In Act IV, Scene I of The Merchant of Venice, Portia says to Shylock these lines (rendered in blank verses)
The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
His scepter 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 the sceptred sway.
What does the line “But mercy is above the sceptred sway” mean? Sceptre is a kind of long stick with cross at its ends, but its role in the line is quite hard to guess.