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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: March ::
Q: Prospero's Epilogue: Prayer's Assault on Mercy?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 49. Friday, 6 Mar 1992.
 
 
Date: 		Thu, 5 Mar 1992 02:47:00 -0500
From: 		Balz Engler <
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Subject: 	[Prospero's Epilogue: Prayer's Assault on Mercy]
 
I am trying to understand Prospero's epilogue in *The Tempest*, and
I find one passage particularly difficult.
 
   ... my ending is despair,
   Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
   Which pierces so that it assaults
   Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
 
This seems to be based on a military metaphor--Mercy inhabiting a fort-
ress, as it were. And, lo and behold, there are two other passages in
Shakespeare which point in the same direction, where the "gates of mercy"
are mentioned (*Henry VI*, 1, I.4.177, and *Henry V*, III.3.10). This
seems to suggest that there is some traditional image behind it all--but
what exactly is it, and where does it come from?  The New Arden in one
case simply comments that it is *not* from the Bible.
 
Who can help?
 
Balz Engler
Basel University, Switzerland

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