Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 49. Friday, 6 Mar 1992.
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1992 02:47:00 -0500
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?
Basel University, Switzerland