Thoughts Story

Thought of the week: Refugee Week

  For Refugee Week, Michelle Terry shares the The Strangers’ Case speech from Sir Thomas More – a speech which is one of the earliest and most impassioned defences of a compassionate refugee policy

2 minute read

A silhouette of two people reach out to each other, with the text: This is the strangers' case

This is the strangers’ case – Shakespeare’s rallying cry for humanity.

1 May 1517: St, Martins Gate. Riots break out in London. An armed and angry mob attack people who have fled to England looking for a better life.

Thomas More, Sheriff of London, appeals to the angry mob who are screaming for the ‘strangers’ to be removed.

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another
Say now the king
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, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England,
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,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

The Book of Sir Thomas More, Act II scene 4

An illustration of a tear drop.

From Sir Thomas More: originally written by Anthony Munday & Henry Chettle. Later revised by Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker & William Shakespeare.



Each week during the UK’s current Coronavirus crisis, our Artistic Director Michelle Terry shares her thought of the week.

Using Shakespeare’s language, Michelle reflects on the individual and universal meaning of the words. By giving personal and emotional insight, she uses the quote to relate to, and express, the mood of this uncertain time.


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