Utopia is Sir Thomas More’s seminal work, depicting a fictitious island and its religious, social, and political customs. Working as an advisor to King Henry VIII, More was aware of the issues of his time such as ridiculous inflation, corruption, wars for little or no purpose, courtly ostentation, the abuse of power by the absolute monarchs, and the maltreatment of the poor. Consequently, More used Utopia to contrast some unique and refreshing political ideas with the chaotic politics of his own country. It is important to note that More did not intend to provide an exact blueprint for a perfect society, rather he merely presents his ideas in the form of a political satire, revealing the evils of his time.
More wrote his novel in 1516, a time when the first phase of the Renaissance was over, and the Reformation was about to break. The pioneer architects, Brunelleschi, Alberti and Bramante were dead, Michelangelo had just completed the Sistine Chapel and as working on the completion of St Peter’s, Leonardo da Vinci had only three years to live and Raphael, four. Machiavelli had completed The Prince in 1513 and the Medicis had just returned to Florence after 20 years’ exile following the reign of Savonarola. More was directly linked to the Italian humanist tradition through his teacher at Oxford University, Grocyn, who had studied at Florence and Rome. But he was also a close friend of Erasmus, whose outspoken criticism of the church had been described as the ‘egg that Luther hatched when he launched the Reformation’. In 1517, one year after the completion of Utopia, Luther published his 95 theses, and the subsequent movement put an end to the hopes of men such as More and Erasmus that reform in the church might be achieved without a final split.
Sir Thomas More describes the society and culture of an imaginary island on which all social ills have been cured. As in Plato's Republic, a work from which More drew while writing Utopia, More's work In Book 1 presents his ideas through a dialogue between two characters, Raphael Hythloday and More himself. Hythloday is a fictional character who describes his recent voyage in Book 2 to the paradise of Utopia. Throughout the work, Hythloday describes the laws, customs, system of government, and way of life that exist in Utopia to an incredulous and somewhat condescending More.
The letters at the beginning of the novel raise questions about the reality or the verisimilitude of Utopia, as well as the accuracy of More’s reporting. More asks Gilles to ‘check if [he] has left anything out’. More also questions the accuracy of ‘the distance of the bridge across the river Nowater at Aircastle’, which he believes to be 500 yards, but his assistant believes it was 200 yards. He admits that ‘if you say I’m wrong, I’ll assume that I’ve made a mistake’. This shows More’s indecisiveness of getting the facts right.
Ironically, More uses paradoxes in regards to his naming of places and characters....