Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, just before the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, but certainly during the time when the stresses and corruption that led to the Reformation were swelling toward conflict. Utopia, originally written in Latin and later translated into many languages, depicts what its narrator, Raphael Hythloday, claimed to be an ideal human society, the island of Utopia. The book was a huge success, vaulting More into renown, and not only founding a literary tradition but lending that tradition its name: the utopian novel. This tradition involves the attempt by an author to describe a perfect, ideal human society. Interestingly, it could be argued that the “utopian” works predate Utopia by about 2000 years, since this definition fits Plato’s The Republic (written around 380 BCE) as well.

However, the tradition to which Utopia lent its name is so powerful that it seems to have obscured Utopia itself. Few critics would today agree that More considered the island of Utopia to be a perfect society. Through the book's fictional frame and the dialogue of its characters, the book gains a certain ambiguity about the convictions of the work's standard bearer, Raphael Hythloday. It is clear that the author does not necessarily support the ideas presented by Hythloday. However, while More might not have envisioned Utopia as a perfect society, it is inarguable that he forwarded the utilitarian, rational island of Utopia as a criticism of the European world he saw around him. It is vital, then, to understand that the book is a response to a specific historical time.

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