The Influence of Renaissance and Reform in Thomas Mores Book Utopia

When Thomas More wrote his book Utopia the influence of Renaissance and Reform had been spreading its influence over Europe and England. The Renaiisance movement has in its roots the rejuvanation of the interest in ancient greek culture and the re-examination of the works of Plato.Another movement which made its repercussions be strongly felt all over the continent was the Reformation against which the Catholic church of the times was in fierce struggle to subdue its influence. One of the works which best reflects the vogue and the tensions of such a vacillating and volatile age as the sixteenth century was was More’s masterpiece Utopia. Most probably, More must have been inspired by the geographical explorations and especially Americo Vespuci’s personal records before he undertook the task of creating an imaginary world. As we know the discovery of new lands was the impelling force behind man’s inextinguishable desire to learn and find out new things. While crticising the english society and the period in which he lives, he uses the so-called memories of Hytholoday and makes him says what he wants to. He is in all senses an exact Renaissance man and the things which he takes criticises in Utopia are the things which a Renaiisance man also criticises.

In 16th century Europe there was great disappointment with the Catholic church. It had grown to become a corrupted institution which was more concerned with worldy matters and augmenting its wealth than attending to people’s spiritual needs. With the dissemination of these kind of thoughts and with the beginnig of the Reformation movement in Germany, protestanism and nationalism become stronger in Europe and England. When reformist thoughts and principles engulf England, More’s inconceivable opposition to reformist ideas end up in his execution. Whereas, in his Utopia More will stand against religious bigotry and defend ideas of religious and personal liberty. While the Catholic church gives women no place in society and mercilessly scorns them, More, by showing a type of man with his own free-conscience and able to stand on his own two feet will give women an equal position in the society. And quite naturally, More will look for a social solution in the past, ancient greece.

Although there are many ideas concerning Utopia, the most prevalent ones are two or three; the first is that it was meant for entertainment and that he states that there could be no way such a society could exist at the end of the book. The second thought is that More seriously intended to exhibit the corruptions in the society and that he intentionally used the old sailor Raphael not to be subject to any sort of indictment on the strenght of his ideas. So, it could be said that he was a supporter both of Humanism and Reformation. The things which he criticises can be categorised in four groups; social justice, governour class, social life and religion.

In the first book, he begins to criticise the social injustice and the wrong-doings of the governing class and relate its negative consequences which arise out of such circumstances. To him, kings of those times care more about conquests and wealth. Their sole concern is to annex new lands and to keep the citizens in those land in as much pressure as possible for his own safety. Their councilors only seek fame and wealth by flattery and deceit.Governers are strict and traditionalist and when they are presented with something new, all they do is praise their ancestors and wish to be like them unless they can find anything else to countervail attempts of innovation. Another great fault of the english governing class is their little care about social justice; though fertile lands can supply men with a means of living, they are ceded to the hands of few men who use it for sheep grazing.

Farmers who are deprived of their means of living and their homes turn out to become either beggars or thieves. And the english system of justice executes those who are stealing things to survive. This is nothing more than social injustice. Rulers should look for ways to provide people with means of living instead of taking strict measures. Killing thieves is not a remedy. A society in which national wealth is not equally allocated can never become happy; “So what happens? Each greedy individual preys on his native land like a malignant growth, absorbing field after field, and enclosing thousands of acres with a single fence. Result-hundreds of farmers are evicted. They are either cheated or bullied into giving up their property or systematically ill-treated until they are finally forced to sell. Whichever way it is done, out the poor creatures have to go, men and women, husbands and wives widows and orphans, mothers and tiny children, together with all their employees-whose great numbers are not a sign of wealth, but simply of the fact that you can not run a farm without plenty of manpower. Out they have to go from the homes that they know so well, and they can not find anywhere else to live.

Their whole stock of furniture would not fetch much of a price; even if they could afford to wait for a suitable offer. But they can not, so they get very little indeed for it.By the time they have bren wandering around for a bit, this little is all used up, and then what can they do but steal and be very properly hanged?” While More expounds upon these corruptions he also offers solutions through the introduction of his Utopia. For example,ın Utopia there is no problem with beggars or thieves because every single person is given a job.Cities meet one another’s needs and no one suffers from poverty owing to equal allocation of the sources of the country. They do not go after invading other lands;on the contrary they hate acts of violence and war.

