GlobeStrangersCaseSir Thomas More, a play Shakespeare collaborated on, is back in the news, especially as it resonates with the crisis of human refuge and survival that mark our present times. Actor Ian McKellen, who has a long association with the play, has recited More’s “the strangers’ case” at several events. Its appropriation has also received some recent critical attention, in Sean Lawrence’s “Fear and the Other in Sir Thomas More. More’s empathetic words are now being mobilised in the context of Trump’s notorious immigration policies. #mountainishinhumanity indeed. Here, I track the speech’s online afterlives and its association with the contemporary refugee crisis. I previously used Storify to curate the posts but Storify closed in May 2018.

10 June – 4 July 1964 || Nottingham Playhouse: McKellen stars as More

STM McKellen 1964


8 November 2010 || Savannah Film Festival: “Sir Ian McKellen Gives Shakespearean Monologue”

8 March 2012 || “The Perfect Refugee – Sir Thomas More

21 February 2013 || “The People Speak”

McKellen recites the speech at a launch event for the book, The People Speak: Voices that Changed Britain, which includes More’s lines. McKellen prefaces his recitation by talking about Shakespeare’s “plea for humanity”.

17 November 2013 || The Arts Desk – “Immigration riots and the hand of Shakespeare”:

3 November 2014 || Oxford Union:

19 January 2015 || Dr David Ruiter on “Shakespeare Uncovered: Immigration and Sir Thomas More

14 August 2015 || The Cambridge Union:

The effect of McKellen’s recitation is to align Shakespeare with the major humanitarian crisis of our times, the plight of those seeking refuge.

23 October 2015 || The Economist – “What would Shakespeare do about Europe’s migrants?”:

10 March 2016 || Twitter

15 March 2016 || The Guardian – “William Shakespeare’s handwritten plea for refugees to go online”:

STM Washington Post

15 March 2016 || The Washington Post – “More than 400 years ago, Shakespeare decried the ‘mountainish inhumanity’ that refugees had to face”:

15 March 2016 || Flavorwire – “Yes, Shakespeare Would Have Hated Donald Trump”

Yes, Shakespeare Would Have Hated Donald Trump

15 March 2016 || BBC Newsnight

On YouTube, comments about this recitation reveal phobic attitudes to the tenor of the speech, undoing its prior association with empathy for the plight of refugees.

15 March 2016 || Twitter #mountainish inhumanity

16 March 2016 || Twitter #refugeeswelcome

10 April 2016 || “Ian McKellen Sir Thomas More Speech”

This YouTube video uses the audio of McKellen’s performance with a Banksy mural, linking More’s plea for “the strangers’ case” to contemporary anti-migrant discourse.

25 April 2016 || The Sunday Express – “Outrage as BBC ‘use Shakespeare to push pro-immigration agenda'”

A report about UK Tory MP Peter Bone’s objection to the BBC’s use of Sir Thomas More. For Bone, Shakespeare was being co-opted into some left-wing conspiracy to advance the rights of migrants. What’s revealing here is the implied sense of a proper Shakespeare.

STM Sunday Express

16 September 2016 || Samantha Power, US Ambassador to UN, quotes More, at Lincoln Center Global Exchange

21 September 2016 || News Report on Use of More

31 January 2017 || “Shakespeare on Refugees”: Jeremy Irons recites More’s “strangers case” as part of Refugees Tales

14 February 2017 || Shakespeare Association of America – President’s Letter condemning Trump Travel Ban

The Shakespeare Association of America takes a stand against Trump’s travel ban. In a letter to members, then SAA president Prof. Heather James stated SAA’s commitment to diversity. She concluded with a link to McKellen’s performance of “the strangers’ case”.


1 April 2017 || Twitter #mountainishinhumanity

26 April 2017 || The History Vault – Joanne Paul, “Immigrants and Propaganda”:

27 April 2017 || Twitter A Timely speech by @Shakespeare

1 May 2017 || Twitter – #MayDay

3 May 2017 || Twitter

20 June 2017 || Twitter – #WorldRefugeeDay

7 July 2017 || Twitter

9 July 2017 || Twitter

10 & 17 July 2017 || The New Yorker – Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia”:

Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt makes a case for Shakespeare’s life-giving humanity and empathy. The plays are, he suggests, a cure for our times, a blow to xenophobia.

STM Greenblatt NewYorker

17 July 2017 || Twitter – Sir Thomas More

14 August 2017 || The Weekly Standard – “What Shakespeare’s Thomas More Can Teach Us About Angry Mobs”

18 June 2018 || Twitter 

Dr Jeffrey Wilson notes the resonance of More’s lines with news of Trump’s latest intervention in U.S immigration policy, as well as his own work on the play and my own conference paper on the use of the speech in social media at the British Shakespeare Association conference in Belfast.

17-24 June 2018 || Globe Theatre marks World Refugee Week

The Globe marks Refugee Week with a series of events, among them a performance of Sir Thomas More, as part of the Read Not Dead series, and a seminar entitled “whither would you go?”. 

19 June 2018 || YouTube The Strangers’ Case – short film

Thanks to Dr Steve Purcell for pointing this one out. This short, directed by Peter Trifunovic, features Ibrahim Knight as the Thomas More figure, who makes the plea for humanity and tolerance in busy pub in Leeds.

Some further details here:

20 June 2018 || Twitter – #WorldRefugeeDay

The Globe marks #WorldRefugeeDay with a film short featuring actors performing lines from More.

The Globe’s film generates a number of retweets using #StandWithRefugees. A speech from the 1590s that may never have been heard on an Elizabethan stage due to censorship now finds itself being used, appropriately I would add, as a vocal riposte to the xenophobia of Trump and his followers.

20 June 2018 || Twitter 

20 June 2018 || Twitter