmarked in Red Lion and mailed, not far away in York County, to Ellen Hake of Hellem [sic].

The note, written in a purplish pencil, states:
Dear Mother I will write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at Present time. I hope you are [?] real good.
Dear mother i'm coming home on Saturday if nothing Happens and ant ogly and so good By
My take on that last sentence is "if nothing happens and ain't ugly," as in ugly weather. But I could be off on that guess. What are your thoughts?

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