During the sixties, people divided into opposing camps, with conservative and liberal social views. Like the sixties, Renaissance England was a place and a time of severe social upheaval. A social revolution eroding the lines between social classes threatened the upper classes' monopoly on government, religion, land ownership, and trade. George Wither in an emblem and Sir Thomas More in Utopia express the contrasting conservative and liberal social views. Wither's emblem, "When each man keepes unto his Trade, then all things better will be made" (http://emblem.libraries.psu.edu/withe148.htm), displays a message of humility and acceptance. The picture is of an honest carpenter who, the poem below tells us, does not seek to meddle in affairs beyond his means and performs only the tasks of his trade. Recalling that George Wither is an artisan in the employ of nobility, the emblem reflects the conservative apprehension toward the social revolution. In contrast, Sir Thomas More ridicules the indignation of the aristocracy and artisans in Utopia. Gentlemen and noblemen and their retainers, More says, contribute absolutely nothing to the good of society through labor (719). The views contrasted in More's work and in the emblem reflect a controversy of the period between the progressive ideas of the humanists and the conservative ideas of noble gentlemen who wished to preserve the old society and their own exemption from a day's hard work.
Sir Thomas More and the Wither express diametrically opposite ideas about man's desire for knowledge and improvement. Is it strange for a man to dream of a better life for himself or his children? There was once a time when it was unheard of for a s...
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...g more than words of fear. The author of the emblem's words resonate trepidation toward the social changes within England at the time.
It must have been daunting to live in a time when society rediscovered the pursuit of knowledge and began to change before men's eyes. The French humanist Francois Rabelais spoke through his character Gargantua, saying, "'I see robbers, hangmen, freebooters, tapsters, ostlers, and such like, the very rubbish of the people, more learned now than the doctors and preachers of my time'" (Jordan 643). The Utopians would regard the greed and corruption of More's England with contempt. Indeed, the paradox of Utopian society is that it is unattainable. A societal struggle for growth and change inevitably turns against the government and not against the basic human traits such as greed and jealousy that are the root of corruption.
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