Other Englands
Utopia, Capital, and Empire in an Age of Transition
Sarah Hogan




There is a history in all men’s lives,

Figuring the nature of the times deceased,

The which observed, a man may prophesy,

With a near aim, of the main chance of things

As yet not come to life, who in their seeds

And weak beginnings lie intreasured.

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, 3.1.80–85.

[T]he suspension of the present form of production relations gives signs of its becoming—foreshadowings of the future.

Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 461.1

In 2006, the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies assembled a special issue titled “Utopias, Medieval and Early Modern.” In the introductory essay, the medievalist Patricia Ingham advances the following statement of purpose: “we are interested in understanding why, despite repeated testimony to those “medieval” inspirations that survive in [Thomas More’s Utopia], the narrative of More’s revolutionary newness still seems to be unassailable.”2 Ingham goes on to question the tendency toward supersessionary thinking within utopian studies, especially the variety that represents the early modern utopia as a newly secular mindset, while caricaturing the medieval as irredeemably religious. Ingham counters this periodization by asserting that invention, play, and worldly wonder—defining characteristics within her definition of utopia3—are as common to medieval literature as they are to More’s text.

The case for medieval utopianism is made just as emphatically by Karma Lochrie in her contribution to the same journal issue and in her recent book Nowhere in the Middle Ages.4 Lochrie takes aim at the literary tendency to ghettoize utopia to the realm of mere genre, calling on Ernst Bloch’s theories to assert the higher purpose of a more timeless utopian function. She claims, “The scholarly master narrative of More as the father of all utopias worries me for its circular way of reinforcing the novelty of More’s work, the epistemic break between the medieval and the early modern, and the narrowest concept of what utopia is and does.”5 As their remarks indicate, Ingham and Lochrie gesture toward larger problems of method than period turf wars: the question of how to define utopia—as form, content, impulse, or function—occupies this special journal issue throughout, but their critiques zero in on the narrative approach to literary historiography. In particular, they suggest that the modern and, mainly, Marxist tradition of utopian studies has chronically overemphasized More’s novelty, rupture, and difference at the expense of survivals, seams, and continuities within the history of utopian thought.

Lochrie’s and Ingham’s theses should themselves be contextualized within a larger movement in medieval studies that owes a great deal to James Simpson’s influential Reform and Cultural Revolution. Simpson probes the passage from the medieval to the early modern, troubling dominant periodic terms and the contemporary scholar’s tendency to draw too sharp a line between the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But if Simpson critiques the “constrained memory” of periodized thought,6 he also to a large extent reproduces it, despite his own venture beyond the frequent chronological rift—the coronation of Henry VII in 1485. For example, he begins his massive study by advancing the claim that the sixteenth century was not a period of literary innovation so much as one of generic narrowing and simplification. In the introduction, he goes on to maintain that early modern literature was organized by “unity” and “novelty” as measures of cultural worth (a shift in some ways traced to the development of the printing press), as opposed to the heterogeneity and “complication” which characterized medieval cultural production. In Simpson’s account, historians and cultural critics who study early modernity tend to misguidedly reproduce these same neat divides, the same desire for a “cleanness of line” and “original purity” in cultural traditions7—or in a word, for cultural revolution rather than reformation. When he reckons with More’s fictional society (an imagined commonwealth based on “draconian repression of the body politic in the name of centralized reason”), he treats Utopia rather straightforwardly as a textual fantasy of the “end of history.”8 Simpson here poses a question that arises again in Lochrie’s and in Ingham’s work: “Can More slice across history so cleanly?”9

The question seems pointed, but in reality, it is loaded; Utopia in all these studies becomes a symbolic text of early modernity. It sets the cultural standard of novelty and revolution (in Simpson) and the generic, utopian literary standard (in both Lochrie and Ingham). Ironically, More’s little book again emerges as a uniquely pivotal, seminal text even as this status is denied it. Here, I’ll argue that Utopia is moored in a transitional moment, looking both backward and ahead, internalizing its transitional, transformative context as content. The work is certainly perturbed by past survivals and adapts older forms, then, but it also signals historically novel circumstances and initiates a culturally novel form.

While Ingham and Lochrie offer valuable reminders that a utopian impulse exceeds literary formations and that something akin to utopian wonder or collective dreaming was indisputably present in medieval culture and texts, and while Simpson’s work needs no praise given the influence it exerts, I will here maintain that the study of the genre of utopia demands an approach that is uniquely attentive to historical shifts and departures within its history. The search for origins and ruptures within the study of utopia—however fraught that project will be—seems a necessary one, given utopia’s own probing desire for social difference and historical becoming.10 This is certainly not an attempt to fortify disciplinary boundaries, or to shut down conversations between literary critics who have much to glean from each other; instead, it is to defend and join two of the most lively, and to my mind, seminal sites of critical innovation on More’s work in recent decades: the New Historicist and postcolonial influenced strains of More criticism and the Marxist and Freudo-Marxist set of interpretations.

What these two already cross-pollinated fields share—in the study of utopias and culture more generally—is an interdisciplinary concern with culture’s sociohistorical embeddedness. In addition, both strains of criticism suggest that More’s work is definitively “early modern,” shedding light on the historical development of modern institutions, from the nation state and empire to the nuclear family and capitalism. Yet in the end, they arrive at remarkably different conclusions on the political nature of More’s book. In most new historicist, Foucauldian, or post-structural studies on More, Utopia is less than a radical text, emptied out of its good intentions by its colonial form and policies and its fantasy of instrumental rationality, state power, regulation, and repression.11 Alternatively, in the Marxist tradition of utopian literary studies—anchored as it is in Fredric Jameson’s elaborations on Louis Marin’s structuralist study Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces—the form of Utopia tends to be celebrated (against the content of King Utopus’s social order) as a challenge to ideological thought.12 In Marin’s and Jameson’s readings, Utopia is a kind of formal thought mechanism, orchestrating a radical play of perspectives that estranges the current social system and thus presents readers with a way of recognizing the limits of ideology and history. The Left, then, is no closer to a consensus on Utopia’s political orientation than it was in the Cold War–era debate with virulent anti-communists.13 By some accounts, More’s work is draconian; by others, it is saintly, much like the views in the debate about Thomas More the man.

What this chapter will attempt is a kind of reconciliation of these assessments, or a reading that draws from both critical practices to consider the complicated, overdetermined, and certainly multiple origins of Utopia within a historical process that was both regressive and progressive, or as Walter Benjamin would have it, barbaric and civilized.14 As is always the case with More, part of the difficulty of locating his politics is a matter of the book’s dialogue form, its self-effacing neologisms, and its self-contradictions and satire. Yet I would like to propose that this difficulty is also a consequence of the book’s effort to reexamine localized social upheavals in their abstract, non-placed relationship to transnational forces—a circumstance of deterritorialization15 or displacement that is in tension and also in explicit debate with Utopia’s nation-state formations. If, as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue, the “problem of the nation is aggravated in the two extreme cases of a land without a people and a people without a land,” (begging the question, “How can a people and a land be made . . . a nation—a refrain”),16 Utopia, in its dialogical encounter between a “new” continent and a kingdom of vagrants, offers a fiction that aspires to resolve this riddle.

Of particular concern in the first half of this chapter will be the combinatory, collisional discourses of late medievalism, humanism, and New World writing that structure More’s book and which formally encourage old and new, as well as internal and international, ways of perceiving land, labor, and community in a moment of class upheaval and continental discovery. Specifically, More’s parodic reworking of the medieval tradition of estates satire, as it combines with the philosophical-dialogical tradition of the ideal commonwealth and the emergent discourses of Atlantic travel writing, suggest that Utopia is an effort to reexamine England’s place in a new world. Importantly, these literary forms are also narratives of community formation, both true and fictitious, with various socio-spatial limits: namely, the imaginary polis, the kingdom (as it was and is), and the unknown, expansive, oceanic world. The novel adaptation of the three forms, I’ll suggest, becomes a means for representing diachronic change synchronically and responding to the spatio-temporal dislocations caused by agrarian, mercantile, and imperial changes to the English polity, in ways that emphasize both continuity and rupture with the past, and that seek out figurative means for representing systemic transformation.

In the final section of the chapter, focused mainly on More’s colonial imaginary and Book Two’s story of the island-forming trench, the concern will be to demonstrate Utopia’s own obsession with spatial, geopolitical, and territorial origins. Moreover, an examination of its socio-spatial discourses will highlight Utopia’s nationally circumscribed critique of dispossession. The contradictions that emerge in More’s work will be read not only within the context of an emerging agrarian capitalism, then, but also in relation to an emerging world system, for More’s representation of domestic struggles looks beyond England to consider an alternative that lies across the sea. In essence, this study is an effort to join two threads of criticisms by considering Utopia not as a product of a capitalist and an imperialist moment, but as a genre-pioneering work that attempts to narrate the experience of an at once very immediate and very distant transformation that gave rise to capitalist relations within and beyond England.

