The Letter

The book starts on a letter of Thomas More to Peter Giles and forms a preface to the work. Giles was a classical scholar and an intimate of Erasmus and his circle. The letter starts with a rambling excuse as to why "our Utopia"has been so long in production. He relates the details of his life: his work and domestic arrangements and the delays they have caused in his recording in plain style their conversation with Hythloday. It is a style he points out that is appropriate to philosophical dialogue, "that couldn’t be couched in fancy terms".

The letter then frames the rest of the book setting it up as fact, as he is concerned with detail, and says, "I’ve taken particular pains to avoid untruths in the book … In short, I’d rather be truthful than correct". This highlights his distinction between telling a deliberate lie and unwittingly telling an untruth. He asks Peter Giles to contact Hythloday for him to verify some facts. He even gives the example of a famous theologian who wants to go to Utopia from religious missionary zeal. This we are shown signifies the effect of the book and Utopia’s ostensibly factual existence. It is perhaps also an elaborate joke, satirising the overly gullible reader and the self righteous clergy.

Then the letter goes on to relate the author’s anxieties about reader’s reception of Utopia and scorn for those who cannot cope with satire. He critiques "minds so ungrateful" and calls men insipid who can’t "endure the salt of wit". Thus he aligns himself with the intentions of the Roman satirists like Juvenal and Horace who wrote similar indictments of their unreformed readers and proclaimed a similar mission to educate men and cure social ills through satire:

"They are no different from rude, ungrateful guests who, after they have stuffed themselves with a splendid dinner, go off, carrying their full bellies homeward without a word of thanks to the host who invited them".

Book 1:

This book is made up of a debate between the narrator, More, Raphael Hythloday and Peter Giles. This is, in format, much like Plato’s Republic which is made up of dialogue between Socrates, Glaucon and Thrasymachus. Arguing about whether Hythloday should join a king’s council is a way of getting the discussion of advising rulers and their responsiveness underway. The focus is on whether it is wise for a scholar to commit himself to practical politics: asking thus, the time old question of the merits of the active and contemplative lives. More counsels him to, "devote your time and energy to public affairs… Worthy of a generous and truly philosophical nature… because a people’s welfare or misery flows in a stream from their prince as from a never-failing spring." Hythloday corrects him and his idealistic view of ruler’s capacity to listen to their advisors, pointing out the proud and stubborn nature of man:

"it would be a very dangerous matter if a man were found to be wiser on any point than his fore-fathers were."

The dialogue opens up to include dialogue on theft, the general state of England and complex social analysis. Raphael points out "no punishment however severe can restrain men from robbery when they have no other way to eat". As Hexter highlights More sees "in depth, in perspective the mutual relation problems which his contemporaries saw in the flat and as a disjointed series". He understood that in the existing structure of society most of the people in counsel were stirred by self-interest. Theft we are shown cannot simply be solved by harsh punishments because it springs from poverty. He sees fault rather with the upper classes, his moral outrage leads to a critique of them and their sloth, pride and greed.

However his critique is distanced from himself and put in the mouth of Raphael Hythloday, which is further distanced by an extra narrative layer as he recounts the conversation he had with a Cardinal. We are given a portraiture of a useless moneyed individual similar to that in Plato’s Republic, "There are a great many noblemen who live idly like drones off the labour of others, their tenants who they bleed white by constantly raising their rents…." - highlighting the corruption and break down in the mutually dependent

  By PanEris using Melati.

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