Role of Satire in Its Various Forms in Thomas More Utopia Paper

Discuss how More uses satire in his book to portray his true thoughts on Utopia and a perfect society. Make sure to discuss the satire in the names of places and people he provides (for example Hythloday and the name Utopia (no place)). Discuss how he mocks the Utopian society by coming off as praising it. Also discuss how Utopia can come off as a perfect christian society.

there are some brief notes and quotes attached but you need to find some quotes from the Book Utopia to use as well. look at the attachment “thomas more utopia- big help”- it includes some quotes on utopia and some background. I have also attached the original sources that these quotes are from if u wish to look for further quotes. This should be 10 to 11 pages double spaced. Please contact me for any further questions

Notes and quotes on: Quentin Skinner, “Thomas More’s Utopia and the virtue of true nobility” in Skinner, Visions of Politics, 3 vols (Cambridge: CUP, 2002) vol. 2, pp. 213-244

“The Utopians believe that what is alone noble and deserving of honour is a willingness to labour for the common good”- Page 231

  • In the Utopian society virtue is highly honored and thus encourages and trains members of the Utopian society to live a virtuous life.
  • In fact, not only does Utopia encourage virtuous acts but Utopia also rewards great virtuous figures by dedicating statues and honouring the person with praise
  • Furthermore, because of the truly noble Utopian society, they have been able to successfully avoid poverty and social disorder among all citizens
  • As the reading says “Utopia is a society in which virtuti precium sit, in which ‘virtue has its reward’. For it is a society in which virtue is regarded, as it ought to be, as the one quality truly deserving of honour, esteem and praise”- Page 232
  • Skinner goes on by suggesting that Hythlodays true description of nobility in Utopia in Book 2 led to a flow of mass social benefits within their society, whereas the English society, described in Book 1, faced dire effects for living a life of counterfeit nobility.
  • In book 2, Hythloday brings to our attention, the fact that nobility in the English society has turned into something inherited. Men of high lineage and inherited wealth expect society to treat them with the honour and respect that other noblemen work for. He then goes on to accuse these inherited noblemen for ruining the English society.
  • He believes that their own ‘evil greed’ leeds these men to destroying towns and homes until they satisfy their own noble way of life
  • This becomes an unrest social society where armies are causing turmoil because no other trade is known to them and those citizens that lost their livelihoods are forced to become beggars and wanderers or are forced to steal for their own survival; but only to be caught and hung.
  • As we know, the success of the Utopian society is because their ruling principle is virtue.
  • A society where pride is the base of their principles is one where the people live for having a happier life while others are miserable and will do most anything to obtain and maintain that pride. As it says on page 234 “pride, ‘measures prosperity not by her own advantages, but by the disadvantages suffered by others, and therefore loves to live in circumstances where her happiness can shine more brightly by comparison with their miseries”
  • He explicitly makes it clear that there is no hope for a diseased political body unless the root of the evil in the social life is plucked out by its roots.
  • So what does Hythloday say is the evil that needs to be taken care of? Hythloday says ‘Privatus’- which means private interests of the people as opposed to public interests of the public society.
  • On page 235 the Utopian society is described as a community “in which the optimus status reipublicae has in fact been realised” and “nihil privati est, that there is nothing of the private about it at all”
  • Every aspect of Utopian life is lived in public view. The citizens eat and worship in public and even their homes allow anyone to enter. Furthermore, they even argue that men and women should publicise their private parts to their partner before marriage.
  • According to Hythloday, the abolishment of private property and the money economy is the only way for a community to attain its best state. Making money the root of all evil that must be destroyed for the people to put their private interests aside and start focusing on the interests of the public.
  • In simpler terms, as said on page 235 “we have no hope of establishing a genuine commonwealth unless we base it on a system of commonwealth”. The utopians live this form of lifestyle and are therefore known by Hythloday to be living the happiest life possible for the rest of their lives.

