The wellspring of anti-immigrant fervor has apparently grown so strong that we must now call upon the literal hand of William Shakespeare to swat away the crazy, amassing mob. Thankfully, as the Guardian reports, Shakespeare once penned a fragment in the voice of Sir Thomas More, one that has the Catholic martyr imploring a riotous crowd to turn back on their “mountainous inhumanity” and consider what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land — in other words, a refugee or immigrant. A British website will digitize the fragment, perhaps the longest example of writing in Shakespeare’s hand, next month.
The manuscript that contains the snippet of Shakespeare’s handwritten text is of a play titled Sir Thomas More, which otherwise has the distinction of being a fairly boring and incoherent work that wasn’t actually written by Shakespeare. In fact, it was likely written by Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle and simply revised by the bard (among several other writers). And it was probably written in the late 1590s or early 1600s.
Shakespeare’s revision is rousing and empathetic at the same time, and one can easily imagine this Shakespeare/More hybrid haranguing a crowd of Trump supporters for their twisted incriminations and jaundiced logic:
You’ll put down strangers, Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses And lead the majesty of law in a lyam To slip him like a hound … Say now the King, As he is clement if th’ offender mourn, Should so much come too short of your great trespass As to but banish you: whither 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, Spain or Portugal, Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England:
And like any decent broadside, it picks up speed as it nears the finish line:
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, Spur you like dogs, and like as if that God Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements Were not appropriate to your comforts But chartered unto them? What would you think To be thus used? This is the stranger’s case, And this is your mountainish inhumanity.
“So what?” You say. “That’s in the voice of Sir Thomas More, so it isn’t necessarily Shakespeare.” And you’d be right, up to a point. It’s hard to say that Shakespeare was anti-anti-immigration on the strength of a single revision. Maybe he was just doing his job?
But there is other evidence that Shakespeare was an anti-anti-immigration guy, and not an anachronistically Elizabethan Trump supporter. Take, for instance, Hamlet, who tells Lord Polonius to “take in” a group of traveling players:
‘Tis well: I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon. Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time: after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Or what about The Tempest, which is nothing if not a play filled with refugees, one that includes two women who have been cast from their homeland and forced to travel by boat? No, we shouldn’t need Shakespeare to battle Trump, but he’s there for us if we do.