In additon to that, he also criticises people’s over-indulgence in luxury and grandeur. In that period, expensive things brought from foreign countries were the concern of the aristocracy and there were special jobs just to meet such luxurious demands.In Utopia, since everyone was equal and no one felt the need to acquire extra wealth there were no such things. Such idle pursuits were nothing but a waste of time which can be well used to improve the mind.

“It is much the same with jewels. There are pearls to be found on the beaches, diamonds and garnets on certain types of rock-but they never bother to look for them.However, if they happen to come across one, they pick it up and polish it for some toddler to wear.” So, they cared about neither precious things nor the satisfaction of bodily desires. That is why there are no such things like brothels or theatres in Utopia. Every one had his own particular occupation which fitted in well with his abilities. Whereas, in sixteenth century england, the nobility did not work and they made their living through the labours of the working class. For this reason he criticises the noble-peasant discrimination. Whereas, in societies where we have the idle-labourer discrimination, there is only a small class who has got money.

Since More was against Reformers in actual life or at least he kept the thought that reformation could lead to the sweeping of the continent by bloody wars and vengeance, he was executed for the crime of treason. Whereas he draws a quite different picture in Utopia and invects against the various religious corruptions of the time.As opposed to the Catholic idea of punishing the body, he presents the Utopians in a different fashion. They are in favour of keeping the mind busy. They are away from fundamentalism in religion. They seek to enjoy life. They try to respond to the nedds of both the body and the soul in a moderate way, without going into extremes.

While Christianity bans suicide, they find it more humanist that one should use his right of euthanasia instead of suffering in pain to death. He also takes a strong stand against religious bigotry.He criticises such things like astrology which he finds superstituous. That is why we can not find degenerated forms of religion in Utopia. They believe in the collaboration of reason and religion. There were also a lot more religious men than needed in the period and most of them survived through doing nothing but exploiting the religious beliefs of the vulgar class.Priests of the period rejected any other forms of thought which were not included in the Bible. The institution of religion was a monarchy in itself. More who is against this keeps the number of priests very limited in Utopia;in every city there are 13 priests and in the whole country there is only one master priest.There is also tolerance in religion.

People may have whatever religion they like.Utopians are against the subversive sides of religion as there is one common pray at the end of each worshipping. They tend to tolerate it even if there is something wrong about a religion which certain people cherish. They prefer this tolerance to people who are saying things they do not believe in out of fear. One common thing about their religious beliefs is the existence of god and the immortality of the soul. Apart from that, there is no official interference in what people believe in.

“The first principle is that every soul is immortal, and was created by a kind God, who meant it to be happy. The second is that we shall be rewarded or punished in the next world for our good or bad behaviour in this one. Although these are religious principles, the Utopians find rational grounds for accepting them.” One of the major problems of the Middle Ages was the confinement of education to a certain exclusive class.As most of the public was busy with doing daily chores, like tilling the soil, they had neither time nor money to get education. Education was within the control of a small section of privileged people who had nothing else to do than spend their time in reading and studying. More explicitly states his opposition against this kind of system in Utopia.Utopians only did necessary things. There did not exist a certain class which dealt with heavy labour. Anyway, they put more importance in the improvement of the mind than the body.

So,when there was a surplus of production, the working hours were reduced to a certain extent and the extra time was used to read and learn. The structure which he established in Utopia might seem like a huge revolution in his own time. He also introduced brand new changes to the social life. In sixteenth century England, women were relegated to a very low position in society. They almost had no social right and did not participate in social activities. Woman was considered to be an evil creature who was tempting men from their righteous path. That is why they were cast out of society. Even though he does not grant them such huge rights, they might be considered as revolutionary in comparison with his time.He gave them the right to divorce in cases of being fooled by their husbands, also the right to work and make money.

In conclusion, More’s Utopia has a perfect structure of ruling without a place for kings. There is tolerance, the right of education and respect for knowledge in the country. The most important of all is that every one contributes equally to the national budget.Whereas, in More’s time, there is religious tension and political instability, there is a large amount of poor people deprived of all the things which make us humans. Most people wate their time in idleness. So,we can say that More,as a humanist, criticises England in all ways possible;socially,economically and politically.And in this period of contradictions, he also dies in a contradictory way.

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