On the Origins of Utopia and the Origins of Capitalism

There is a long line of critics of all political and methodological persuasions who treat More’s Utopia as having inaugurated a genre. The most empirical evidence for its ground-breaking status can be found in the number of subsequent works that were explicitly fashioned after the 1516 text. Utopia inspired a host of explicit imitations by fellow English writers like Bacon, Hall, and Plattes, while beyond Britain’s shores, Tommaso Campanella’s Civitas Solis, Johannes Valentinus Andreae’s Christianopolis, and Voltaire’s Candide also paid tribute to More’s book. Perhaps the strongest evidence of More’s invention can be found in the anxiety of influence expressed by some of his pupils. Robert Burton’s Dutch-inspired “Utopia of Mine Owne” (in the Anatomy of Melancholy), for instance, parodically proposes that the source of seventeenth-century England’s troubles is indeed the idleness of commoners.17 Burton nevertheless gives evidence of the paternal pressure More’s text exerted on other writers.18 Interpretive evidence can also be evoked to describe the text’s novelty, from its neologism that coined the contemporary genre’s namesake to its humanist reworking of classical texts and travel narratives. But what marks Utopia apart from earlier classical, pagan, and Christian traditions of the ideal society (within which it should most certainly be contextualized), is the work’s unusually realistic underpinning. Utopia is not just a mythical otherworld; it is also strangely of its own historical world. Unlike the city in Plato’s Republic, where the city is a “pattern” set in the heavens for a “man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees,”19 and unlike the lands in those myths of a golden age such as Ovid described, where “springtime lasted all the year”20 and the land could go untilled, the Utopian island is a coeval territory where mankind is flawed and desiring, requiring labor and the regulating institutions of society in order to meet human needs.21

Yet the more recent critical tendency chiefly examines More’s novelty in relation to his historical conjuncture. This assertion emerges from several disciplinary vantage points and interpretive frameworks: in humanist and history of ideas scholarship by Quentin Skinner, Lorraine Stobbart and Thomas Kenyon; in Foucauldian analyses by James Holstun and Marina Leslie; in postcolonial and poststructuralist readings by Jeffrey Knapp and Denise Albanese, among others; and in the (Freudo-) Marxist interpretations of Richard Halpern, Christopher Kendrick, and Phillip Wegner. As many critics have noted, contemporary reality intervenes more explicitly in More’s textual content and form than it does in many of the ideal societies that predate his. Utopia, after all, is a dialogue set in Flanders during English trade negotiations with Charles V and it directly discusses conditions of political and religious struggle internal to Henry VIII’s realm. As J. H. Hexter argued more than half a century ago, “More’s starting point is not a quest for what would be ideally right in the world but a good working idea of what was actually wrong with it.”22 From the early modernist’s point of view, Utopia, then, is much more than fanciful, otherworldly speculation; historically minded criticism insists on utopian realism. For example, in Robert Appelbaum’s new historicist study on the conjoined history of utopian literature and politics from 1603 to 1670, he places utopian texts and impulses “somewhere between politics and literature, somewhere between historical circumstances and the experience of social ideas,” rejecting utopia as mere pie-in-the-sky fantasy and instead asserting that the book embodies a “worldly but idealized hope.”23 Leslie takes this one step further, claiming that “[t]he historical crisis that the literary utopia represents is . . . a crisis of representation.”24 She is therefore not interested in reading utopias “against history where history serves as utopia’s factual base or extradatum”; rather, her interest lies in how writers like More, Bacon and Cavendish employ fictions to represent the problem of historical transformation and narration.25 Whether utopia is a meta-historical narrative or an overtly politicized cultural form with a specific social agenda, in most contemporary readings, utopian newness owes something to the historical conditions and problems within which it is produced.

While the Marxist interpretation varies in each articulation, a long line of critics, from Karl Kautsky to Christopher Kendrick, have all to some extent argued that More’s text does indeed mark an important turning point in literary and historical formations, not because it demonstrates a wholesale departure from past forms or epistemologies, but because the text is a kind of structural meditation on social determination, made possible—at least in part—by the conjunctural, historical circumstances of late feudalism and emergent agrarian capitalism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Within this account, More’s two-book structure does not only rework Renaissance exploration narratives or rely on an epistemic paradigm shift that resulted from the “discovery” of the “New World”; the comparative juxtaposition of England and Utopia is also a figuration of the social contradictions within a quasi-feudal, quasi-capitalist England. Ironically, Lochrie and Ingham both ignore the question of Utopia’s relationship to this prehistory of capitalism, even though their common reference points are Fredric Jameson’s two seminal essays on More: “Of Islands and Trenches” and “Morus: A Generic View.”26 But their criticisms seem to extend far beyond Jameson’s work to accuse the Marxist approach to genre (and history more generally) of reinforcing sharp disciplinary divides. But to what extent does the Marxist view of history and of Utopia periodize modes of production and cultural movements as sudden, superseding breaks? And what happens to our sense of utopian possibility when we can no longer posit turning points, shifts, or revolutionary moments in literary or lived histories?

I think it is safe to say that most Marxists do not approach Utopia with an interest in genre paternity tests or with a desire to sanctify More; instead, they posit a literary beginning with the intent of understanding historical causality and change, both then and now. As Jameson explains in Archaeologies of the Future, the study of utopian production seeks to illuminate its “historical condition of possibility; for it is certainly of the greatest interest for us today to understand why Utopias have flourished in one period and dried up in another.”27 The question that has long driven Marxist studies of More and the utopian genre is therefore one of motivation and possibility: in other words, Marxists often approach the study of utopia through a realist, or historical lens, intent on understanding how writers reimagined the social both because of and despite their present circumstances. In fact, the fascination with early utopias and More in particular seems occasioned less by a desire to demonstrate how writers threw off the historical chains that bound them than by a need to understand how utopian thought emerges from within hegemonic forces of social determination. The Marxist tradition has followed Jameson’s and Marin’s leads here, considering spatial juxtaposition in More’s work as—on some level—a textual representation of the uneven transition from feudalism to capitalism.

But if Marxist critics emphasize a narrative of historical conjuncture in histories of capitalism or utopia, theirs is hardly the supersessionary vision of progress denounced by Lochrie and Ingham. In fact, the emphasis on transitions challenges a simple, linear model of historical progress or cultural formation and corrects this model through attentiveness to uneven development. In “Marxism and Historicism,” Jameson explains this distinction between structural and progressive historicisms quite carefully. He begins by asserting that any historicism is necessarily an act of narrative reconstruction, which must choose to emphasize either identity or difference, or in Ingham’s and Lochrie’s terms, survivals or departures, respectively. Jameson explores these “presuppositions” in a range of historicisms and anti-historicisms, from the antiquarian to the existential and the Nietzschean. A properly Marxist historiography, he argues, is preferable to other forms because it attends to both identity and difference. The mode of production narrative he endorses, replaces the evolutionary or what he calls the “genetic” story of historical origins with a synchronic understanding of the contradictions of history. As opposed to a stagist, bourgeois model of progress, Jameson proposes that “[e]ach . . . mode of production includes the earlier ones, which it has had to suppress in its own emergence. These are therefore sedimented within a mode of production like capitalism.”28 His geological metaphor is not accidental; the past is not entirely obliterated but underlies the stream of change like a river’s bed, buried beneath the currents that transport the existing social structure.29 While Ingham will accuse the mode of production thesis and Jameson’s reading of articulating utopian newness as a “superseding” replacement of the past,30 to do so she glosses over the fascination with temporal discontinuities and residual survivals within most Marxist histories. For instance, Ernst Bloch’s theory of nonsynchronism, captured quickly in his claim that “[n]ot all people exist in the same Now,” and Raymond William’s dominant-residual-emergent phases of culture are just two of the notable examples of sustained attempts to consider ideological and social lags in the process of history.31

In fact, Marxist studies of utopia that begin with More rarely seem indifferent to classical, religious, and medieval views within his text; on the contrary, they usually recognize that “utopian newness is . . . always perturbed by survivals.”32 Even the most celebratory reader of More, Karl Kautsky, for instance, approaches his 1888 study of the author with the purpose of understanding More’s capacity to imagine something like modern socialism in an absolutist England, but argues for the text’s simultaneously nostalgic character. Kautsky does not deny More’s indebtedness to Plato or his attachment to an “old, feudal, and popular Catholicism,” or what he refers to as More’s “Merry England” sensibility; instead, he argues that humanism, medieval Catholicism, and primitive communism fundamentally inform—and in certain ways, limit—More’s vision of an alternative social order.33 Kautsky argues that these multiple determinations converge with More’s professional responsibilities to London’s merchants and the king, and as a result of this confrontation, produce the visionary element of his Utopia. If Kautsky’s model is admittedly more teleological than most contemporary Marxist studies, he still goes to great lengths to demonstrate that More’s socialist “foregleams” relied on More’s memory of the past. More can reproach the particularly disadvantageous position of commoners in the sixteenth century, Kautsky explains, because he can imagine an “anticapitalist commonwealth [built around] handicraft and peasant agriculture” that borrows heavily from the feudal commons, the guild structures, and the monasteries.34 Nor does Kautsky idolize More; he critiques More’s monarchical disdain for rebellions from below and his inability to imagine an international socialism guided by workers’ struggles. Even here, then, More’s newness is seen as an amalgam of converging classical, feudal, capitalist, and proto-socialist worldviews or contexts; the origin of Utopia in this account has less to do with a clean historical break in period or episteme than with the writer’s place in a highly specific, overdetermined historical juncture that enables the writer to witness massive structural changes and, therefore, to consider the possibility of alternatives.

