Ian McKellen just quoted Shakespeare to make a strong point about Immigration.
Marc Maron interviewed Ian McKellen on the WTF podcast. Maron confessed he had trouble understanding Shakespeare, and McKellen suggested Moran may have not yet heard Shakespeare spoken by someone who knew what they are doing. And so McKellen made sure to recite a Shakespeare speech for Maron, winning him over to the fact that yes, Shakespeare can be understood when you listen to a great actor.
Maron would later describe the performance, in fact the whole interview, as “wonderful”. But it was also rather sly. Of all the Shakespeare speeches McKellen could have recited, he chose a speech from the play “Thomas More” on which at least a half dozen different playwrights are believed to have had a hand in writing. The section McKellen quotes from is almost certainly in Shakespeare’s hand, since it is one of the few Shakespeare selections from which we still have a copy in his original handwriting.
But why quote a speech from Shakespeare that isn’t even from one of his (completely) own plays? Perhaps because in addition to being beautifully written, it is also a speech about Immigration, specifically addressing those in the native population who would want to get rid of “those immigrants”. As such it carries a powerful message.
And so Ian McKellen (who just happens to share a birth date with me, quite incidentally, and not to the point, but I can’t help it, that tidbit tickles me!) managed to make a strong moral point, important to the current social and political situation in the USA and Great Britain, and indeed most of the world today, merely by doing what he is most famous for, reciting Shakespeare beautifully. He didn’t actually make any incidental remark about current affairs on immigration, but it wasn’t necessary. He let Shakespeare carry the message, underlining it by his choice of text and his peerless delivery.
Here is the pertinent part of the interview, including McKellen’s recitation; and below selections from the text (you’ll note that McKellen skips over a few lines in the middle):
MORE: 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. …
O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you like rebels lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven!
Tell me but this: what rebel captain,
As mutinies are incident, by his name
Can still the rout? who will obey a traitor?
Or how can well that proclamation sound,
When there is no addition but a rebel
To qualify a rebel? You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line,
To slip him like a hound. Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to 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 harbor? 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 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 mountanish inhumanity.