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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Notes

Hythloday's visit to England is a very important section in the book as it introduces Cardinal Morton who was More's patron. More grew up in his household and respected him greatly. He pays tribute to him when Hythloday describes him as wise, brave, serious and knowledgeable. In reality, Morton was a wily and devious man. As Chancellor to Henry VII, he showed the king how to tax both the rich and the poor by the same law. Earlier, after swearing fealty to Richard III, he switched sides when Richard began to lose power. He then actively plotted against the king. Cardinal Morton was, therefore, not a very upright or admirable man even though More thought he was. His tribute becomes more effective when it is put in the mouth of Hythloday, a stranger who happened to be the Cardinal's guest.

After paying tribute to his patron, More embarks on the sorry state of affairs in England, using the voice of Hythloday. The society that Hythloday describes is one where unemployment and poverty dominate. The parasitic relationship between the lords and their retinues was another source of criticism and one that will be a fundamental aspect of the book. He roundly condemns all these venal practices like rack renting, converting arable fields into pasture, keeping a standing army in times of peace and so on. These are wrongs but they appear to be good because they seem to increase a nation's prestige. He also shows that in this war he is on the side of the poor and needy. In real life, More had risen high in his profession and was fairly rich yet his sympathies were with the poor. More then lists some remedies for these ills. He says not to indulge in harsh punishment, to be humane in one's approach, and give all people a chance to work. Crime will decrease and people will be happy.


In this section, More introduces the first of his imaginary people (apart from the Utopia), the Tallstorians. These men have a very civilized approach to crime and punishment. They dress the felons of different shires in different colored uniforms and make them work for the state. The state, in turn, maintains them. This is a mutually beneficial state of affairs. But the state takes the precaution to ensure that there is no fear of the felons getting together and rising against it.

By inserting this imaginary account of crime and punishment between the excessive punishment meted out in England and the slightly kinder one in ancient Rome, More proves his point effectively. He is an advocate of punishment, but one that is suited to the crime. Harsh punishment for minor crimes is not very effective. Here again Thomas More is far in advance of his time. He is more liberal than most of his contemporaries.

This putting together of the real and the imaginary (the English, the Romans and the Tallstorians) is an important technique used in the book. More invents people and places to suit his purpose, but he does so in a way that makes his appeals seem grounded in examples from other cultures.

This part ends in some humor as More shows how the guests at the Cardinal's table wait for him to agree or disagree with Hythloday's opinions and then do likewise. This results in a miscommunication from a jokester who says something that the Cardinal finds somewhat amusing but that the guests think he agrees with and so they show approval.

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