More to the Point: the Challenge of Sifting Through the Satire in Utopia

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More to the Point: the Challenges of sifting through the Satire in Utopia “We made no inquiries, however, about monsters, which are the routine of traveler’s tales. Scyllas, ravenous Celaenos, man-eating Lestrygonians, and that sort of monstrosity you can hardly avoid, but to find governments wisely established and sensibly ruled is not so easy” (More, 509). Utopia., written by Thomas More, is the infamous account of a ‘perfect’ society nestled away from the prying eyes and influences of the chaotic Western World. More’s tale of this faultless land, which exists without poverty, strife or all the general sufferings members of European society are subject to, is riddled with satire, irony and humours side comments much like the quote above. The entire work is one continuous satire, commenting on the ‘obvious’ benefits of a communist, perfected society over the way which England was being run at the time. In Utopia More presents his readers with several challenges on an intellectual level, some of these tests however are perhaps not as intentional as others. Throughout the book, specifically in his descriptions of the geography and societal set-up of the Utopian cities, More challenges his readers to be witty and intelligent enough themselves to be able to pick up and gain the full effect of not only his blatantly satirical comments, but his more subtle jabs and side remarks as well (such as his use of particular Greek words). Some of his less obvious references require the reader to have some scholarly background, such as a general knowledge of the languages of Latin and Greek. He also, through his use of satire, presents to his readers situations in which their own thoughts and beliefs may be questioned. More may make a statement which, at first glance, appears so ludicrous that it can not possibly be anything but a joke; however, the longer one thinks about said statement, the more plausible and reasonable, in theory, it sounds. More challenges the reader to really think about what they are reading, and not just accept what they read on first glance as truth or joke. On top of these cleverly emplaced references and satirical notions is More’s, perhaps unintentional, barrier to not just the more average minded individual, but to the general intellect as well. However cleverly More applies the use of satire to deliver his sometimes biting commentary on English government, societal structure and religion, he at times inundates the reader with his witty remarks. This subsequently makes separating the serious comments and statements from the ironic humour a great deal more difficult than one would hope. His attempt at cloaking his central point, possibly to avoid persecution from both the Church and State, under layers of satirical comments appears to have worked almost too well in some areas of the text.

The first challenge that Sir Thomas More presents to his reader, is on a strictly mental level. He poses the challenge to both the reader’s wit, and their general intelligence (by Renaissance standards). He first does so by including a healthy dose of spoofing and satire in his writing. Most of the references, descriptions and comments made in Utopia are satirical in nature, and require some knowledge of political and societal functions in More’s England. However, More applies varying levels and degrees of the satire: sometimes making an exceedingly blatant statement, other times approaching his desired spoof or comment in a more subtle fashion. In each case, testing whether or not the reader is intelligent or witty enough to understand not only that he is satirizing something in general, but to grasp what it is he is mocking or commenting on. When relating the conversation between ‘More the character’, Peter Giles, and the traveling seaman Raphael Hytholday, More states that while they “asked him many eager questions…[they] made no inquiries, however, about monsters, which are the routine of travelers’ tales. Scyllas,...
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