Things get interesting on this Monologue Monday. I was originally going to profile A Man for All Seasons about Thomas More (Catholic saint and proto-Communist). Sadly, not many monologues are available online from this wonderful play. But there is another play entitled Sir Thomas More and one monologue from this play has picked up steam in recent years.
The play is unusual in that it’s divided into thirds and depicts three distinct portions of More’s life with little overlap. 1. Thomas More stops a riot in 1517 when he was under-sherif of London. 2. His private family life showing how kind and funny he was. 3. His time as Privy Councilor and Lord Chamberlain and opposition to king Henry VIII, resulting in More’s execution.
The play is also unusual because a whole lot of dudes [sorry ladies] wrote it. Apparently, Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle produced the first draft. Then several years later, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker and old Bill Shakespeare hammered out another draft. Naturally the monologue is attributed to Shakespeare (this may be some PR at work). If you’re interested, we’ve profiled other Shakespeare monologues before. Check Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Rumor in Henry V, part 2, The Jailer’s Daughter in Two Noble KInsmen and Imogen/Innogen in Cymbeline.
Back to our monologue. Ill May Day (aka Evil May Day) was a real thing. Normally, May Day = Party Day. But not in 1517. In recent years, wealthy merchants and bankers had been immigrating to London but also laborers had immigrated as well. Most of the immigrants were French-speaking Protestants fleeing persecution or Flemish immigrants. They only made up about 2% of London’s population, but for some people that was two percent too much.
A fortnight before May Day, people started making anti-immigrant speeches and rumors started that “on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens.” And true to the rumors, gangs of folks tried to do just that. To Henry VIII’s credit, he was not a fan and tried to stop the riot, ordering his right hand man Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to end it. Thomas More, as under-sheriff of London, made an appeal to the rioters. Apparently, it stalled them but didn’t stop the riots, though some foreigners thought it helped in some way. The irony behind these riots is that the only perople killed were twelve rioters who executed afterwards (hehe). One final irony is that hundreds of people were arrested for treason and could have been executed, but Henry’s wife Queen Catherine of Aragon (a foreigner herself) convinced her husband to pardon and release them.
The monologue that’s speading these days is from Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 2 when More confronts the rioters. In the play, he talks them down.
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 tooth ports and costs 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.
I know what you’re thinking: thank God we don’t live in 1517 where everyone’s a racist xenophobic prick. Just kidding. Xenophobia, fascism and racism is still totally a thing and I’m not talking about
if a dumpster fire cosnisting of fecal matter and racism were human President Trump but other countries as well, including, but not limited to, Indonesia, South Africa, Singapore, Poland, South Korea, Germany (but no surprise there), the Netherlands (let me introduce you to South Africa and Indo- oh, never mind), Brazil and speaking of Brazil, here’s Portugal.
For more information about “Evil May Day” please check these links:
For more about the play Sir Thomas More, please check these links:
Site 2 (the whole dang play)
Site 3 (a video of [maybe] the whole play)
For more about xenophobia, just look out your window.
We’ll be back on Monday with more monologues!!! Hooray!!!