Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith

Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith

Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith

Challenging Humanism: Essays in Honor of Dominic Baker-Smith


Dominic Baker-Smith has been a leading international authority on humanism for more than four decades, specializing in the works of Erasmus and Thomas More. The present collection of essays by colleagues throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States examines humanism in both its historic sixteenth-century meanings and applications and the humanist tradition in our own time, drawing on his work and that of scholars who have followed him. Contributors include Andrew Weiner, Elizabeth McCutcheon, and Germaine Warkentin. Arthur F. Kinney is Thomas W. Copeland Professor of Literary History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Ton Hoenselaars is Associate Professor of English at the University of Utrecht.


Ton Hoenselaars

During the MID-1590s, anthony munday, henry chettle, thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood, and William Shakespeare worked together on what was to remain a relatively obscure play, Sir Thomas More. This biographical history play about the life and death of Thomas More shows the major events of his career, focusing mainly on the period from 1517 to 1535. First, we see how Thomas More as Sheriff of London quenches the Ill May Day riots against the foreign inhabitants of London by pacifying the Londoners with his remarkable skills as a public speaker. Next, after managing successfully to combat this early modern instance of inner city violence, More rises to become lord chancellor of England under King Henry viii. Soon he experiences the occupational hazard, as Henry viii declares himself the head of the Anglican Church. More refuses to support the king’s opening move in the political phase of the English Reformation and marks the occasion by resigning his post. in response, the king sends More to the Tower of London and sentences his one-time lord chancellor to death by beheading.

One scene in the play, positioned in the pivotal third act, helps us to gain a special insight into the early modern perception of Henrician humanism. the scene shows the first meeting between the play’s hero Thomas More and the Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus, who happens to be accompanied by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. the meeting comes as no surprise. the audience has been prepared for it earlier, in a short scene (2.1) where More also plans a practical joke on Erasmus. Here, More asks his servant Randall to dress up as More, and in that disguise to welcome Erasmus to the City of London. the interesting point would be to see if Erasmus could tell the fake More from the real More. As More says to Randall:

I’ll see if great Erasmus can distinguish
Merit and outward ceremony.

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