‘Wretched strangers’ in Sir Thomas More

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, we publish the speech Shakespeare gives the Lord Chancelor of England when called upon to quell rioters protesting against migrants on Evil May Day, 1517.

William Shakespeare
24 April 2016

Nigel Cooke as Sir Thomas More, Royal Shakespeare Company, The Swan, 2005

See the original manuscript here:

Thomas 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 to’th 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.


Before God, that’s as true as the Gospel.


Nay, this is a sound fellow, I tell you. Let’s mark him.


Let me set up before your thoughts, good friends,

On supposition; which if you will mark,

You shall perceive how horrible a shape

Your innovation bears. First, ’tis a sin

Which oft the apostle did forewarn us of,

Urging obedience to authority;

And ’twere no error, if I told you all,

You were in arms against your God himself.


Marry, God forbid that!


Nay, certainly you are;

For to the king God hath his office lent

Of dread, of justice, power and command,

Hath bid him rule, and willed you to obey;

And, to add ampler majesty to this,

He hath not only lent the king his figure,

His throne and sword, but given him his own name,

Calls him a god on earth. What do you, then,

Rising ’gainst him that God himself installs,

But rise against God? What do you to your souls

In doing this? O, desperate as you are,

Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,

That you like rebels lift against the peace,

Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,

Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven!

Tell me but this. What rebel captain,

As mutinies are incident, by his name

Can still the rout? Who will obey a traitor?

Or how can well that proclamation sound,

When there is no addition but a rebel

To qualify a rebel? You’ll put down strangers,

Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,

And lead the majesty of law in line,

To slip him like a hound. 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.

Marseille May day, 2016.. Leonie Rushforth.

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