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Sir Thomas More

Written: 1603-04
Characters: Sir Thomas More
Setting: London
Time: 1517

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Immigration in Tutor England

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Shakespeare’s contribution to the play Sir Thomas More, which may never have been produced, is noteworthy both for More’s compassionate speech about immigrants and because that speech is the only known surviving manuscript written in Shakespeare’s hand. 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.
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You’ll put down strangers

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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?

This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.
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