Tradition, and the anti-Semitic feelings which were commonly expressed at the time, dictated that Shylock should be the villain of the play, and in terms of the plot, he is; but through this and other passages Shakespeare gives him a tragic depth and stature that makes him, for most audiences, the central character, and one that many actors want to play.
Throughout the play, Portia has been made aware of the hatred Shylock the Jewish usurer holds for Antonio, The Merchant of Venice. So much so, that Shylock has refused to accept far more than the 3000 ducats initially borrowed from him, all he wants is the pound of flesh Antonio so bequeathed in signing the bond.
"The Quality of Mercy", speech, therefore enables Portia to make Shylock see his error in refusing to accept the money offered, but Shylock has his heart set, "I'll have my bond, I will not hear thee speak, I'll have my bond.
This famous speech, embodies all the fears, worries, concerns and troubles that all of us express, at one time or another, about other people!
Shylock is measuring himself against another human being, which is precisely what he is! "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Of course we, or you, do! "If you poison us, do we not die?" Well, yes!
Shylock's speech is a reaction to Antonio, (the Merchant of Venice), and his belligerent attitude towards the Jewish people.