Thomas Moore –Utopia
Thomas More was born in 1478 in London. He was the son of Sir John More, a judge. More studied at St. Anthony's school, followed by Canterbury College in Oxford. His father allowed him to attend Oxford at the persuasion of a friend, since More seemed talented enough. When More started to enjoy himself too much at college, his father had him return to London, where he attended law school at the New Inn. At the same time, More continued his Greek studies with his teachers--Linacre, Grocyn and Colet--and also expanded his knowledge of philosophy, literature and theology.
More became a successful lawyer, and was invited to read the law at Furnicall's Inn. This was considered a great honor, especially for someone as young as More. At this time, More was leading a religious life. However, at age 25, he decided he did not want to live in a monastery, but rather to have a family and live in the city. At 26, he was elected to parliament. At 27, he married Jane Colt. He had four children in the next five years. When More was 33, Jane died, leaving him with four children and an intense law career. He married again, as he knew that this was what was best for his children. His new wife, Alice Middleton, was nothing like him, but he knew her well, and she was an excellent housewife who was six years older than him.
Being incredibly intelligent and charming, More was one of the best lawyers in London, and was chosen to handle many cases in foreign countries. At 32, he became a judge, a position that made him well-known and loved in London. At the same time, More was also engaging himself in literature and philosophy. His masterpiece, Utopia, was written as this time, and is considered to be one of the greatest Socratic dialogues of all time.
After fifteen years of living a comfortable, prosperous city life as a regular citizen, the king called on More's service. This was a position More did not want, as he thought the political life was dangerous and he valued free time for his family and writing more than public service. He also knew that by joining the public service, he would be taking a considerable pay cut. Yet More considered it his duty, as a good citizen, to serve his country.
More became Henry VIII's good friend and personal secretary; and finally became Chancellor in 1529 (he was 51). At this point, he concentrated on two issues: improving the judicial system, and correcting harmful errors of the state and church. However, More spent most of his time doing his job as 'chief justice of the land', where he reformed the legal system. More resigned his position as Chancellor on May 16, 1532, the day after the king and Cromwell convinced the parliament to take away the freedom of the Church. He was then imprisoned in the Tower of London for fifteen months before being executed on July 6th, 1535. This could have been prevented had he signed an oath accepting King Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church in England.
Utopia was printed in Louvain, Belgium in 1516. More was afraid of printing it in England because it clearly mocked English policy.
Utopia Plot Summary
Thomas More is traveling in the Low Countries when he sees his friend, Peter Giles. Giles introduces him to a well-traveled friend of his, Raphael Hythloday.
Raphael speaks of many countries and their policies and laws, and freely criticizes the laws of their own countries. When More asks him why he doesn't join the King's services as a counselor, Raphael says he is happy with his way of life. Furthermore, he does not think his services would be appreciated, as his ideas are very different from the ideas of those around him. Raphael gives an account of a meeting at Cardinal Morton's house, and then hypothesizes about what would happen if he were to express his opinion in other meetings. He then begins speaking of a country, Utopia, which he thinks is ruled very well and is a perfect country.
More begs Raphael to speak more of Utopia, and he does. He first tells of their towns, which are all as identical as possible, and have a maximum of 6,000 families. He then speaks of their magistrates, who are called Philarchs, and are chosen every year by thirty families. An Archphilarch overlooks every ten Philarchs. The Utopians' manner of life is unusual, as gold is of no value, and everything is therefore free. Also, they spend their lives in the city and in the suburbs, living in each place for two years at a time. Laws dictate that they are not to travel without a 'passport', which can only be obtained from the Prince and states where and for how long they are allowed to travel.
Slaves and marriages are spoken of next. Prisoners of war are not taken as slaves, unless they fought in the battles; women are not to be married before eighteen, and men before twenty-two. Sexual encounters before marriage are prohibited, as are polygamy and adultery. There are no lawyers in Utopia, as everybody defends himself or herself in court.
Their military discipline is such that everyone trains for the army on a daily basis, however, the Utopians prefer to hire armies rather than to let their own people go to war, and as money does not matter much to them they can do this without much discomfort. Women are encouraged to join their husbands at war.
Religion is the last topic that is spoken of, and there are many religions in Utopia, as people are free to practice whatever they believe. However, the law states that they must all believe in one Divine Being and that they are forbidden to believe that the human's soul dies with his body. Raphael speaks of the way the country and the people deal with the issues and problems associated with each of these topics, and how we could learn from them and their wisdom.
When Raphael finishes his descriptions, More has further questions and thoughts. However, he does not voice them, as it is apparent that Raphael is tired. The only thing he does say is that he wishes their governments would adapt some of Utopia's rules, but he sees little hope of this happening.
Utopia Major Characters
Thomas More: Author and main character of the book. He sees his friend, Peter Giles, while traveling, and is introduced to Raphael Hythloday, who describes Utopia. His interest in government and travel lead to a debate with Raphael and the description of Utopia, on which the book is based.
Peter Giles: More's friend, whom More sees in the Low countries, and who introduces More to Raphael.
Raphael Hythloday: A well-traveled friend of Giles', who does not believe in the present system of government, but rather in that of Utopia, which he thinks is the only true commonwealth. He lived in Utopia for five years, and describes every aspect of it to Giles and More. The book is based on this description.