To understand this point, we might turn to Marx’s own account of this key historical juncture before moving to More. Indeed, Marx himself may be the first writer to understand More’s novelty in relation to the historical shifts that spanned his lifetime. At the end of volume one of Capital, Marx presents a critique and revision of Adam Smith’s notion of “previous accumulation” that seems to echo More’s criticisms of Henrician-era enclosures. The passage is also of interest to us, though, because it signals Marx’s stance on the practice of narrating history.35

In The Wealth of Nations, Smith proposed that the capitalist division of labor began in a distant past with a frugal, industrious elite who had accumulated a stockpile of wealth and raw materials that would later serve as the necessary preconditions for capitalist production. This stockpile, according to Smith, was both the result of efforts to employ “a multitude of manufacturers” (as opposed to menial, household servantry) and the result of a group of individuals’ personal ethics of “parsimony,” a moral virtue he describes as “the immediate cause of the increase of capital.”36 Smith’s discussion of the accumulation of capital leads into a moralizing juxtaposition of the parsimonious man and the spendthrift. Under early capitalism, he pronounces, “every prodigal appears to be a public enemy, and every frugal man a public benefactor.”37 In Capital, Marx parodies this assertion as nothing other than myth, comparing Smith’s origin story of capitalist improvement with the Judeo-Christian myth of original sin. If Adam’s fall condemns mankind to live by the sweat of his brow, Smith’s “nursery tale,” attempts to exempt the wealthy from this curse of toil and hardship.38

Yet Marx does not abandon the search for capitalism’s origins; rather, he presents a history of capitalist accumulation, which he argues, began in various acts of conquest and plunder. Understanding capitalism as a set of social relations, he proposes that the separation “from the conditions of living labour as well as from the means of existence” is an essential condition of capitalist production.39 What primitive accumulation entailed (and in some instances, continues to entail), Marx explains, is the forceful expropriation of the masses from their means of production, and thus, their conversion into a class of wage laborers, dispossessed of land and no longer direct producers of their own subsistence. The origins of capitalism lie not in frugality and savings, Marx attests; instead, “capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”40 The “classic form” of primitive accumulation he focuses on occurs in More’s sixteenth-century England with the enclosure movement and the dissolution of the monasteries, though Marx will also argue that colonial projects constitute another force of expropriation that serves as “the basis of the capitalist mode of production.”41 By “classic form” he seems more to mean “developed form,” for he juxtaposes the acts of dispossession in the sixteenth-century English countryside with “sporadic traces of capitalist production” that appeared “as early as the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries in certain towns in the Mediterranean.”42 He is also clear that he sees the disappearance of serfdom in late fourteenth-century England as a necessary prerequisite to capitalist production, though until the late fifteenth century, the continued use of the commons by small peasant proprietors, along with relative urban prosperity, kept most of the “free” from entering the labor market.43 Importantly, Marx’s narrative of origins actually interrogates the simplistic diachronic account; capitalism has a prehistory and a beginning, though its origins are multiple and historically specific.

As Halpern has also noted, Marx makes mention of Sir Thomas More in two footnotes and one passing reference in this lengthy chapter, citing the critique voiced by the traveler, Raphael Hythlodaeus, of “dispeopling” enclosures as further evidence of “the impressions made on contemporaries by the revolutions in the relations of production.”44 Arguably, however, Marx’s critique of Smith—and thus his alternative theory of primitive accumulation, can be read as a rearticulation of Hythlodaeus’s (and thus, More’s) own arguments. After all, in Book One, as the traveler debates the subject of just punishment at Cardinal Morton’s residence, he famously challenges the notion that the poor resort to theft due to idleness, and instead claims that the real thieves are the enclosing landlords and the indolent nobility. Before his well-known comments on sheep devouring men, Hythlodaeus argues:

[T]here are a great number of noblemen who live idly like drones off the labour of others, their tenants whom they bleed white by constantly raising their rents. (This is the only instance of their tight-fistedness, because they are prodigal in everything else, ready to spend their way to the poor house).45

More here inverts the lawyer’s category of idle poor and frugal rich—a move Marx will later make as well when demystifying Smith’s moralizing nursery tale. Hythlodaeus will continue to provide a largely structural explanation for the Tudor crisis of impoverishment, vagrancy, and crime in place of the lawyer’s ethical condemnations of the poor, just as Marx later will in his historical redefinition of Smith’s myth. It is not just that More’s account of the suffering commoner gives evidence to Marx’s thesis; rather, Marx explicitly channels Hythlodaeus’s critique of the myth of industrious frugality to narrate a history of primitive accumulation. But despite all that we can gain from Marx’s effort to denaturalize and demystify capitalism, More offers something Marx cannot: a textual negotiation of emergent capitalism in process.

Of course, More’s experience of such a process was certainly partial, limited to the conditions of the English countryside, the London lawyer, and the court ambassador for English trade in the Netherlands. But it is precisely this subjective, embedded perspective that may grant us more of a complex and complete perspective on the lived, vexed experience of capitalism’s prehistory. To understand this point, I would like to consider the way in which Book One of Utopia adopts a dialogical and satirical form, with class-coded perspectives, that resembles and reworks Medieval literature of the estates. More’s choice of form suggests that he was acutely aware that history is an uneven process, and culture a site of social struggle.

Estates Satire and Debate in Book One

Although Book One was composed subsequent to Book Two, when More returned to England from his negotiations in Bruges, let us begin with it, for its very lack of necessity, its ostensible separateness, is a sign of its crucial importance. Decades ago, Hexter argued that the Dialogue on Counsel provides an elaborate frame for Hythlodaeus’s description of the island of Utopia in Book Two that recodes just about every minute detail of that society within the context of an argument about whether or not private property is necessary to compel men to labor. Hexter’s interpretation of this structure is pointed, as he observes that More employed a kind of “through-the-looking-glass” logic, where he “tailored” the debate of Book One to fit the “answers” proposed in Book Two.46 As Hexter explains, More “did not set up a straw man in order to knock it down; he actually set up a straw man that he had already not only knocked down but utterly and completely demolished.”47 Book Two, as a result, should be read not just as a fanciful description but as a rhetorical tactic employed against certain English practices.

The dialogue structure of the text, however, is even more complicated than this suggests. In fact, the debates in Book One are often compared to a set of Russian matryoshka dolls, in that arguments are nested, recollected, and positioned within the frame of other conversations, with shifting interlocutors, settings, contexts, and concerns.48 Though the primary debate on counsel takes place in the garden in Antwerp among Morus (the author’s literary persona and the first person of the text), his young friend Peter Giles, and the sunburned, Portuguese traveler and scholar, Raphael Hythlodaeus, More cleverly sets this discussion in a biographical and historical frame of stalled trade negotiations, before—in the middle of Book One—including a lengthy, recollected debate about crime and punishment in England rehearsed by the worldly traveler. Each of these open-ended conversations requires closer attention, and while critics have often charted the strange slippages between topics, settings, and rhetorics, very little attention has been paid to More’s class-coded, mixed-mode construction of character.

More’s use of the dialogue form, in fact, is almost always treated as an adaptation of classical sources. Plato, Lucian, Cicero, and Quintilian are the usual suspects in the search for antecedents.49 Bracht Branham demonstrates how Book One’s relatively one-sided dialogue resembles the rhetorical interplay of Lucian’s Tryannicida (which had been translated by More and Erasmus in the years preceding Utopia), with its dialogue between a loquacious Cynic philosopher and a comparatively quiet authorial persona.50 More’s dialogue is less a Platonic give-and-take interrogation, he suggests, and closer to Lucian’s seriocomic, incongruous style, though More’s irony is more idealistic than cynical. Robert Elliott has also demonstrated More’s indebtedness to the satirist-adversary encounters of Roman verse satire.51 George Logan, in his discussion of the first book’s deliberative rhetoric—a style of speech for debating choices—also traces Hythlodaeus’s verbosity to Cicero’s preference for “long set speeches” in his dialogues De Oratore and De Officiis.52 There is no disputing More’s imitation (and adaptation) of classical forms and themes, let alone his profound commitment to the Greek and Latin studia humanitatis; the unparalleled fascination with dialectic and rhetoric during the Renaissance, especially dialogues lacking closure, was first and foremost a matter of classical inheritance.53 Still, I would like to suggest that the medial art of dialogue linking the ancient and the early modern combines with an intermediate tradition with roots more recent and closer to home in Utopia, that of medieval estates satire.

