Mountainish inhumanity – SIR THOMAS MORE, II iv

This has been floating around in Shakespeare- type circles quite a lot lately, particularly this past year and even more in the past couple of days for painfully obvious reasons which my constitution can’t abide. Nor can the country’s.

Very little needs be said about it, but in briefest contextual terms: it is believed that one of the only professional examples of Shakespeare’s own handwriting is a bit of the unfinished group-authored probably unperformed (in its era) play The Book of Sir Thomas More. His work is part of a scene set during the May Day Riots of 1517, during which immigrants from northern Italy were being threatened by Londoners for the usual pig-ignorant reasons.

At the time of the plays writing, the same thing was happening to French Huguenots in London (some of whom were friends of Shakespeare’s, including Christopher Mountjoy, wigmaker and landlord. I don’t know if he made wigs for Will, but he did rent to him), as it continues to happen constantly and everywhere.

Anyway, More is addressing an unruly mob.


MORE.     Alas, poor things, what is it you have got,

                   Although we grant you get the thing you seek?

GEORGE. Marry, the removing of the strangers, which cannot choose but much advantage the poor handicrafts of the city.

MORE.      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 tooth ports and costs 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….

                     …Say now the king

                     (As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)

                     Should so much come to short of your great trespass

                     As but to banish you, whether would you go?

                     What country, by the nature of your error,

                     Should give you harbor? 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 mountanish inhumanity.


But as will anything written to be in a play, it’s going to have more literal and figurative resonance if a pro takes it on. I give you two, Sir Ian McKellen (speech at 2:20) and Dame Harriet Walter. See you at the airport.

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