Cardinal Morton: A Cardinal whom Raphael once visited, and whose counselors agree with his opinions, whatever they may be. The Cardinal saw some wisdom in Raphael's remarks. The account of the meeting at the Cardinal's house showed how counselors applaud whatever their superiors want, and how Raphael's advice would be of no use to the king, and therefore Raphael should not become a counselor to the king.
Macarians: Neighbors of the Utopians. Their ruler is never to have more than one thousand pounds in gold, or the equivalent. In this manner, the king focuses on the wealth of the country, and not his own. Raphael recommends this to other governments.
Prince: The ruler of Utopia. Elected by the magistrates, he rules for life. His son does not take his position when he dies; instead, a new Prince is elected.
Anemolians: One of Utopia's neighboring people. They have clashing customs with Utopia. When their ambassadors came to Utopia, they wore a lot of gold and treasures, as they had heard the Utopians were poor and had little material wealth, and they wanted to show off. As a result, they were laughed at, as gold and treasures are children's toys in Utopia and are of absolutely no value. After staying a while in Utopia, they realized how foolish they looked.
Zapolets: A savage people, whom the Utopians typically hire as warriors, as they prefer hiring warriors to having their own people fight. They are hunters, and love to fight. Therefore, the Utopians do not feel guilty about hiring them, as they fight voluntarily. However, the Zapolets are fickle--they will change sides for an extra penny a day, and will fight against family members for money. The Utopians feel that the world will not miss dead Zapolets, that it will in fact be a happier place without them.
Utopus: The founder, and first ruler, of Utopia. A very wise man who ordered Utopia to be separated from the rest of the continent by a channel, as he felt that Utopians were superior to the rest of the people. Also, he made many laws, including one that states that all Utopians must believe in a Divine Being, but that they may practice whichever religion they choose.
Brutheskas: What Utopia's priests are known as. There are two types of priests: those that do not marry and believe that they should not engage in any pleasure; and those that marry and enjoy life to the point that it does not interfere with their labor. There are few priests, so that priesthood may remain a highly dignified position, and also because it is difficult to find people good enough to be priests.
Gold/treasure: These have no value in Utopia. However, they are accumulated from exports so that the Prince may hire armies in war.
Family: Consists of about forty people, who live together, and share a trade. There are a minimum of ten people in each family, and the son typically learns from the father and takes up his trade. Should he have an affinity for something else, he may join another family. The oldest able-minded man looks after the family, and is called the governor of the family. It is the wives' duty to serve their husbands, the children's duties to serve their parents
City: Citizens are tenants in cities, which are almost all identical, and at least twenty miles long. Each city is divided into four sections, each with its own marketplace where the fathers go and take what they need from others, and supply in turn what they have produced. Also, good deeds are made reference to in marketplaces, as statues, erected in honor of the deeds, are placed there.
Workday: The workday in Utopia is only six hours. This is because Utopians strongly believe in developing the mind, and give people time to do so. Since everybody works, including women and children, they can produce enough to be almost self-sufficient.
Utopia: Utopia means perfect society, and this is what Raphael is describing in this book--the perfect country that he visited. There is no greed, selfishness, brutality, and very little crime. Furthermore, nobody is unhappy.
Passport: This is necessary in order to travel. It is obtained from the Prince and is a permit to travel to certain places, for a certain period of time. If somebody is caught traveling without this, they are punished.
Clothing: Clothing in Utopia is very bland and durable. People do not wear fine cloths, but instead leather, to work. Clothing is of no importance, and does not signify importance or anything of the like. At festivals, everybody, except the priests, wear white. The fashion never changes, and is based on practicality.
Religion: Utopia practices freedom of religion. However, the law states that everybody must believe in a Divine Being, and that everybody must believe that the human soul lives after death. Also, no one is to disrespect anybody else's religion.
Slavery: Prisoners of war who fought in battle are made slaves. Also, slavery is part of the punishment for certain crimes. Citizens of poor neighboring countries also offer themselves as slaves, though they are to be treated better than regular slaves and they are free to leave whenever they please.
Money: This does not exist in Utopia, as people are free to take whatever they want and supply what they make/produce for no charge.
Amaurot: The capital of Utopia, Amaurot is the most eminent town, as it is where the supreme council resides. Amaurot is located on the side of a hill, and a river, Anider, runs by it. Anider runs down to the ocean, and is fortified at its source so that enemies are not able to poison or redirect the water, for the town depends on this river for water supply. A wall with many towers and forts surrounds Amaurot. The wall is also surrounded on three of four sides by a ditch, and by a river on the fourth side. All the houses inside Amaurot are identical. This is also the place where the annual meeting of counselors, at which they decide the needs and surpluses of each city, takes place.
Governor: This is the oldest able-minded man in the family. His duty is to advise people in the family and take care of the family.
Pleasure: Pleasure can only be found in things that are virtuous. Pleasure is to be sought after, but at no other person's cost. There are several types of pleasure--those of the body, such as eating (and the greatest of which is health), and those of the mind, which are considered the greatest pleasures of all.
Death: Death is not to be feared. People should long to die, in order to meet their maker. People who are dying and are angry about it are thrown in a ditch when dead, and not given a proper funeral.
Laws: There are few laws in Utopia, and no lawyers, as each person defends himself or herself. All laws are made in order for each person to know their duty.
War: Utopians do not like war, however they do engage in it when necessary. It is considered necessary when they are defending themselves, their neighbors, or their friends, and when a Utopian has been injured or killed by a citizen of another country who will not give himself or herself up.