More begins the text proper54 by describing his purpose in Flanders: “The most invincible King of England, Henry the Eighth of that name, a prince adorned with the royal virtues beyond any other, had recently some differences of no slight import with Charles, the most serene Prince of Castile, and sent me into Flanders as his spokesman to discuss and settle them.”55 Morus’s situation is not mere fiction; it was this responsibility that provided More-the-author with the spare time needed to compose most of his book. The “differences” he refers to between Castile and England began in 1514, when the marriage of the king’s sister to Charles fell through. The following year, Charles assumed the crown in the Netherlands, and Henry, still bitter about a new French betrothal, pulled England’s staple commodity of wool from Dutch markets, then the center of the cloth trade. This strain in the relationship was not a desirable one for England’s merchants and landowners, or for the Crown, which was by then accustomed to taxing the wool it exported.56 More, a long-time member of the Mercers’ Company, like his father before him, was selected as part of the embassy to reopen the channels for trade; in fact, London merchants recommended that he join the ambassadors in Bruges.57 Utopia is set in this intermittent pause, when, as More writes, “certain points remained on which we could not come to an agreement.”58 The diplomats adjourned to Brussels to consult their prince, and both More-the-author and Morus (More-the-character) escape to the pleasant conversation of Peter Giles in Antwerp.59 The wool trade is then both a context for literary production and a pretext for Hythlodaeus’s report on Utopia, meaning that the focus on the enclosure of land in Book One is far from a coincidental or fanciful topic of discussion; it is of highly topical and personal importance. Very early on, then, the text suggests that this focus is animated by the historical conflict among mercantilist interests, monarchical dictates, and the agrarian commoner’s situation, for thinking ahead to Hythlodaeus’s bitter indictment of England’s ravenous sheep, it was the peasant and smallholder demographic that suffered depopulating enclosures, continued in part by these international negotiations.

The primary exchange in Antwerp between the three principal speakers—Raphael Hythlodaeus, Morus, and Peter Giles (who is virtually silent)—centers on two main issues: whether philosophers should serve kings and whether private property creates a stable or crime-ridden and unjust social order. In these framing, real-time debates on counsel and property, the positions can be mapped economically, politically, and nationally. Morus, a lawyer and an advocate for trade interests, unsurprisingly defends private property as the basis of national plentitude and social stability, while asserting that philosophers can in fact influence kings for the good of the state. Indeed, when Morus defends private property as the source of plenty, he ends by firmly stating, “I for one cannot conceive of authority existing among men who are equal to one another in every respect.”60 Morus’s defense of private property is then simultaneously his defense of monarchical authority; far from undermining absolutist rule, his political and economic views take it for granted and rather explicitly join under the banner of mercantilist ideology.61 While absolutism in England ultimately constituted a threat to the interests of many landholders and bourgeois merchants under capitalism—not because it held the potential to eradicate private property but because it made property absolute as that owned by the Crown—in the early sixteenth century, this conflict had not yet come to a head as it would in the middle of the seventeenth.62 As Perry Anderson has argued, the genesis of the industrial capitalist in England actually required a strong centralized state.63 More and Morus’s political ideology, then, need not conflict with More’s obligations to London’s cloth merchants: the author’s literary persona consequently speaks on behalf of England’s monarch and merchants.

Hythlodaeus’s critique of English absolutism and his class perspective are harder to map; he is a peripheral figure, more cosmopolitan than Portuguese, more no-placed than tied to a territory. He is twice also called a “stranger,”64 but revealed to be a Portuguese by birth, and a scholar of Greek and Roman philosophy who has sailed with Amerigo Vespucci on multiple voyages to the New World. Additionally, he is encountered in Antwerp, and as Morus and Peter learn, he has spent a fair share of time in England and in the Middle East. Even Morus seems to recognize his transnationality, for when he advises Hythlodaeus to engage in public service, he recommends that he join “the council of some great prince.”65 Hythlodaeus’s apprehensions about monarchical consolidation are then also implicitly the consequence of his cosmopolitan rootlessness and his status as an outsider, unenclosed by any state. Put another way, he himself represents a positive figure of the displaced and the dispossessed, just as the Utopians will.66 This accounts at least in part for his endorsement of communal property, while it distances him both literally and politically from any state (aside from Utopia perhaps).

The interlocutors in Book One—and their corresponding viewpoints—are frequently interpreted biographically, and quite understandably so, for More’s self-referential jesting, and the text’s topicality, make author-centered readings of this book particularly apt. For example, in Greenblatt’s elegant chapter on More in Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Utopia’s interlocutors are interpreted as the split between More’s public self, the lawyer and undersheriff—voiced in the character of Morus—and his inner-self, the humanist, Catholic More, struggling to decide whether to serve the Crown, and thus, linking More (the author) with Hythlodaeus.67 But there are also other ways of conceptualizing this interaction between the social and the self. After all, More’s text probes the relationship between the collective and the individual, considering how institutions—from the legal and economic to the familial and educational—regulate personal conduct for better and for worse. Hythlodaeus’s perspective in Book One gives evidence to this more Platonic understanding of the forces that govern actions when he endorses a more pedagogical approach to social reform:

If you don’t try to cure these evils, it is futile to boast of your severity in punishing theft. Your policy may look superficially like justice, but in reality it is neither just nor practical. If you allow young folk to be abominably brought up and their characters corrupted, little by little, from childhood; and then if you punish them as grownups for committing the crimes to which their training has inclined them, what else is this, I ask, but first making thieves and then punishing them for it?68

This is not to say that something like human nature is irrelevant to More; crime persists in Utopia, and therefore, mankind is irreversibly fallen. Still, the structural analysis Hythlodaeus provides suggests that when reading Utopia we should be careful not to enclose the text within the author’s individual subjectivity.

Importantly, the various debates in Book One also give voice to an ideological cross-section of English social class perspectives and literary figurations, clearest—because most caricatured—in the episode at Cardinal Morton’s table. Here, a second set of voices and characters are introduced through a formally and historically displaced debate about property and punishment that will further complicate the primary dispute between the mercantilist ambassador and itinerant outsider. Hythlodaeus provides no explanation of why he came to England or how he came to know the Archbishop of Canterbury, though the temporal marker that anchors his memory for this visit of “several months” is that it took place “not long after the revolt of the Cornishmen against the King had been put down with great slaughter of the poor folk involved.”69 He is referring to the Cornish rebellion of 1497, which was a response to Henry VII’s expensive £120,000 war subsidy—most of which became the burden of the population. This tax was to be used to raise an army against James IV, the Scottish king who had recently received Perkin Warbeck, the impostor claiming rights to the English throne. Cardinal Morton was widely believed to be behind this taxation, and was thus a target of the rebellion’s leaders, such as Thomas Flamank.70 Like many early Tudor rebellions, the Cornish revolt crossed social divides, joining peasants, craftsmen, and some gentry who marched peacefully and orderly to London to confront the Crown. But as Hythlodaeus indicates, the rebellion was crushed later that year near Deptford Bridge. Narrative plausibility seems to stretch, then, to include this nearly twenty-year-old conversation, making this passing reference to the rebellion all the more significant. Moreover, More’s biographical connection to Morton offers little concrete explanation for the Cornish reference, since he served at the Cardinal’s table from approximately 1490 to 1492, years before these events took place. More than simply functioning as a historical marking point, then, the reference to the Cornish revolt is included because it sets the subject for debate and grounds the discussion of abstract policy in a scene of British social class conflict. Like the peasant uprising of 1381, which haunts late feudal estates satire, the Cornish rebellion explains the interlocutors’ discussion of social volatility; the reference, in short, suggests that economic upheaval is the context and content that sparks Utopian debate. Just as importantly, Hythlodaeus’s dialogue-within-a-dialogue adds a new layer of historical memory to the first book of Utopia, one which adapts a familiar form of estates satire to connect the trends of unemployment, vagrancy, and scarcity—conditions of increased severity in 151671—to ongoing situations of social and rhetorical contest, staged in a longer context of class transformation.

The estates satire of the late Middle Ages, as both Ruth Mohl and Jill Mann have explained, often rested on a nostalgic ideal of a past paradigm, not necessarily a living social reality.72 The individual portraits of each estate—often further divided by degree, occupation, and urban or agrarian region, as in The Canterbury Tales—were intended to highlight the moral waywardness of each social class against an older ideal of duty. Estates satire as a form was then itself a product of late feudalism, an economic mode with its own internal dynamics toward both development and dissolution. In fact, the fourteenth century, when estates satire flourished, is usually referred to as a period of “feudal crisis,”73 brought on by the mid-century population decline caused by the Black Death, the ensuing intensification of arbitrary state taxation, and the more gradual commutation of labor dues to money dues—all of which began to alter agrarian relations of surplus production and extraction, leading to the end of serfdom and the rise of the wage relation.74 In the shadows of these changes and the uprising of 1381, Chaucer, Langland, and Gower satirized each estate in order to imagine a more stable set of class relations based on the ideal of mutual dependence.

