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Thomas More's Social Commentaries on 16th Century England: Analysis of Utopia

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Utopias are imagined in the mind of humans, seeking to fix the flaws that riddle their contemporary societies. During the Renaissance, a period of elevated thought and social progress, Thomas More wrote Utopia to provide social commentary on the flaws of 16th century England, protected under a veil of satire and verisimilitude. More utilizes Raphael Hytholodeus to voice his concerns of the economic disparity, self-indulgent society, and the negative impact of monarchs on the 16th century. He uses the structure of the book, presenting the flaws of 16th century England, then providing an inverted reality, with its core political, social, and economic state being a reaction to Tudor England.

Thomas More questions the economic disparity between social classes due in the 16th century. He uses book 1 to place blame on the feudal system, believing its individualist nature, had allowed for “a few greedy people” to profit over the suffering of others. More utilizes satirical techniques to outline the bitter reality of the lower social economic residents, “In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing!”, highlighting the inequality found in England. This emphasis on the rich profiting off the suffering of the poor is a key criticism More has of 16th century England, further showing the dehumanization of the poor, as the rich preferred monopolizing land to use as sheep farms, over providing shelter to their other citizens. He links this to the classical example of plutocratic societies, through “Sheep... these placid creatures, which used to require so little food, have now apparently developed a raging appetite, and turned into man-eaters.”, outlining how the rich had changed sheep from “placid creatures” into “man-eaters” metaphorically showing the bitter reality of 16th century England. More imagines a world where social stratification is erased and uses Book 2 as an inversion to further highlight the flaws found in 16th century England. More’s Utopia was an inverted reality, an egalitarian society, allowing for a more just system, in the eyes of More. In his “Utopia”, the population is made to feel as if it were “like one big household”, which juxtaposes the Feudal Systems’ individualist nature. Furthermore, More devalues rare metals, items of greatly criticized in Book 1, using them as “domestic equipment, such as chamber pots” and “they do everything to bring the metals into contempt”. The essence of More’s Utopia outlines the consequences of the feudal system both economically and socially, providing a society that is beneficial collectively.

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Thomas More utilizes Utopia to place criticism on the flaws of the 16th century, by providing his ideal world, juxtaposing the flaws of England’s self-indulgent and judgemental society. More, a devout Catholic criticizes society's love of self-resultant impoverishment through gambling, “the demoralizing games people play - dice, cards, backgammon ... what are they but quick methods of wasting a man’s money”. He links this societal trait with the superfluous and judgemental lifestyles people had, providing criticism through satire. Raphael enforces this belief through his hyperbolic realization that men “just proceed to marry after judging a woman from a few square inches of her face.”, however, places great “precaution” when buying a house. This judgment of looks over personality allows for More to imagine his Utopia as socially progressive with these sins wiped away. He elaborates on this by his belittling of precious metal, calling them “fruitless”, and shames those who belittle others, “anyone that believes people are to blame for things they can’t help which is seen as foolish.” This imagined world provides criticism of 16th century England, inverting the flaws that riddle society, creating a socially progressive society. These progressive ideas are seen to be contradictory to the Catholic lifestyle More lived by, which also had a major impact on the political environment of 16th century England, and shows the ability of Thomas More questioned and criticized his views, as well as providing a different perspective on the problems of human’s self-indulgent and prideful nature.

Thomas More utilizes verisimilitude and satire to protect himself, allowing him to freely critic the flaws of Monarchs through his imagined Utopia. More’s criticism of royal advisors, believing any royal degree can be justified due to fear or politeness, highlights them as the “indisputable royal prerogative”. This reveals More’s concerns of the King’s court, believing them to all upper-class members of society, agreeing with King’s actions as they benefit greatly. More’s criticisms continue, as he questions the frailty of egos found in Kings, and the effect it has on the people. More metaphorically describes kings as “a sort of fountain, from which a constant shower of benefits or injuries rains down upon the entire population”. More uses this to highlight the Monarch’s need for war, no matter the cost, alluding to the fate of Plato with the king Dionysius who dissatisfied with Plato`s philosophy sold him into slavery. This allusion supports More’s belief that Monarch’s ruled with their ego and links back to criticism of the royal court. This criticism of a King’s court is only filled with “indisputable royal prerogative” is a flaw that More inverts in Book 2, opting for a democratic form of governance. The removal of social stratification allowed for the Utopians to seem educated and socially aware, a luxury not found in 16th century England. This political freedom indicates Thomas More’s understanding of the flaws in his society as a critic and questions his monarch and its way of ruling, through his imagined utopia, presenting an inverted reality that reflected the flaws of 16th century England.

Utopia serves as a provocative text in which Thomas More provides a social commentary on 16th century England, criticizing its political, economic, and social state. More utilizes the structure of the book, allowing his inverted reality to reveal the flaws of 16th-century England. He opposes the traditional views and beliefs of 16th century England, by providing his ideal alternate society through Utopia. He justifies his beliefs by utilizing satirical techniques such as an ironic tone, allusion, and inversion to expose the prejudice and corruption of 16th-century England. The core beliefs of More’s Utopia, reveal that all utopias can be considered a reaction and a possible solution to the flaws that plague its inverted society.

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Thomas More’s Social Commentaries on 16th Century England: Analysis of Utopia. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Thomas More’s Social Commentaries on 16th Century England: Analysis of Utopia.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Thomas More’s Social Commentaries on 16th Century England: Analysis of Utopia. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
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