Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England

Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England

Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England

Divulging Utopia: Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England

Synopsis

Baker (English, Rutgers U.) examines the 16th-century humanist movement in England, tracing the reception of Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516) in relation to it. He argues that humanists of the English Renaissance were themselves reading More's Utopia, Erasmus's Praise of Folly, and other works of Continental humanism in much more politically radical ways than scholars have generally recognized.

Excerpt

Thomas Nashe The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) offers a zigzag tour of the early sixteenth century, and its distortions of temporal relations and historical sources wittily underscore the difficulties of interpreting the past. As part of his chronicle of the King of Pages, Nashe's narrator, Jack Wilton, and his traveling companion, the Earl of Surrey, visit More and Erasmus in Rotterdam when they are on the verge of writing the literary works for which they are still best known:

There we met with aged learning's chief ornament, that abundant and superingenious clerk Erasmus, as also with merry Sir Thomas More, our countryman, who was come purposely over a little before us to visit the said grave father Erasmus. . . . Erasmus in all his speeches seemed so much to mislike the indiscretion of princes in preferring of parasites and fools that he decreed with himself to swim with the stream and write a book forthwith in commendation of folly. Quickwitted Sir Thomas More travelled in a clean contrary province; for he, seeing most commonwealths corrupted by ill custom, and that principalities were nothing but great piracies which, gotten by violence and murder, were maintained by private undermining and bloodshed; that in the chiefest-flourishing kingdoms there was no equal or well-divided weal one with another, but a manifest conspiracy of rich men against poor men, procuring their own unlawful commodities under the name and interest of the commonwealth: he concluded with himself to lay down a perfect plot of a commonwealth or government, which he would entitle his Utopia. So we left them to prosecute their discontented studies and made our next journey to Wittenberg.

A King of Pages, Nashe's Wilton borrows heavily from other writers during his travels, but Wilton's use of More and Erasmus and his reference to their "discontented studies" might initially seem puzzling to modern readers of their works. For despite the implication that both Erasmus and More share this discontent, Erasmus' Moria figures as a "swim-with-the-

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