  • Although Skinner finds Hythlodays thoughts to be resounding, he still has questions. Should we believe that Thomas More claimed that the Utopians created a perfectly virtuous society. is the Utopian description supposed to be a portrait of a perfect christian commonwealth? And do Mores irony and indirection reflect his own deep feelings of ambiguity about the utopian way of life?
  • We can answer these questions by remembering that More’s focus is on the best state of a commonwealth in itself. And can re examine different interpretations of More’s work.
  • We can examine J. H. Hexters thesis; which stated that Thomas More was intentionally portraying the Utopian society as a perfectly virtuous Christian way of life.
  • When looking at the Utopian society, according to Hythloday the people all shared in the belief that the world is governed by divine providence. As written on page 237, they all also agreed “that the soul is immortal; that it is destined by God’s mercy for a life of happiness; and that there will be punishments after this present life for our crimes as well as rewards for our virtues and good deeds”
  • According to Hythloday the Utopians viewed religion as something uncertain, only to be tolerated. Although the beliefs we mentioned earlier refer to most religions, the Utopians viewed it as something worth believing and accepting; for if they wouldn’t they would “sink below the dignity of human nature” 237
  • They do also acknowledge the moral value religion provides a person; recognizing that without religion people would pursue their own foul desires.
  • However on page 237, the Utopians claim that their viewpoint was achieved “in the absence of a heaven-sent religion” and Hythloday goes on to say that the Utopian religious and moral attitudes aren’t perfect. He focuses on the optimal conduct in one’s personal life and public affairs that still needed further instruction upon his arrival. He explains how the the Utopians were not educated about the incarnation or the story of christ. Even after his voyage to Utopia, Utopians remained cut off and distant from the church and the divine laws of the bible.
  • But not only does Hythloday criticize their lack of religious knowledge; he moves on to criticize the fact that their view on human happiness can be achieved through their own self reason and nothing of gods purpose.
  • As said on page 238, Utopians “show themselves more inclined than is right”. For example; Utopians encourage and allow a person who is sick or miserable to commit suicide or give permission to others to free them from their bitter life. Although taking one’s life in any circumstance is known as one of the biggest sins in Christianiy, Utopians honour the holy person that took the necessary action.
  • Utopians use their own reasoning to justify against the commandment of “thou shall not kill”.
  • Looking at this evidence we find it hard to believe that More intentionally created a perfect christian commonwealth. Yet, ironically More’s conversation with Hythloday in the first book claims that the Utopian society possesses good customs that should be learned from and used.
  • So the Utopians have not attained a perfect christian way of life but this does not mean they haven’t attained the state of a commonwealth.
  • On page 240 Skinner says looking at Hythloday’s belief that it is possible “that more intends us to accept that the Utopians have in fact achieved a correct view of what constitutes true nobility, have avoided the baleful consequences of espousing the counterfeit view, and have arrived as a result at the optimus status reipublicae.”.
  • But is More trying to endorse that belief? More actually finds it absurd that Utopians believe eliminating money transactions is the foundation of their social structure. He actually writes that if a social structure like that was made “it would overthrow all the nobility, magnificence, splendour and majesty that represent, according to the commonly accepted opinion, the true decorations and ornaments of any commonwealth.”
  • More believes that in order for philosophy to be used it must accommodate its time and it’s already accepted opinions. It was accepted in More’s society that nobility, magnificence, splendour and majesty were interconnected. More therefore objects to Hythloday’s intention of separating nobility from the other values.
  • One commentator debates that More is criticizing the Utopian system for not recognizing the value of nobility, magnificence, splendour, and majesty in social life. He believes that forbidding the use of money and private property, as the Utopians do, will overthrow the conventional values attached to nobility. Overturning these may seem absurd at first glance, but it leads to living a true virtuous and noble life of commonwealth.
  • So is it possible to have it both ways? Can you prevent nobility from being inherited and also maintain private property?
  • If you are serious about claiming virtue and true nobility then one must abolish private property to attain a good commonwealth. Yet, on page 243 we find the quote “it is quite impossible to live a satisfactory way of life where everything is held in common”
  • Because how can the society flourish if no one has the motive to flourish because they rely on others.
  • But even if you do attain private property and the urge for working harder, it does not necessarily mean you will avoid poverty and disorder.
  • However, Utopia claims to abolish private property, while maintaining an abundance of supple for its people and keeping order
  • In Book 1 More favors private property but when reading the end of Book 2 any confidence held in private property has disappeared after his conversation with Hythloday.
  • More’s character ends the book by acknowledging the impractical action of abolishing private property along with the best state of commonwealth that would come with it. He does hope to see many Utopian features in our own communities one day.

