Utopia

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Thomas More Character Analysis

Thomas More is simultaneously a historical personage, the author of Utopia, and a character in it—but the author’s resemblance to the character doesn’t mean the two are the same. In the work, More visits Antwerp while on a diplomatic mission on behalf of King Henry VIII of England, and there he befriends Peter Giles and Raphael Hythloday; More’s record of the discussion he has with these two men in his garden makes up the book Utopia. More is an intelligent, curious man, dutifully committed to his family and public service, and also is a practical believer in plain speech. He has faith that wise counselors in the service of kings can improve society—a point on which he and Hythloday disagree. After Hythloday concludes his discourse on Utopia, More thinks to himself that many of that commonwealth’s laws and policies are not founded on good reason, especially the abolition of private property and money. Nonetheless, he wishes for many features of Utopian society to be realized in Europe’s cities, though he doesn’t dare hope as much, for such a hope would be unrealistic. That More the historical author should invent Utopia only for More the character to criticize it suggests how deeply ambiguous the text is as a whole.

Thomas More Quotes in Utopia

The Utopia quotes below are all either spoken by Thomas More or refer to Thomas More. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Utopia published in 2009.
Book 1 Quotes

Nothing is more easy to be found than barking Scyllas, ravening Calaenos, and Laestrygons, devourers of people, and suchlike great and incredible monsters. But to find citizens ruled by good and wholesome laws, that is an exceeding rare and hard thing.

Related Characters: Thomas More (speaker), Raphael Hythloday
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

More (the character, as opposed to the author) is speaking with Raphael Hythloday, a traveler who seeks wisdom, and can be read as a mixture of Plato and Ulysses. More asks Hythloday about the places he has been, the people who inhabited them, and how those people governed themselves. More prides himself on not asking Hythloday about whether or not he encountered any monsters. 

In pointing this out, the text parodies the genre of travel narration, which usually relies on bombastic adventures and terrible beasts for entertainment value. Here, More (the author) pokes fun at people who read about the world for entertainment rather than for insights into how they can better their societies and themselves. He is also making an ironic jab at the princes and aristocracies of Europe: they are the monsters so easy to find, those that cannibalize their own societies.

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This school philosophy is not unpleasant among friends in familiar communication, but in the council of kings, where great matters be debated and reasoned with great authority, these things have no place.

Related Characters: Thomas More (speaker), Raphael Hythloday
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

"School philosophy" is used here to refer to academic philosophy divorced from the context of real life. Here, More and Hylthoday agree that school philosophy is pleasant and educational when friends are discussing issues, but that the use of it is not practical in Europe as it is. The "council of kings" is too much concerned with the real-life contexts of the country and people under their rule, and as such, school philosophy would strike them as frivolous and naive.

However, the two men leave open the possibility that in a better world, where people are open-minded and interested in the public good, school philosophy does have a place in governance.

It is not possible for all things to be well unless all men were good.

Related Characters: Thomas More (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, More continues to consider the question of "school philosophy." He argues that philosophy must have a place in governance - but that it must "know its place and not digress." The end of this kind of philosophy would be to turn the "very bad" into the "merely bad." More then says that "It is not possible for all things to be well unless all men are good," a statement that is complicated by the fact that More feels that most men are bad, and as such, it will be a while yet before all men can be "good." We might imagine that More includes himself among the ranks of men who need to become good before a utopia can be realized.

More also points out that school philosophy need not be presented in an overly systematic way. It can be made entertaining—just as Utopia presents philosophical ideas in the entertaining form of the travel narrative. If the world can’t be perfect, at least it can be better than it is.

Book 2: Conclusion Quotes

As I cannot agree and consent to all things that he [Hythloday] said…so must I needs confess and grant that many things be in the Utopian weal-public which in our cities I may rather wish for than hope after.

Related Characters: Thomas More (speaker), Raphael Hythloday
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very end of the text, More invites Hythloday in for dinner and says that they will discuss and evaluate Utopian society at a later time. Here, More tells us that he does not agree with all of Hythloday's points, but that he does wish for many Utopian features to be realized in European society. This can only be a "wish," however, as More feels that it is deeply unrealistic to hope that these changes will be put into effect.

More’s response to Hythloday’s account of Utopia is never presented to us, and so all our questions are left unanswered. This ending adds to the sense of the work as a “joke” or a playful satire, but perhaps the suggestion is also that we as readers are responsible for conducting that dialogue among ourselves. The text requires that we reason for ourselves about Utopia, and what system of governing might be best for an ideal society. This is, after all, the first step we all must take before any utopia can become a reality.

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Thomas More Character Timeline in Utopia

The timeline below shows where the character Thomas More appears in Utopia. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Thomas More the character sets the stage for Utopia by recounting how he was sent by King... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
While living in Antwerp, More befriends an honest, learned citizen of that city: Peter Giles. More finds Giles’s conversation both... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
One day, while returning to his house in Antwerp after a church service, More runs into Giles, who is speaking with an old, sunburned, long-bearded, and cloaked stranger from... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
More, Giles, and Hythloday go to More’s house and sit in the garden where Hythloday tells... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
More and Giles are especially curious about how the peoples Hythloday encountered are governed, and they... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
More, for his part, encourages Hythloday to go into a prince’s service not for wealth but... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
More asks Hythloday if he’s been to England. Hythloday says he has, and he stayed there... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Hythloday then tells More and Giles about a joker at Cardinal Morton’s table who tried to say witty things... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Hythloday pardons himself for telling Thomas More and Peter Giles such a long tale. He says he did so only because it... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
More thanks Hythloday for his tale, which was especially pleasant for him because he served Cardinal... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Hythloday does not agree with More. He says that, unless kings themselves study philosophy seriously, they will not listen to the... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...counsel, that he should cease his wars of conquest and not meddle with other kingdoms? More concedes the king would not be grateful for such advice. (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...that his counsel could only fall on deaf ears in a king’s court, and Thomas More now agrees with him. More says that “school philosophy” is not profitable or palatable to... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
More does say, however, that philosophy does have a part to play in governance, although it... (full context)
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
More questions Hythloday as to whether or not people will really work at all without the... (full context)
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Thomas More asks Hythloday to describe the island of Utopia in great detail, from its geography to... (full context)
Book 2: Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
...games (no gambling, naturally, in Utopia), including a chess-like game and a didactic game (of More’s invention) where vices fight with virtues. (full context)
Book 2: Of Their Military Discipline
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...The Zapoletes are a savage, wild people (modeled after the notorious Swiss mercenaries of Thomas More’s time) who live by hunting, stealing, and fighting. The Utopians command the loyalty of the... (full context)
Book 2: Conclusion
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Thus ends Hythloday’s tale. Thomas More thinks to himself that many Utopian laws and policies are founded on no good reason,... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
Consequently, More praises the Utopians and leads Hythloday back into the house for dinner, saying that they... (full context)