Will the Real Thomas More Please…

The Real Thomas More

 

Will anyone be able to pinpoint which voice in Utopia is the historical Thomas More – More the fictional character, or Raphael Hythloday? He seems to split himself between the two. On the one hand, he is Hythloday because everything that Hythloday says is More the author’s invention. He must consider some of the values of the Utopians to be truly noble and worthy of imitating, or else he would not be using them as elements of a society where overall communal happiness is achieved.

            At the same time, however, the author More shows his doubts about the possibility of achieving such a society. He vocalizes these doubts through the character More in the way he confesses his disagreement with Hythloday in the end. The author does not go to great lengths to explain why More “cannot agree with everything he said,” or to make an argument against Hythloday, and even acknowledges that Hythloday is a man of great learning. In this way he seems dismissive and passive in his disagreement, and one could argue that the historical More sided with Hythloday. Yet, if More truly believed in the Utopia he imagined, why would he have given it a name that can be translated “no place,” or given Hythloday’s character a name which means “speaker of nonsense?” With this fact are the apparent contradictions within the Utopian world, such as their placing no value on gold in local exchange affairs, yet finding value in it to finance foreign wars. It also seems unlikely that the Utopian people would embrace Christianity, as they abhorred sacrifices and the shedding of the blood of animals.

            More was a clever author who understood the 16th century English audience he was writing for. It would have been outlandish for him to write a Platonic dialogue detailing each ritual act, custom or state-sanctioned activity necessary to create what he conceived as the ideal society. He wanted to get his readers thinking and reflecting on their own society – its customs, values, and the ideals from which they were derived – by using the alluring images of the mysterious New World to engage their imaginations.

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