Thomas More’s, Utopia is one of the most politically and socially influential texts to date. His audience, which ranges from academic and social scholars to college students, all can gain a different understanding of the work and it’s meaning. In order to fully comprehend More’s message, one must have an appreciation for the time and culture in which he lived. After grasping historical concepts, one reads Utopia, not as just a volume recounting a fictitious island society, but rather as a critique on a time of corruption and reformation. Throughout the entire text, More’s personal views on the religion, politics, and economy of this turbulent time seep through the carefully plotted thread of this critical work.
More is seen in history through many different lights. It is difficult to historically describe the sixteenth century without mentioning More’s individual involvement as a key religious and political figure of the time. In his early life, he focuses mainly on his desire for priesthood. More lived in a monastery for years and pursued the pious life of the Carthusians only to abandon it for a political career. Many speculate that More’s reasons for leaving had to do with the corruption he witnessed in his time there and desire to engage in matrimony. The corruption and greed forming among the clergy is what triggered the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther. Next, More entered into the political spotlight through parliament and as a Speaker of the House of Commons, where he spent his energy encouraging the idea of freedom of speech. His next duty was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancester, followed by the Lord Chancellor. Both of these came towards the end of his political and judicial career when his views began to split from those of Henry VIII. More’s disagreement with the ideas of Henry VIII and the conversion to Lutheranism was eventually the end of him, when he was beheaded for refusing to swear to the Oath of Supremacy and Act of Succession. He believed in the way of the Catholic Church till the end and paid the ultimate sacrifice of his life. Evidence of More’s religious views is found throughout the text. He cleverly disguises his true opinions by inventing a fictitious traveler by the name of Raphael Hythloday, who the reader believes to be the originator of the radical ideas….
… More spends a great deal of time in Book 1 on a conversation in which Raphael is expressing sympathy for the poor. More was rumored to also display this tendency in his life. In More’s time, the poor were at their poorest while the rich were getting richer. Food, clothing, etc, became a luxury to the homeless peasants, who often resorted to thievery. In conclusion, More used an interesting characterization method to write a blatant critique of the societal constructs that he lived in. This was a dangerous task to undertake in a time when heresy and treason were punishable by death. More’s life achievements conflict with some of the views in his work, but that is why he calls it fiction. More lived a life of great determination and devotion. His strict lifestyle and critical analysis of the world that surrounded him served as the perfect exposition for a world that only existed in his mind. To close, a quote from Book I, Hythloday states, “You must strive to influence policy indirectly, handle the situation tactfully, and thus what you cannot turn to good, you may at least—to the extent of your powers—make less bad”(26).