  • Thinking about our world today, many people would be astonished to hear of a society where private property doesn’t exist. We value the property we gain through hard work and would object Hythloday’s idea of solely public property.
  • But as Hythloday brought to our attention, our society does obtain inherit noblemen who expect honour and respect because of their lineage.
  • In my opinion, all though private property has allowed for people to inherit honour and respect its important to maintain the private property to maintain the desire to create a better life and society. Hythloday had claimed that private property would drive people to at upon their evil greed and constantly create disturbance for others around them. We see this to be true in our society where men of higher power will ruin the health and homes of others for their own prosperity but we also get to see sides of men in high power who go out of their way to create better schooling, homes, and healthcare systems.
  • Americans, like myself, value the religious freedom given to us by our country. We live in a place where our laws will almost never use reason for the death penalty. I personally believe that although the utopian society is based on virtue and reason, there is some sense of religion required to create a good commonwealth. Human beings are in no place to believe that their own judgement and reasoning is what should be followed.
  • So although our country is flawed in certain ways; taking away private property as Hythloday suggests, will not perfect our communities or promise us perfect reasoning.

Bradshaw, Brendan. “More on Utopia.” The Historical Journal 24.1 (1981): 1-27.

“The follies of Christian society castigated by More in book I stood out all the more when juxtaposed with the good sense of utopian life-style depicted in book II” (Bradshaw 2).

“Such radical features can be explained as elements of a fantasy created by More in an attempt to portray the social order that might obtain should society exit” (Bradshaw 3).

“the concept of Utopia was nothing more than a literary conceit designed to heighten the reader’s perception…to prick the conscience of Europe” (Bradshaw 2).

“More, by portraying the Utopians as virtuous pagans without enabling the reader to perceive his ironic intent, was not heightening the effect of his paradox but, it would seem, rendering it inscrutable” (Bradshaw 6).

Smith, R. David. “Portrait and counter-portrait in Holbein’s “The Family of Sir Thomas More.” The Art Bulletin 87(3), (2005), 484-506.

“Holbein, of course, played the dominant role as artist and inventor, but More seems nonetheless to have shaped the picture’s overall character…symbols and allusions bear the distinctive imprint of his subtle, ironic humor” (Smith 488).

“As More uses litotes again and again, continuously affirming something by denying its opposite, the figure becomes, ultimately, a paradigm of the book as a whole” (Smith 489).

“But as in most serious matters he tried always to be pleasant and humorous, so in midst of jokes he kept so grave a face” (Smith 489).

“Their native wit aside, the role both men played in this regard stems from their early engagement with Lucian of Samosata, the Greek satirist” (Smith 495).

Lucian. Selected Dialogues. Translated with an introduction and notes by C.D.N Costa. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

“For seven days and nights we travelled through the air, and on the eight day we saw in it an extensive land, seemingly an island, circular and shining bright with a great light” (Lucian 206).

“Of this number, eighty thousand were Vulture-Calvary and twenty thousand were mounted on Cabbage-Wingers” (Lucian 207).

“It would be suitable recreation for them to occupy themselves with the kind of reading which not only affords simple diversion derived from elegance and wit, but also supplies some intellectual food for thought” (Lucian 203).

“They will be attracted not only…by the fact that I have told all manner of lies persuasively and plausibly, but because all the details in my narrative are an amusing covert allusion to certain poets” (Lucian 203).

Branham, R. Bracht. “Utopian Laughter: Lucian and Thomas More.” Moreana 22.2 (1985): 23-43.

“The primary source of Lucian’s appeal for More was his quizzical satirical method, the complex virtues of which are hinted at somewhat confusingly in the letter to Ruthall” (Branham 25).

“The point is not that in reducing the complexity of the dialogue to the simple functions of praising virtue and ridiculing vice More interpreted Lucian simplistically, but that this reluctance to acknowledge openly the sceptical assumptions and subversive tendencies so essential to Lucian’s humor is symptomatic of More’s reception and adaptation of his work” (Branham 28).

“The underlying concern of Utopia is thoroughly, Menippean: it asks in the most general terms what is to be taken seriously by calling into question the moral authority of the traditional sources of political wisdom” (Branham 31).

“Clearly, More makes such overt use of these seriocomic formulae to alert his humanist readers to the purposeful role of humor in the rhetorical strategy of book I” (Branham 32).


“Utopia was coined by fusing the Greek adverb ou- ‘not’- with the noun topos- ‘place’- and giving the resulting compound a Latin ending”. – XI Utopia

“ ‘Noplace’ is a newly discovered island somewhere in the new world”- XI

Prof. Angela


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