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Immigration in Tutor England

Shakespeare’s contribution to the play Sir Thomas More, which may never have been produced, is noteworthy for More’s compassionate speech about immigrants. The scene recounts the events of Evil May Day in 1517, during Henry VIII’s reign when Londoners, after sporadic rioting, threatened to kill Flemish and other European immigrants who were thought to be taking Englishmen’s work.

From the British Library by Andrew Dickson and British Library curators:
Manuscript of a portion the play Sir Thomas More in what is believed to be Shakespeare's handwriting.
Manuscript of a portion the play Sir Thomas More in what is believed to be Shakespeare’s handwriting. From Folger’s Shakespeare Document/The British Library

“This is part of the only surviving play script to contain Shakespeare’s handwriting. Three pages of the manuscript, ff. 8r, 8v and 9r, have been identified as Shakespeare’s, based on handwriting, spelling, vocabulary and the images and ideas expressed.

“The play is about the life of Sir Thomas More, the Tudor lawyer and polymath who was sentenced to death for refusing to recognise Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church in England. The work was initially written by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601. The Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, whose role included stage censorship, refused to allow Sir Thomas More to be performed, perhaps because he was worried that the play’s depiction of riots would provoke civil unrest on the streets of London.

“After the Queen’s death in 1603, Shakespeare was brought in to revise the script, along with three other playwrights. Shakespeare’s additions include 147 lines in the middle of the action, in which More is called on to address an anti-immigration riot on the streets of London. He delivers a gripping speech to the aggressive mob, who are baying for so-called ˜strangers’ to be banished–”

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You’ll put down strangers

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