The remembered, antedated conversation at Cardinal Morton’s, a vehicle for Hythlodaeus’s satirical critique of dispossession and idleness, revives this late feudal form in its use of socially coded allegorical voices, and its narration of a state-based social totality marked by a schism of occupational perspectives. If the discourse cleverly satirizes bad English policies, nowhere naming Henry VIII but everywhere implying his abuses, most of More’s characters are familiar, even stock in their portrayal. Various voices at the table are stereotypical objects of humor, such as the babbling, moronic lawyer75 (who is cut off by Morton) and the merry yet touchy friar. In the tradition of anti-mendicant satire, More’s friar is mocked by the fool, who compares his occupation to that of vagabonds, not unlike Chaucer’s Friar Huberd, who is described in the General Prologue as the “best beggere in his hous.”76 More’s satirical inversions in this exchange also echo the commonplace attack in estates satire on the nobility’s and clergy’s pride, greed, and luxury as the root of social instability. For instance, The Simonie (c. 1321), an anonymously composed complaint considered by Ruth Mohl to be one of the earliest examples of the “literature of the estates,” begins with these lines:

Whii werre and wrake in londe and manslauht is i-come,

Whii hungger and derthe on eorthe the pore hath undernome,

Whii bestes ben thus storve, whii corn hath ben so dere,

Ye that wolen abide, listneth and ye mowen here

The skile.

I nelle liyen for no man, herkne who so wile.77

Plenty and mirth are downtrodden, the narrator continues, for “pride is risen on heih.”78 Even if Hythlodaeus’s discourse lacks this apocalyptical foreboding, he could well issue these words, especially when one considers how Utopia concludes—with a diatribe against pride, that “one single monster, the prime plague and begetter of all others.”79 The moral economy of Utopia, in short, finds a precursor in medieval literature of the estates, an established, vernacular language for satirizing English class antagonisms and the immoral excesses of the powerful.

Other Tudor reformers like John Heywood, John Rastell, and Sir Thomas Smith would also rejuvenate the tradition, staging fictitious, caricatured intra-class debates featuring a merchant, a knight, and a plowman. For example, in Gentleness and Nobility (1525), Heywood and Rastell—both members of More’s family and inner circle—feature a plowman who defines nobility through his virtue, “good condition” and self-sufficiency.80 Like Hythlodaeus,81 this agricultural laborer attributes idleness not to peasants but to private property and squandered inheritances:

All possessions began furst of tyranny

For when people began furst to encrese

Some gafe them self all to Idylnes

And wold not labour but take by vyolence

That other men gat by labour & dylygence

Than they that labouryd were fayne to gyfe

Them pert of theyr getting in peas of lyfe

Or elles for theyr landis money a porcyon

So possessyons began by extorcyon

And when such extorsyoners had oppressyd

The labouryng people than they ordeynyd

And made laws meruelous strayte & hard

That theyr heyrs myght inioy it afterward

So the law of inhetyaunce was furst begon

whych is a thyng agayns all good reason

That any inherytaunce in the world shuld be.82

The merchant, by contrast, insists that rulers are needed to “dryfe the multitude all . . . to labour to fall,”83 and thus, he adopts a position remarkably close to Morus’s insistence that private property prevents idleness. Yet the plowman in Gentleness dominates the conversation, and articulately adopts “a rhetorical movement toward material conditions that highlight[s] the vital role of peasants in the social and political economy and locate[s] the source of ruling class power in peasant hands.”84 Authored a decade after Utopia, Heywood and Rastell’s Gentleness presents another way of thinking about Book One as an early Tudor reworking of estates dialogue.

Yet More is further adapting the late feudal tradition, in that a philosopher and stranger are acting as the source of the smallholders’ complaint, speaking for the dispossessed plowman otherwise absent from the table at Morton’s (and even more crucially, from the historical negotiations on the trade of wool).85 When the lawyer praises the “rigid execution of justice . . . practicised on thieves”86 yet wonders why the threat of capital punishment has not dissuaded more criminals, Hythlodaeus responds with his famous, systemic account of crime as the consequence of depopulating enclosures and unemployment. Hythlodaeus’s worldliness, not his own experience of expropriation, explains his idealistic perspective on agrarian labor, viewing it as both the basis of collective prosperity and the most honest of trades. In a generous reading, we could suggest that More grants greater authority to the plowman’s voice by channeling it through his worldly, Platonic philosopher-satirist.87 But because lower-class agency is strangely absent in the book (or if registered in the Cornish reference, it is marked as a problem more than a transformative force), Hythlodaeus’s relatively persuasive complaint should be understood as part of a general utopian tendency to figure labor, law, policy, and institutions—not class revolt—as the basis of social organization and the means for transformation. As Williams argues in The Country and the City, Hythlodaeus’s views offer a “qualified humanism” that occupies two “grounds of complaint,” one against the “speculative rich” and one against the “idle poor.”88 In Williams’s account, the island of Utopia is a “smallholder’s republic” where labor is the organizing principle, to be protected both from the interests of monopolies and the idleness of aristocracy and, on the other end of the spectrum, from the threat of rebellion from below. The passing reference to the Cornish revolt adds fuel to this argument, as do interpretations like Phillip Wegner’s, which read Utopia as the product of “the emergence of a new totalizing organization of social practice that will take place within . . . the nation-state.”89 Hythlodaeus’s memory may very well suggest a defeatist view of rebellion and a sympathy for the dispossessed and the hungry, but in the end, the reorganization of the state that is proposed is driven by a desire to resist depopulating enclosures and simultaneously to stabilize society in order to promote rationalized labor. After all, in his description of the Polylerites, Hythlodaeus suggests that enslaved, hard labor is a fitting solution to vagabondage, an alternative Wegner has compared to an emerging system of wage labor.90

Reading Book One as an adaptation of estates literature can help also explain that the book’s biting, socially engaged humor extends beyond the legacy of Lucian or the influence of Erasmus.91 After all, the philosopher is, as his surname suggests, a high-minded fool, and thus, it seems necessary to consider how More’s use of estates satire also complicates the more elevated, truth-claims voiced by Hythlodaeus—not to undercut Hythlodaeus’s ideas specifically, so much as to portray all political discourse on a spectrum of foolishness. The seemingly tangential, “silly” interlude92 with the friar and the “parasite” or fool—a parody that suggests that the only suitable approach to courtly conversation is one of comedy—offers a metanarrative for Book One’s satire on the English court’s inversion of high and low discourse, a satire that More arguably takes further than his Chaucerian precursors. Here, the hanger-on is misinterpreted by the friar, who responds with self-righteous zeal and anger, while the Cardinal, amused by the jest, advises the friar not to spar with a buffoon. Hythlodaeus will end the interlude, and the entire reminiscence about the late fifteenth-century debate, by frustratingly suggesting that the Cardinal has treated his ideas as if they were also merely tolerated foolishness. Yet Hythlodaeus, ironically, owns this foolishness, since he complains that Morton’s flatterers have treated him most unjustly in almost taking his ideas seriously simply because Morton has entertained them, as if courtly retinues were not the target of his very complaint. In other words, the seeming diversion of the anti-fraternal episode is crucial to Book One because it recodes the preceding conversation on crime, punishment, and vagrancy as a satire between a witty fool, Hythlodaeus, and a wise, good-natured, open-minded churchman in such a way that readers are instructed not to take the discourse too seriously, or conversely, to ignore its inherent wisdom.

But Hythlodaeus is also rather like the overly sensitive friar in this figuration, a point emphasized in Morus and Hythlodaeus’s late Book One conversation on the only means for counseling kings. Morus actually agrees that Hythlodaeus’s strange views are suitable only for philosophical conversations and if presented at court—as he has passionately shared them in this ostensibly private conversation—would indeed fall on deaf ears. Courtly conversations on political action—no matter the grave circumstances, Morus suggests, are more like a comedy of Plautus, while the traveler’s oration is simply too tragic and forthright. The irony, then, is that Hythlodaeus’s critique of the abuse of the powerful, in discussing serious problems with high mindedness and uncharacteristic severity, is out of tune with English courtly drama, a speech more mad and frivolous, a point already made clear in the comic interlude. Hence, Morus’s famous advice to “influence power indirectly” is specifically rhetorical advice, in which humor and artifice is a necessary cloak for wisdom, lest the wise be dismissed as the most inconsequential of fools. Stately discourse here resembles low comedy, both for better and worse.

A literary, Latin dialogue dominated by a fictitious speaker, however, is neither courtly advice nor private conversation, but instead could be said to mediate these spheres and resolve the central dispute between Hythlodaeus and Morus, primarily by seeking another, more open-minded public audience willing to, like Morton, imagine the merits of untested or foreign ideas.93 Or as Miguel Abensour explains, “the writing of utopia . . . offers itself as an opening toward a possible passage, at least an attempt at one, from the truths spoken in the garden to the opinion that reigns at the court.”94 For Utopia does indeed force strange ideas on readers, but in calling attention to their strangeness, to their nonsensicalness as fictitious talk, More-the-author is able to convey serious, systemic critique and strange ideas precisely through the satirical indirection of an imagined discourse aimed at a readership, rather than the sole audience of a king. Utopia is a fiction like Raphael Hythlodaeus: it is itinerant, foreign, and in search of others willing to listen to more radical, wild speculations about possible law and order. Book One transforms the classical, philosophical tradition of ideal states and verse satires precisely by Anglicizing them, not just in terms of subject and setting but also through comical class caricature, and an identity-driven play of perspectives.

