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.