The text Utopia was written by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516, just before the outbreak of the Reformation. More’s life flourished through the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, which were influential years in the Renaissance, a flowering of art and thought that began in Italy and flooded through Europe and England. Humanists often stressed the dignity of man and the power of reason while remaining deeply committed to Christianity. Their thought and writings helped to break the strict religious orthodoxy that had forced itself through the Middle Ages. Humanists often argued against feudalism as it promoted a society dominated by the rich and unfair on everyone else. Further, they saw feudal society as irrational.
Utopia was originally written in Latin, is a text that depicts what is claimed to be an ‘ideal’ human society through the eyes of the narrator Raphael Hythloday. It is also largely based on the voyages of More himself, specifically to the Netherlands. It was one such voyage — a diplomatic mission from England — that More invented his ideas about a Utopian society.
However, while More may have visualized the Utopian Islands as a perfect society, it is inarguable that the utilitarian society of Utopia was a criticism of the European world he saw around him. Thus, it is important for the readers to understand and respond to the specific time.
There are many ways to view the utopian society; some may view it as the result of rational thought or Humanist beliefs, others as an alternative to feudalism, a statement in favour of communal society, or an effort to promote reform according to Christian values.
The book Utopia is composed of two parts – the first written last, and the second written first. The second book is the one in which the utopian society is portrayed and the issues raised closely represents the thinking of humanist Erasmus.
The first part of the novel serves as an introduction to the two main fictional characters of the novel – More and Hythloday. It debates reasoning as well as social critique. Hythloday cannot stand the inequalities and injustices on the existing England and Europe and reveals possibilities for reform using his example of a Utopian society. The second part is written through the eyes of Hythloday and his explanation of the Utopian society of More. It serves as an improvement for wher...
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...hey do nothing in return but forgive seems highly unfair, and demonstrates an assumption of superiority in the men. Given the gender situation in the sixteenth century under which women were subservient to first their father, then their husband. However, women in Utopia can become priests, and this would have been a shift from More's generation. Even in modern society, the Catholic Church does not allow female priests. This is one example where Utopia implies the ignorance of gender, offering females a chance at equality.
Utopia is a depiction of a semi-ideal society and all of the criticism of European society that ideal represents, and it is a explanation on itself and its themes. The book can at times be inconsistent, just as More himself could: a man who preached religious toleration and logically mistreated Protestants, decides to remain a Christian rather than enter the priesthood but ultimately died a willing victim for his faith. Ultimately, Utopia is a book that, like More, attempted to navigate a course through the ideal and the real, between a want to create perfection and the practical understanding that perfection, given the imperfection of mankind, is impossible.
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