What might be most interesting about More’s cast of characters, then—from a literary scholar’s perspective at least—is his use of multiple types in these debates—such as the allegorical, the historical, and the overtly fictional. Book One mixes modes of representation, combining aesthetic forms to socially code each character and simultaneously politicize each cultural form, assigning different positions and perspectives to types of speech. The allegorical lawyer expresses rather conservative and customary views; the fictionalized historical personas of Morus and Cardinal Morton are open to Hythlodaeus’s ideas but are also more moderate and monarchically beholden; and the work’s only overtly fictional speaker, a go-between for Europe, the ancient world, and the New World, is the most radical voice of the lot. In Williams’s schema, we can read these characters as expressing a residual, dominant, and emergent play of perspectives through their uneven cultural forms, as well as their expressed political sentiments.95 Hythlodaeus’s fictitious, worldly identity, then, also seems to imply a futurity and to emphasize the central Utopian challenge: how to articulate newness.

Of course, the multiple, ambiguous meaning systems attached to the text’s most vocal character also look backward to philosophical and religious figures, so that again, newness is a matter of adaptation, recombination, and recontextualization. The character’s surname, Hythlodaeus, one of the work’s many Greek neologisms, is usually translated as “expert in trifles” or “speaker of nonsense,”96 a choice that belies the influence of Lucian of Samosata’s self-effacing narrator in the A True Story.97 This name has long been interpreted as a sign of More’s distance from Hythlodaeus’s views, though such a reading ignores the way “Morus” itself implies moronic foolishness, a nomenclature reinforced by the finally insufficient remarks of the fictional statesman.98 Crucially, Hythlodaeus’s given name, Raphael, links his character also to the patron saint and angel of medicine, who like all angels was a go-between, a messenger of God’s will. “Like his archangelic prototype,” Elizabeth McCutheon astutely observes, “[More’s] Raphael is a prophetic messenger, traveller, and guide, attacking the avarice and pride of a country blindly following the wrong road. As the ‘medicus salutis’ he seeks to cure a sick state; as a ‘pereginator’ to show the right way.”99 In light of his first name, then, it is difficult to trivialize all that Hythlodaeus reports (at least when we consider the views of a devout Christian like More).100 Consequently, the name Raphael Hythlodaeus should be understood dialogically: its bearer embodies a collision and collusion of various discursive traditions and meaning systems that emphasize his foreignness. The Portuguese scholar and sailor who speaks for an imaginary New World island in order to entertain and instruct an English and Dutch audience is also the product of a cultural exchange between Judeo-Christian and classical knowledge systems. His voice disrupts and jars with the late feudal tradition of estates satire because he has no given or expected role in the drama of English debate.

It is precisely, then, Hythlodaeus’s status as a vagrant, worldly outsider which grants him critical distance on English social matters and grants Thomas More, the diplomat overseas, a vantage point from which to launch his estranged critique, while at the same time resolving his statesman’s anxieties about the revolutionary potential of the expropriated. Hythlodaeus is an overdetermined fiction, in other words, whose placelessness embodies the juxtaposition of the Other and England. If More’s Book One dialogue resembles estates satire, the character of Raphael Hythlodaeus suggests that the customary, established, and vernacular ways of allegorically representing the play of class viewpoints leave little room for novel or “strange” thought, to the extent that new cultural forms become necessary as systems and societies alter. In the character of Hythlodaeus, the smallholder’s complaint meets the philosopher’s theory and the traveler’s worldly relativistic perspective, and in this remixing of discourses, More reinvents social satire precisely by seeking a vantage point on England from the outside. In this way, Utopia borrows from the late feudal tradition of estates satire, in representing the changing nation’s crises sardonically and socially, while also transgressing the form by looking elsewhere, beyond the structure of the commonwealth and beyond the representative voices of English society, precisely for a new way of seeing the nation in a more global, transatlantic context.101

This overlay of forms—the domestic-historical and abstract-philosophical—can also help to account for the uncannily modern structural analysis voiced in More’s text. Among others, Amy Boeksy has charted the uniquely sociological perspective of More and other utopian authors, demonstrating how early modern utopias represent “the ideal commonwealth as shaped by institutions rather than individuals, monarchs, or otherwise.”102 Still, we would do well to acknowledge that Hythlodaeus’s sociological, constructivist analysis is saturated with the language of moral conduct, especially as the attack on poverty becomes a critique of wanton luxury, gluttony, and pride. R. H. Tawney has argued that while medieval social theory was based on religiously informed ethics, in which labor was deemed honorable and trade, money-lending, and excessive wealth, perceived as perilous to the soul, the early modern period saw the genesis of a “naturalist” view of the social, where men would learn to “persuade themselves that greed was enterprise and avarice economy.”103 Hythlodaeus’s critique—and thus, More’s Utopia—represents an early confluence of these two competing understandings of the relationship between the individual and society; as Geoff Kennedy has articulated in a brief comparison between More and other Tudor reformers, Utopia possesses a relatively novel “economic conception of the state” but also an “‘enlightened’ social conservatism” based in a medieval moral economy.104

This meeting of moral and systemic perspectives is especially clear in the late conversation in Book One, once the scene returns to the garden in Antwerp and the debate between the humanist thinkers returns to the topic of monarchy, but now with more attention to competing understandings of property as the ultimate basis of their dispute on counsel. Morus here offers a reformer’s perspective not yet voiced in the late-fifteenth century conversation at Cardinal Morton’s, one which expresses anxieties about idleness and insists that the tempering of monarchical ambitions and wealth must be the source of a commonwealth’s abundance and security. Whereas Hythlodaeus warns of French advisors who instruct monarchs that a “king, even if he wants to, can do no wrong, for all property belongs to the king, and so do his subjects themselves; a man owns nothing but what the king, in his goodness, sees fit to leave him,”105 Morus takes a monarchical view of the body politic for granted, insisting (in another metaphor for top-down change) that “a people’s welfare or misery flows in a stream from the prince as from a never-failing spring.”106 More voices a similar moralizing perspective on the currents of change in his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1534), which sympathetically considers the salvation of the poor and the potential damnation of the uncaring rich, yet nevertheless argues that “there never has been nor will be any lack of poor people” and that the eradication of riches would only result in a rise of beggars, since the wealthy are “the wellspring of the livelihood of the poor.”107 So too do More’s Latin poems, written in the years preceding Utopia, adopt a more late-feudal, Catholic approach to the problem of poverty. Though these poems express concern about unchecked tyranny, kingly wealth, and human corruptibility, they nevertheless metaphorically figure the good king as the father, head, and guardian of the flock, or the origin of happy and prosperous subjects.108 And if, as he suggests in poem #198, rule by senate is “the best form of government,” the young Thomas More also interrupts his idealistic musings, dismissing the consideration for its lack of pragmatism, and even its assumption of personal authority:

—but say, what started you on this inquiry anyway? Is there anywhere a people upon whom you yourself, by your own decision, can impose either a king or a senate? If this does lie in your power, you are king. Stop considering to whom you may give power. The prior question is whether it would do any good if you could.109

In other words, in his poetic and philosophical works, More’s tendency is to portray the renewed morality of the elite as the only route to reform, aligning very closely with the views of More-the-character in Utopia. In juxtaposition, Hythlodaeus’s systemic account of crime and condemnation of private and absolute property, sees the populace not as mere reflections of a prince’s morality, but as a diverse, divided collectivity of subjects whose behaviors, livelihoods, and consciences are shaped by laws, relations, and policies—a more institutional framework for envisioning the nation, and one which seems drawn, at least to some degree, from the more decentered, sociological discourse of estates satire.

But this tendency to see change as an imposition from above, whether from a king’s renewed morality or from sound policy, is—as I have been suggesting—also an unwillingness to accept a new set of social relations emerging from below, and specifically, from the struggles against rack-renting, land grabbing, wage repression, and overtaxation that defined late feudalism. The productivity and stability of the commonwealth—not equality and ease—is the central objective in Utopia. Even the cosmopolitan, itinerant, radical Hythlodaeus ends up trapped back within a nationalist framework, advocating ironically for the enslavement of vagrants and, in the description of the Macarians, suggesting that one of the few reasons the Crown must maintain modest wealth is for the precise purpose of suppressing rebellions.110 In More’s Utopia, the state is thus viewed as a necessary socioeconomic force to the extent that it must mitigate and control the uneven, volatile transition from feudalism to capitalism. It is the epistemological boundary on Hythlodaeus’s and More’s ability to imagine systemic change.

Nevertheless, Book One, importantly, represents England itself in a state of flux, becoming, and schism; difference is not located merely across the seas. In More’s book, the overdetermined moment of emergent capitalism is characterized by an absent-present resistance, but also by class-coded debate. More’s main discursive innovation is to reinvent the ideal polis in the figure of the historically mutable, unstable nation. In Utopia, a synchronic examination of England’s own changing estates joins with a diachronic perspective that looks to the feudal, the ancient, and the Other in order to look ahead.


