Surviving Shakespeare script “The Book of Sir Thomas More” urges empathy for foreigners

LONDON The only surviving play script including William Shakespeare’s handwriting, and containing a passionate speech against xenophobia, is being put online to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, the British Library announced Tuesday.

The script is a section from a controversial play that revolves around how statesman Sir Thomas More quelled a 1517 anti-foreigner uprising in London by asking the rioters to imagine themselves being banished to live abroad.

The 164-line scene has been attributed to Shakespeare, one of several writers brought in to rework “The Book Of Sir Thomas More”.

In challenging rioters, More says: “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.”

The play was originally written by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601, but other writers were later brought in to revise the script.

One of the six hands involved has been identified as Shakespeare’s, based on handwriting, spelling, vocabulary and the images and ideas expressed.

“More relies on human empathy to make his point: if the rioters were suddenly banished to a foreign land, they would become ‘wretched strangers’ too, and equally vulnerable to attack,” the British Library said.

There is no evidence that the play was ultimately ever performed or published.

The manuscript will be available at http://www.bl.uk/shakespeare and will also be on display at the British Library in London from April 15.

Shakespeare died aged 52 on April 23, 1616.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

 

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