Humanity, Migration, and Shakespeare

I recognize that the larger conversation about what is best for any community currently takes place on a variety of the world’s stages however we need to somehow place these issues into the forefront of our greater consciousness given the state of global conflict, the resulting migration of people, and its impact on our communities. I am loathe to refer to our communities as fragile or otherwise as I believe any such fragility comes from the heart and soul of those currently part of the community. I do wonder however, whether community behaviour stems in part from an inability or possibly an unwillingness to find anything other than a cheap and simple solution that requires no real thought or engagement other than lazily agreeing with the loudest, most arrogant, and/or pushiest of voices.

From a global perspective we quite regularly find ourselves becoming involved in the conflicts and challenges of our neighbours. Wars and all conflicts rooted in some form of geopolitical, racial, religious, or hegemonic behaviours create many opportunities for the shifting of power, wealth, and the greater movement of people from one part of the globe to another. Those not being displaced or not directly involved in any of these disputes find themselves impacted in many unintended or unimagined ways. Although directly referring to the movement of people, the impact of this movement goes far beyond someone walking through a back pasture or setting up camp in a local park. The social and economic disruptions are so significant that this global movement and migration is permanently changing the landscape of communities across the globe.

Despite an apparent keen desire to perpetuate an era of willful blindness, our global inter-connectedness no longer permits such perversion despite its siren call and ignorant appeal. So what do we do? How do we react or respond to the result of such a massive disruption of societies and the subsequent movement of people?

The mass movement of people from one region to another is far from new and recently I became aware of a fascinating, unpublished, edited work of Shakespeare where he addresses this issue for his time and if we not only read and appreciate his words and then exam the long term effects of this mass migration then just possibly we could begin to see how we also might behave today.

Shakespeare had been commissioned to add to an existing play. Quoting from the following website

The play was authored collaboratively and is about the life of Henry VIII’s chancellor, Sir Thomas More. It was initially written by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601. Shakespeare was commissioned to add a 164 line scene to the middle of the play in which More courageously quells an anti-French race riot on the streets of London. The Lord Chancellor delivers a gripping speech to the aggressive mob, who are baying for so-called ‘strangers’ to be banished:

It is understood that Shakespeare added the following:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
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, whether 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, any where 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 claimants
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. 

As I read the above I realized that Shakespeare was speaking of my family, as they were French Huguenots fleeing persecution in their native France. My family settled in the Fen country of England and became successful farmers. Eventually parts of the family migrated to Canada, the US, and Australia.

What if England had refused them entry and sent them back to their persecutors? This is a similar story that plays out in the lives of millions upon millions of people all over the globe and apart from indigenous peoples, how did any of the rest of us ever make a success of our lives? Were we not welcomed? Were we not received in some form and supported as we made new and rich lives for ourselves and our families?

The Bard is still the finest – And this your mountainish inhumanity?

(The long quote above comes from