Shakespeare script pleading for humane treatment of refugees goes online


William Shakespeare's play script in which he imagines Sir Thomas More appealing for the humane treatment of refugees is to be made available online. 

In The Book Of Sir Thomas More, the last surviving play script handwritten by the Bard, Henry VIII's counsellor and lord chancellor Sir Thomas scolds the crowd: "You'll put down strangers, / Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses."

The manuscript is one of 300 newly-digitised treasures which will be made available online by the British Library, four centuries after Shakespeare's death. 

The scene features Sir Thomas, then one of the sheriffs of London, challenging anti-immigration rioters in the capital who are baying for the refugees to be banished. 

He reminds the rioters that, if they were suddenly exiled, they would become vulnerable and wretched "strangers" too. 

In the play, Sir Thomas says: "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."

At the time, there were heightened tensions over the number of French Protestants (Huguenots) seeking asylum after being persecuted in their home country.

British library curator Zoe Wilcox told the Press Association: "It's a really stirring piece of rhetoric that asks them to imagine what it would be like to be a stranger in a foreign land."

She added: "It's unbelievable how relevant it is to our situation today. It's really very striking that we're in the same situation, where we do have this refugee crisis in Europe, and what Shakespeare was writing about back in around 1604."

The Book Of Sir Thomas More was written around 1600. The original play was not by Shakespeare, but he was brought in to rework the piece alongside several others including Thomas Heywood and Thomas Dekker.

Shakespeare was commissioned to add the 164-line scene in the middle of the play in which Sir Thomas quells the riot. The Bard's contributions to the script have been identified based on his handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, imagery and ideas expressed. 

It is thought that the play was never published or staged because of fears it might incite unrest. 

:: The manuscript will be available and will also be on display at the British Library's Shakespeare In 10 Acts exhibition from April 15.