The phrase “peninsula made an island” is taken from John Speed, The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine presenting an exact geography of the kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the iles adioyning (London: 1612), 1.

1. In the section of the Grundrisse dealing with the “original accumulation of capital,” Marx provides this exposition: “Just as, on one side the pre-bourgeois phases appear as merely historical, i.e. suspended presuppositions, so do the contemporary conditions of production likewise appear as engaged in suspending themselves and hence in positing the historical presuppositions for a new state of society.” In other words, to understand the presuppositions of capitalist accumulation, one needs a historical hindsight that also grasps the fundamental principles of the present economy. Marx’s more famous evolutionary metaphor, also from the Grundrisse—“Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape” (105)—more succinctly captures this explanation of an epochal historical method.

2. Patricia Ingham, “Making All Things New: Past, Progress, and the Promise of Utopia,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36.3 (2006): 481.

3. This definition is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’s claim that utopia is essentially just a “holiday work . . . which starts many hares and kills none.” English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), 168.

4. Karma Lochrie, Nowhere in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

5. Karma Lochrie, “Sheer Wonder: Dreaming Utopia in the Middle Ages,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36.3 (2006): 494. In Nowhere in the Middle Ages, Lochrie writes, “Utopus-like, scholars of More’s Utopia . . . sever his narrative utopia from his historical past, too, creating of it a conceptual and generic enclave alongside that other coeval birth, ‘nascent modernity.’” See Nowhere in the Middle Ages, 3.

6. James Simpson, Reform and Cultural Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.

7. Ibid., 2.

8. Ibid., 191, 193.

9. Ibid., 193.

10. A similar claim is made by Phillip Wegner at the start of “Utopia and the Birth of Nations,” in Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

11. Key utopian studies here include Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); James Holstun, A Rational Millennium: Puritan Utopias of Seventeenth-Century England and America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Jeffrey Knapp, An Empire Nowhere: England, America, and Literature from Utopia to The Tempest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Denise Albanese, New Science, New World (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996); Amy Boesky, Founding Fictions: Utopias in Early Modern England (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996); Marina Leslie, Renaissance Utopias and the Problem of History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); and Robert Appelbaum, Literature and Utopian Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

12. This line of criticism should not be confused with an older thread of pro-communist readings—within which Kautsky should be included, as well as A. L. Morton, both of whom interpreted the text as an earnest endorsement of a classless society. See Louis Marin, Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces, trans. Robert Vollrath (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1984); Karl Kautsky, Thomas More and His Utopia (New York: Russell and Russell, 1959); and A. L. Morton, The English Utopia (London: Seven Seas Books, 1968).

13. For more on the contentious, politically charged history of criticism on Utopia, see Peter Wenzel, “‘Utopian Pluralism’: A Systemic Approach to the Analysis of Pluralism in the Debate About Thomas More’s Utopia,” Erfurt Electronic Studies in English 10 (1996): http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic96/wenzel/10_96.html.

14. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968).

15. Though this term is often employed to describe a later subjective and cultural circumstance of globalization, especially in the era of communications technologies, as in the work of Anthony Giddens and John Tomlinson, I will attempt to explain the deterritorializing and reterritorializing experience of sixteenth-century primitive accumulation by building—in particular—on Richard Halpern’s reading of More.

16. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 456.

17. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York: New York Review Books, 2001), 85, 97.

18. Chloë Houston also explores anxieties about the utopian genre in John Milton’s Areopagitica and John Webster’s Academiarum Examen. See her “Could ‘Eutopian politics [. . .] never be drawn into use’?: Utopianism and Radicalism in the 1640s,” in Cromohs Virtual Seminars. Recent Historiographical Trends of the British Studies, ed. M. Caricchio and G. Tarantino (2006–2007): 1–4, http://www.fupress.net/public/journals/49/Seminar/houston_utopias.html.

19. Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans. Allan Bloom, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 275.

20. Ovid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, ed. Madeline Forey, trans. Arthur Golding (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2002), 34.

21. J. C. Davis offers perhaps the best account of the key distinctions between utopian narratives and earlier modes of the ideal society, explaining: “In utopia, it is neither man nor nature that is idealized but organization.” See his Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516–1700, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 38.

22. J. H. Hexter, More’s Utopia: The Biography of an Idea (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 65.

23. Appelbaum, Literature and Utopian Politics, 6–7.

24. Leslie, Renaissance Utopias and the Problem of History, 8.

25. Ibid., 8–9.

26. Fredric Jameson, “Of Islands and Trenches: Neutralization and the Production of Utopian Discourse,” in The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971–1986, vol. 2, The Syntax of History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 75–101; and “Morus: A Generic View,” in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005), 22–41.

27. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005), xiv.

28. Fredric Jameson, “Marxism and Historicism,” in The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971–1986, vol. 2, The Syntax of History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 173.

29. Another name for this is sublation, or in Hegel’s scheme, Aufhebung.

30. Ingham, “Making All Things New,” 483.

31. Ernst Bloch, “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialectics,” trans. Mark Ritter, New German Critique 11 (1977): 22; and Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).

32. Ingham, “Making All Things New,” 488.

33. Kautsky, Thomas More and His Utopia, 79.

34. Ibid., 206.

35. Halpern also discusses this passage at length, arguing that Marx distorts Smith’s structural account of the division of labor, even scapegoats him, thus jeopardizing his own efforts to demystify capital’s origin by prying it away from the choices of individual subjects and reorienting it around systemic dynamics. For Halpern, Marx’s “primitive accumulation” is also its own “originary” myth, and though useful, he suggests that “Marx’s narrative seems merely to identify a space where a history ought to be.” See Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 86–87, 66. While it is crucial to understand primitive accumulation as a historicist concept, I am less inclined to see Capital’s extensively materialist history as merely a rhetorical concept or genealogy, nor do I find evidence that Marx blames Smith for capitalism’s violent origins, only that his polemics mean to highlight Smith’s bad historicism on the specific matter of precapitalist accumulation. Halpern’s study remains the most important book on Renaissance culture’s anticipatory role in the creation of capital, but my sense is that it remains profoundly ambivalent about materialist history.

36. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. Books I–III, ed. Andrew Skinner (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 430, 437.

37. Ibid., 441.

38. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin Classics, 1976), 873–874.

39. Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 463.

40. Marx, Capital, 926.

41. Ibid., 876, 934.

42. Ibid., 876.

43. The disbanding of feudal retinues under Henry VII and the rise of royal power, which provoked opposition from many of the greatest feudal lords according to Marx, created an “incomparably larger proletariat” than that which existed in the late Middle Ages. See Marx, Capital, 878–882. During this century, the expansion of the wool trade in Flanders and the selling of church lands during the Reformation also accelerated the forcible expulsion of commoners from the land and into wage labor.

44. Ibid., 879. See also Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 154.

45. Thomas More, Utopia, ed. George Logan and Robert Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 16–17.

46. Hexter, More’s Utopia, 42.

47. Ibid.

48. See, for instance, Romauld Ian Lakowski, “Sir Thomas More and the Art of Dialogue,” Early Modern Literary Studies (1995): 91.

49. Andrew McLean covers the various uses of diverse dialogue forms in the book, citing these ancient influences. See his “Thomas More’s Utopia as Dialogue and City Encomium,” in Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Guelpherbytani, ed. Stella Revard, Fidel Radle, and Mario Di Cesare (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1988), 91–97. Also see Elizabeth McCutcheon’s “More’s Rhetoric,” in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More, ed. George Logan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 55.

50. R. Bracht Branham, “Utopian Laughter: Lucian and Thomas More,” Moreana 22.86 (1985): 26–27.

51. See Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 33.

52. George Logan, “Utopia and Deliberative Rhetoric,” Moreana 31.118 (1994): 105.

53. For more on Renaissance dialogues, see Quentin Skinner’s Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 99.

54. After all, the prefatory letters, along with the Utopian alphabet and the much analyzed maps of the island in the early editions—what Elizabeth McCutcheon refers to as the book’s parerga, are another kind of frame. McCutcheon explains: “These materials . . . offer a variety of views of Utopia and constitute another indication that the work is a metautopia, to be approached as an open-ended and polysemous dialogue that explores what are in fact many-faceted and still unresolved political and philosophical questions.” McCutcheon, “More’s Rhetoric,” 57.

55. More, Utopia, 8.

56. Kautsky, Thomas More and His Utopia, 123.

57. For more on this situation, see J. Churton Collin’s introduction to his 1904 edition of Utopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904), xv.

58. More, Utopia, 9.

59. My understanding of these events is mainly informed by Edward Surtz’s “St. Thomas More and His Utopian Embassy of 1515,” The Catholic Historical Review, 39.3 (1953): 272–297.

60. More, Utopia, 40.

61. Kendrick tracks a different path to a similar conclusion, arguing that More’s text gestures “toward the fluid moment of English absolutism’s overdetermination by agrarian capitalism as its authoring context.” See Christopher Kendrick, Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 38.

