Utopia By More

Focus Question: How does More comment on his times through Utopia? Syllabus
outcome: Describe the interrelationship between the religious environment and
the social and cultural context on which the literature draws. Introduction:

When I chose to review Utopia, I can honestly say that I had no idea of what I
was letting myself in for. The book is so complex and there are so many
conflicting ideas and interpretations that for a time I considered changing to
an easier topic. However, Utopia is a fascinating book and gives an insight in

European society just prior to the Reformation - obviously a time of major
upheaval. My initial focus question was : How does Thomas More demonstrate in
his book "Utopia" the hypocrisy of Christianity throughout the middle
ages and how does he comment on possible solutions. However this question was
much too broad and I felt that I was missing the whole point of the text and the
insight it gives. So I modified the question to "How does Thomas More
comment on his times through Utopia." Commentaries on Utopia were fairly
hard to come by as shown in my diary, though I did find some useful texts. The
movie "a man for all seasons" also gave an interesting insight into
the life of Thomas More. It must also be said that interviews with experts were
practically impossible as literary critics are few and far between and Utopia is
no longer a source of inspiration to many people. Overall Utopia was a
fascinating topic for research and I enjoyed learning more about it. All writers
are influenced by the times in which they live and Thomas More was no exception.

He wrote Utopia during a time of great upheaval and expectation throughout

Europe. Furthermore, The Christian church was experiencing a period of great
uncertainty and hypocrisy. Utopia was published in 1516; one year before Luther
posted his 95 theses at Witenberg and the reformation officially began.

Therefore, More wrote at a time when there was great poverty amongst the
oppressed serfs. The Church was becoming increasingly corrupt, greedy rulers
were waging wars throughout Europe to fulfill their own petty ambitions and the
renaissance was causing a cultural uprising. Resultantly Utopia was a product of
religious, social and cultural upheaval. As Erasmus once claimed in The Praise
of Folly (1511), "contemporary pontiffs instead of being the vicars of

Christ, had become the deadliest enemies of the Church, striving ceaselessly
after wealth, honours, and countless pleasures, even stooping to fight with fire
and sword to preserve their privileges. " When this work is juxtaposed with

Luther's 95 theses and especially More's Utopia it becomes apparent that these
key intellectuals were deeply dissatisfied with the church. Central to their
ideas was the concept that faith alone, grace alone and Scripture alone
justified a place in heaven without the purchasing of indulgences. The selling
of indulgences was a practice whereby money was paid to guarantee salvation. In
this way the Church amassed great wealth at the expense of the peasantry. Thus
religious greed compounded social difficulties and made poverty and crime an
acute problem which is considered by More in Utopia. In book 1, he considers
what is wrong with civilisation. Especially with regard to the severity of the
penal code and the unequal distribution of wealth. More, through his imaginary
character Hythloday claims that the death penalty for stealing is too harsh and
that he would much prefer to seek remedies that would eliminate the causes of
stealing. He further describes how, that in the social context of 16th Century

Europe men were forced to steal out of desperation and starvation. He argues
that "the system was fundamentally faulty...in which non-productive
noblemen maintained non-productive flunkeys while forcing the common labourers
to drudge in abject poverty. " Furthermore, More makes a comment on the
legal system of the times through discussing the Utopian legal system in which
the laws are such that the simplest meaning is always correct, such that there
are no need for lawyers and there are no loop holes in the law. Hence people can
defend themselves regardless of their intellectual capactity. More then comments
on the legal system of the time through the imaginary character Hythloday. He
claims " in fact, when I consider any social system that prevails in the
modern world, I can't, so help me God, see it as anything but a conspiracy of
the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organising society.
" More also makes mention of that "blessed nuisance money." The

Utopians despise money. "When