2.26. Thomas More's Utopia - a place Nowhere 2.26. Thomas Mores Utopia - landet Ingenstans

Stephen Greenblatt on Morus and Hythlodaeus in Thomas More's Utopia

Renässansen: Startsida

Utopia offers the profoundest commentary on those aspects of More's life that we have been discussing; it is at once the perfect expression of his self-conscious role-playing and an intense meditation upon its limitations. At the heart of this meditation is the character of Raphael Hythlodaeus and his relation to the "more" who appears in the work as both presenter (or recorder) and character. Hythlodaeus, in effect, represents all that More deliberately excluded from the personality he created and played; he is the sign of More's awareness of his own self-creation, hence his own incompleteness.

The poignancy of this sense of incompleteness is heightened by the fact that More presents himself in Utopia in all of his circumstantial reality. The "I" of the work is a man tied in a hundred ways to his particular time and place, to his offices, responsibilities, family and friends. Rarely before had a work created so successful an illusion of reality; with a few deft strokes More evokes a whole world of busy men immersed in their careers: Cuthbert Tunstal, whom the king "has just created Master of the Rolls to everyone's immense satisfaction"; Georges de Themsecke, provost of Cassel, "a man not only trained in eloquence but a natural orator"; Peter Giles, "a native of Antwerp, an honorable man of high position in his home town." And at the center of this group is Thomas More, "citizen and sheriff of the famous city of Great Britain, London," the king's "orator" in certain complex negotiations in the Netherlands. This is a man linked to other men, a man with a well-defined, widely acknowledged public identity and that identity is further substantiated in the flurry of letters and commendations that preface the work. Erasmus to John Froben, William Budé to Thomas Lupset, Peter Giles to Jerome Busleyden, John Desmarais of Cassel to Peter Giles, Busleyden to More, More to Giles - the letters establish More in the midst of a distinguished community of Northern European humanists, men who know More personally or by reputation and who discuss his work among themselves in that special personal spirit one reserves for the books of friends.

One notable effect of this circumstantiality is to heighten the realism that attaches to Hythlodaeus and his account of his travels, a realism that More and his friends have fun with in their maps, vocabulary, and solemn pedantry. But there are other effects as well. Into this mutual admiration society of successful men erupts a figure who does not fit, who steadfastly refuses to fit. If Hythlodaeus seems real to us, rubbing elbows as he does with well-known historical personages, he seems, by the same token, the very embodiment of the stranger, "a man of advanced years, with sunburnt countenance and long beard and cloak hanging carelessly from his shoulder". And More deliberately renders this strangeness more striking, even in the midst of his careful realism, by immediately identifying Hythlodaeus with the fabulous and imaginary. As Hythlodaeus establishes himself with ever greater power in the conversation with More and Giles, a process takes place that is the very opposite of heightened realism. Thomas More, the solid, middle-aged, smiling public man, is, as it were, fictionalized by his relationship to the stranger. More's acute sense in his life of being "More," a made-up figure played as on a stage, is manifested directly in his becoming just that: Morus, a character in an imaginary dialogue. And in a moment of quite extraordinary self-consciousness and irony. Morus and Hythlodaeus discuss precisely this process of fictionalization.

Stephen Greenblatt: Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 33-34.

RENÄSSANS-HUMANISMEN2. Renässanshumanismen: Innehåll


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Jakob Burckhardt: The Civilization of the humaissance"The Utopia is the sort of complicated book that we should expect from so complicated a man ..."
- Richard Marius: "Utopia as Mirror for a Life and Times" (conference paper)


© 2002 Mikael Hörnqvist