62. Robert Brenner’s account of the English Civil War in Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550–1653 (New York: Verso, 2003) informs my understanding of these events. Gabriel Plattes, as I address in the last chapter of this study, gives expression to this absolutist threat in the mid-seventeenth century when he recuperates and elaborates on Hythlodaeus’s brief paragraph on the Macarians, the Utopian neighbors who represent a limited monarchy where trade flourishes.

63. Perry Anderson’s Lineages of the Absolutist State (London: Verso, 1979) explains that absolutism was both a consequence of late feudalism and a pivotal force in the history of feudalism’s demise, for it fractured the political and economic unity of parcelized sovereignty under aristocratic landowners that had characterized feudal relations. To put it another way, power centralized upward in the state because the feudal order’s fusion of surplus extraction and political coercion was to some extent driven apart by several causes linked to the emergence of agrarian capitalism. These causes included the end of serfdom, the conversion of copyholds to rent leases, the small-scale and large-scale enclosure of land, and the expansion of trade. But the consequence of this was not necessarily an antipathy between mercantilist interests and the state, as some later bourgeois economists would have it; as Anderson suggests, the result of absolutism was “a reinforced apparatus of royal power, whose permanent political function was the repression of the peasant and plebian masses at the foot of the social hierarchy” (19). The economic policies of what would only later be called mercantilism resulted in the collusion of merchants and strong sovereigns.

64. More, Utopia, 9.

65. Ibid., 14.

66. For more on this point, see Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 155, and Holstun, A Rational Millennium, 34–35. Both scholars explore deterritorialization and displacement as organizing principles of Utopia, though Halpern employs a chiefly English agrarian view and Holstun a transatlantic perspective.

67. Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). In Greenblatt’s reading, the commonwealth of Utopia—which at first appears as a radical counterpoint to a European “conspiracy of the rich”—begins gradually to constrict all individual freedom, resulting in a “drastic diminution of self-differentiation and private inwardness,” or what Greenblatt names as a “strategy of imagined self-cancellation” (45). An infrastructure of ever-present surveillance and a society that coerces subjects’ behaviors and thoughts by way of an ethos of shame, according to Greenblatt, comes to stand in for a subject’s own need to control his or her thoughts and actions, a belief strongly associated with More’s fervent Catholicism and a symptom of its private manifestations of guilt (51). Another compelling biographical interpretation can be found in Jon Freeman’s “More’s Place in ‘No Place’: The Self-Fashioning Transaction in Utopia,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 34 (1992): 197–217.

68. More, Utopia, 21.

69. Ibid., 15.

70. See the account of these events in Anthony Fletcher and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions, 4th ed. (London: Pearson Education, 1997), 15.

71. See Peter Ackroyd’s biography The Life of Thomas More (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 185, which describes the summer of 1516, when More was writing Book One, as a particularly harsh year of drought, corn shortages, and sweating sickness.

72. Ruth Mohl, Three Estates in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York: F. Ungar, 1962), 7; Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973).

73. Eric Hobsbawm, “From Feudalism to Capitalism,” in The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: Verso, 1978), 161–162.

74. For a concise account of the prime mover of feudalism, see Rodney Hilton, “A Comment,” in The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, by Paul Sweezy et al. (London: Verso, 1978), 109–117.

75. In naming himself Morus in the Latin original, More is also self-deprecatingly suggesting his surname’s connotation of foolery. The joke is picked up and continued from Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly, where Erasmus observes in the dedicatory letter to his English friend, that the idea for the book came from More’s name since it “came so near the word Moriae (folly) as you are far from the thing.” See Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, trans. John Wilson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 1–2.

76. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. A. C. Cawley (London: Everyman, 2004), 252.

77. “The Simonie,” in Medieval English Political Writings, ed. James M. Dean (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), lines 1–6, http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/dean-medieval-english-political-writings-simonie.

78. Ibid., line 258.

79. More, Utopia, 109.

80. The interlude was once attributed in its entirety to Rastell, who oversaw its printing, but most scholars now agree that it was co-written with Heywood. See Rachel Greenberg, “From Subject to Earthly Matter: The Plowman’s Argument and Popular Discourse in ‘Gentleness and Nobility,’Early Theatre 15.2 (2012): 15. Peter Happé explains the loose familial connections here: More’s sister, Elizabeth, was married to John Rastell, while Heywood married Rastell’s daughter Joan sometime around 1523. More is also known to have promoted Heywood at court in 1518. See Happé, “Heywood, John (b. 1496/7, d. in or after 1578),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13183?docPos=1.

81. A similar ethical inversion is at work throughout Hythlodaeus’s exchange with the lawyer, which traces idleness not to thieves themselves (as the lawyer will insist), but to “the nobility and gentry, yes, and even some abbots though otherwise holy men, [who] are not content with the old rents” or who live in a state of wanton luxury (More, Utopia, 19).

82. John Rastell, Of Gentleness and Nobility (London: 1525), Biir.

83. Ibid., Ciiv.

84. Greenberg, “From Subject to Earthly Matter,” 15.

85. For more on the smallholders’ complaint, see Andrew McRae’s God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500–1660 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Janette Dillon, “The Ploughman’s Voice: Language and Class in Of Gentleness and Nobility,” in English Literature and the Other Languages, ed. Ton Hoenselaars and Marius Buning (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999), 13–26.

86. More, Utopia, 15.

87. Greenberg makes this case. “From Subject to Earthly Matter,” 27.

88. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 43, 44.

89. Phillip Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 59.

90. See Wegner, Imaginary Communities, 43–45.

91. Elliott, more than any other scholar, argues for the “indivisible” modes of satire and utopia, arguing that Utopia, like the formal verse satires of Horace and Lucian, joins “negative” criticism on folly with “positive” standards of excellence. See Elliott, The Shape of Utopia, 22.

92. More, Utopia, 26.

93. Interestingly, Morton is presented as an ideal reader here: he is open to trying out some of Hythlodaeus’s ideas but he also treats him as a spinner of tales, maintaining that “nobody has tried . . . out” the system of the Polylerites, despite Hythlodaeus’s insistence that he has observed them in his travels through Persia. See More, Utopia, 23–25.

94. Miguel Abensour, Utopia from Thomas More to Walter Benjamin, trans. Raymond N. MacKenzie (Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2017), 36.

95. Williams theorizes these hegemonic and counter-hegemonic possibilities in Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 121–127.

96. Halpern, however, offers a different, fascinating translation of the name. Hythlos in Plato’s Theaetetus, he explains, referred to “idle talk” and “old wives’ chatter,” respectively. He proposes that a better translation of Hythlodaeus’s surname would be “skilled in pleasant speech.” See Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, 142.

97. Lucian’s Saturnalia was translated by Erasmus in 1514.

98. I am strongly persuaded by both Robert Elliott and Miguel Abensour’s critical interpretations of Morus’s weak, concluding rebuke of Hythlodaeus’s description of Utopia. Both argue that here “the author ironically satirizes himself and thus invalidates his own judgement,” in framing the character’s unspoken disbelief as a matter of “popular opinion” and custom rather than reason. Abensour, Utopia from Thomas More to Walter Benjamin, 50. See also Elliott, The Shape of Utopia, 46–48.

99. Elizabeth McCutcheon, “Thomas More, Raphael Hythlodaeus and the Angel Raphael,” Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 9 (1969): 21.

100. Carlo Ginzburg has explored the signs of both truthfulness and deception in More’s book, elsewhere expressed for instance in the first, full title of Utopia, which declared the work to be “a truly golden handbook, no less beneficial than entertaining, on the best state of a commonwealth and the new island of Utopia.” Ginzburg understands the “beneficial” and “entertaining” purposes of Utopia as a “ritual of inversion” which helped More see a “paradoxical, inverted reality: an island where sheep devoured human beings.” See his No Island Is an Island: Four Glances at English Literature in a World Perspective, trans. John Tedeschi (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 23.

101. It also, as Hexter has demonstrated, stacks the deck in favor of Hythlodaeus, who in his worldliness suggests that an idealized English past is not the only reference point for social stability. Hythlodaeus does indeed justify his defense of the commons as “not eccentric to the point of folly” by comparing it to the doctrines of Christ and the Republic of Plato, yet his innovation is to apply religious and philosophical principles directly to a model of state. See Hexter, More’s Utopia, 36. Hence, the focus of Book One is on policy, or the legal, penal, property, and foreign policy reforms that have the capacity to make England a more just and stable nation.

102. Amy Boesky, Founding Fictions, 5.

103. R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2005), 61.

104. Geoff Kennedy, Diggers, Levellers, and Agrarian Capitalism: Radical Political Thought in Seventeenth Century England (New York: Lexington Books, 2008), 110.

105. More, Utopia, 33.

106. Ibid., 14.

107. Gerard Wegemer and Stephen Smith, eds., A Thomas More Source Book (Washington, DC: Catholic University of American Press, 2004), 249–250.

108. See his Latin Poems, #109–115, collected in the Yale edition of his Complete Works, vol. 3.2, and anthologized by Wegemer and Smith in A Thomas More Source Book, 235–236.

109. Wegemer and Smith, A Thomas More Source Book, 238.

110. More, Utopia, 35.