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Shakespeare Connected - Shakespeare and Religious War

Thomas More, 2005.

Many craftsmen had fled to England from religious violence in France and the Netherlands. The English were sympathetic and the government appreciated their usefulness. But they were competing for work and accommodation with their English counterparts.

In 1593 the so-called Dutch Church Libel set out these grievances and threatened another ‘paris massacre’. It was signed ‘Tamburlaine’ and compared the strangers to the Jew of Malta. From stigmatising the massacre of the Huguenots, Marlowe’s work had turned to being used against the Huguenots themselves.

It is generally accepted that the anti-foreign riots in Thomas More allude to the new anti-refugee attacks, and that Shakespeare wrote its famous ‘mountainish inhumanity’ speech in defence of the refugees at about the time when he was writing Twelfth Night.

In an inspired directorial choice, the leader of the rioters being addressed here by Thomas More is holding a meat cleaver.


Malcolm Davies © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust


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