As well as writing probably the greatest body of plays in the English language, William Shakespare was also a show doctor — and was one of several writers brought into re-work a previously unstaged play, written in approximately 1600 about the life of Thomas More, councillor and Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, which was originally suppressed because of fears it might incite unrest.
Now, the last surviving play script in his own hand is to be made available online on the British Library's website, as part of one of of 300 newly digitized treasures shining a light on the wider society and culture that helped shape Shakespeare’s imagination, ahead of a major new exhibition called Shakespeare in Ten Acts about the playwright's life and times opening at the British Library April 15, which will be displayed through September 6.
In the pages that have been digitized, Sir Thomas More makes an impassioned plea for the humane treatment of refugees, and was written at a time when there were heightened tensions over the number of French Protestants (Huguenots) seeking asylum in the capital.
The speech states, “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, Spain or Portugal,/ Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England:/ Why, you must needs be strangers.”
In a press interview with The Guardian, the library's curator Zoe Wilcox commented, “It is a really stirring piece of rhetoric. At its heart it is really about empathy. More is calling on the crowds to empathise with the immigrants or strangers as they are called in the text. He is asking them to imagine what it would be like if they went to Europe, if they went to Spain or Portugal, they would then be strangers. He is pleading with them against what he calls their ‘mountainous inhumanity’.”
For further details on the exhibition at the British Library, visit bl.uk/events/shakespeare-in-ten-acts