Week 4 Monday
Utopia is in danger of being taken for granted. "Oh, yeah, the ideal human society, only we know it's fatally flawed by its 'Communist' lack of private property or money economy." First, consider what More hath wrought in what was still a Medieval feudal monarchy. He has invented a nation, and a world, in which things can change for the better as a result of human beings applying their reason cooperatively. Compare this with the rag-tag "democracy" of Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims, themselves a marvelous creation from a Medieval mind. This is part of what makes the C15-16 transition worth marking as a cultural milestone, vs. say the C12-13 or C13-14, in which far more of English culture stayed the same. Start with this simple comparison: What distinguishes More's Utopians from Chaucer's pilgrims? You can find many of the same narrative strategies occurring here as you do in Chaucer, the disclaimers of responsibility, the foisting-off of authorship on personae whose characters can be subtly used to satirize themselves even while attacking real social institutions, etc. To this More adds linguistic play, working Latin and Greek puns into his names for things and generally treating the whole book as an act of extremely serious play. Alas, he could not keep it up and descended to become merely the Chancellor of England.
For more to think about More, click here.