Shakespeare defends strangers and immigrants

It’s all too easy to think the “refugee crisis” is a modern-day phenomenon. But William Shakespeare put some strong words into the mouth of Sir Thomas More in the 16th century to make an impassioned plea for the humane treatment of refugees. Watch and listen to Ian McKellen give a passionate reading.

Sir Thomas More was a humanist and a diplomat. In this powerful scene from the play “Sir Thomas More”, he gives a gripping speech to a rioting mob, who are baying for so-called ‘strangers’ (immigrants) to be banished. Sir Thomas calls on the crowds to empathize with the strangers. He asks them to imagine what it would be like if they were forced to leave their homeland and journey abroad, where they would then become strangers. He pleads with them against what he calls their ‘mountainous inhumanity’.

In these days of Trump’s wall, the UK’s “Little Englanders”, the rise of populism, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of certain media channels, and the increasing occurrence of violence carried out against not just immigrants but other people who are “different”, I thought it was an apposite time to share this speech. The text is included below the video.

I’ve taken it from Open Culture, described as “the best free cultural and educational media on the web.”

The Book of Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Scene 4

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in lyam
To slip him like a hound; alas, alas, say now the King,
As he is clement if th’offender mourn,
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

 

24 comments

  1. The world is a circle.. as we keep going round and around.. so too does our History keep repeating in cycles too.. Yes we have been here before in another time..

    And our History often has a short memory and how Britain became Great Britain.. Did it not plunder and pillage foreign shores?.. It strikes me Karma is at work as we now are a multicultural country. And those seeking refuge and work are to those with narrow views seemingly invading our shores.. I often smile how this world is working yet so many want to stay in the past.. And not move forward ..

    Great choice of video clip
    Have a great weekend Denzil

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your feedback Sue; it’s always welcome. Yes I do believe that Great Britain is a mixed race of all kinds of nationalities and races, and I don’t understand the drive to keep it “pure”. And how apt that the Bard was writing about mobs in England baying for the blood of strangers. Enjoy your weekend too Sue, even though it’s likely to be another cold one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes its another cold one.. And we have to start to see how the world is no longer separate Islands and continents. One day the human race will one day hold all colour pigments within their Genes.. On that day maybe the world will have found Peace..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so discouraging at times when we realize the hearts of men are so difficult to change and that we seldom (if ever) learn from history. Wonderful speech. So enjoy McKellen (though he’ll always be Gandalf to me! 😉 ).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, yes you are absolutely right about Gandalf! I have to keep my eyes open and watch his performance otherwise I would be imagining him in a long pointy hat with a long grey beard! Looking at history can be discouraging, yes, but we have to keep positive and hope and pray and work for change, don’t you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely! It’s not going to happen by itself! We’re discussing the book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis in our Sunday School class at church. It’s about how this country was built on the genocide of the Native Americans, the backs of immigrants, and slavery. It’s been quite eye-opening and overwhelming at times, but the discussions are so necessary. It’s been a terrific class led by a bi-racial couple.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have heard of the book but never read it. It does indeed sound fascinating. I grieve for the Native Americans with the re-opening of the Keystone pipeline passing through their ancient burial grounds. They must be wondering what to do next. Let me know how you get on with the book.

          Liked by 1 person

        • What I would be interested in Eliza, and it’s something I have not seen in the media, is what the younger generation think about the recent changes in the US. I am thinking of teenagers for example, aged 15-18, the new generation of voters in 2020. Are they embracing walls and divisions, or are they looking on with horror?

          Like

          • That is a great question and for what I’ve seen, most millennials in my area embrace differences. Sadly, the divide seems to be between the well and poorly educated. When you look at government spending on education by state, the least populated get fewer $, which creates a strain on the local economies, which really cannot afford quality education. We must learn to listen to each other and find commonalities in order to bridge the gap. Egos must be held in check!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post Denzil!
    Last summer, it became pretty clear to me that the UK was “the canary in the coal mine” with Brexit.
    After that happened, I knew that a Trump America was on the horizon.
    By the way, I never heard the term “Little Englanders” but that is definitely an excellent term.
    I actually chuckled to myself as I read that part 🙂
    I’ve talked quite a bit about this whole disturbing phenomenon with my English blogging friend, Roger, aka, “Woebegone but Hopeful” from Heroically Bad Writers.
    You should visit him, if you haven’t already.
    He wrote this hilarious series called “History of the British Isles.”
    Oops, sorry to digress!
    Anyway, in regards to the anti-immigrant rhetoric, it appears that many of our fellow citizens seem to be missing the ability to empathize.
    Not many people are willing to place themselves in the shoes of the immigrant.
    Where is the humanity in that?
    Oh and that was a masterstroke to include that video of Sir Ian Mckellan! I love that dude 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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