The definition of virtue varies between cultures and societies. Utopian ideas of virtue do not necessarily agree with Biblical or Elizabethan England views, however, More’s "Utopia," the Biblical accounts in Genesis of Joseph and Jacob, and Shakespeare’s "Othello" all present the concept of virtue prevailing over vice. Although at times vice may appear to triumph over virtue, ultimately poetry presents virtue as superior based on the differing definitions of virtue. The punishment of vice and advocacy of virtue is a popular theme of literature and the reason why Sir Philip Sidney correctly asserts that poetry encourages virtue and condemns vice as repulsive.
More’s "Utopia" advocates the pursuit of virtue, however, virtue is defined as a type of hedonism. Utopians follow a unique definition of virtue, which advocates a life of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness. Virtue is considered living the way people are designed to live, or according to nature. Utopians believe this translates as living a life based on achieving pleasure. The Utopian definition of pleasure may include helping other people, humanitarian views which are still advocated in the 21st century, but definitely does not include working hard for painful "virtue" which they consider not true virtue at all if you must deprive yourself and suffer misery. A virtuous life is encouraged by the punishment of crime, or vice. Utopians reward virtue, and punish those who attempt crime. Strict slavery is the punishment for violating wedding vows, and the other punishments are determined based on the extent of the crime. More’s fictional world of Utopia contrasts virtue and vice in society and upholds virtue as...
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...e and despised character who endeavors to escape the misery of his life through suicide. The virtuous character of Cassio, shows the ultimate success and triumph of virtue over vice as he attains worldly success and defeats Iago, who is full of vice. These complex literary characters present morality as desirable and vices as deplorable.
The narratives of Genesis, "Utopia," and Othello" all exemplify the achievements and victories of virtuous characters or traits. The failures and miseries inherently connected with vices are also presented. These literary works corroborate Sir Philip’s claim that poetry presents virtue in a light so "that one must needs be enamored of her." It can be assumed, therefore, that the study of literary works such as these can only improve morals and virtues, and for the good of American society, all students should major in Literature.
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