It is part of the digitization of more than 300 manuscripts, books, maps, paintings, illustrations and more that will be available on the British Library’s new Discovering Literature: Shakespeare website.
The British Library has identified Shakespeare’s hand in the pages of the play ‘Sir Thomas More’ through the writing itself and the spelling, vocabulary, the imagery used and the ideas he expresses in the text.
‘Sir Thomas More’ focuses on Henry VIII’s chancellor and was originally penned by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601. Shakespeare had been commissioned to write just one scene but was later involved in revising the script alongside other playwrights including Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker.
Shakespeare’s scene sees Sir Thomas More defend French refugees who are about to come under attack from an angry mob. He 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,
Critic Jonathan Bate told the British Library that in this scene, “More asks the on-stage crowd, and by extension the theatre audience, to imagine what it would be like to be an asylum seeker undergoing forced repatriation.”