Study Guide

Utopia Analysis

  • Tone

    Invested; Skeptical, Scrutinizing

    Let's be honest. Utopia is not filled with dramatic emotion, but that doesn't mean our faithful narrator Thomas More doesn't care deeply about what he's hearing, or for that matter, that Hythloday doesn't care about what he's describing: they do! Doesn't this sound like someone who's invested in what he's hearing?: "'Then let me implore you, my dear Raphael,' said I, 'describe that island [Utopia] to us!'" (1.41). See?

    At the same time, that is about as emotional as anyone gets in this book. The main characters are all invested in coming to a philosophical and ethical conclusion about the state of government and social well-fare, so they need to remain both skeptical and scrutinizing so that they can think clearly about what's at stake. If they freak out about something emotional, it's going to be hard for them to construct effective arguments.

    Even though More enthusiastically urges Hythloday to describe Utopia, More ends the dialogue still weighing what he heard and not letting himself be swept away: "When Raphael had finished his story, I was left thinking that quite a few of the laws and customs he had described as existing among the Utopians were really absurd." (2.110). While it might not be the dramatic conclusion we've been craving, it leaves the reader in the same thoughtful frame of mind as the narrator. We should be left thinking over Hythloday's story, too. And boy, are we.

  • Genre

    Fantasy; Philosophical Literature; Dystopian Literature

    Utopia essentially invented a new genre: Utopian, or Dystopian, Literature.

    Have an inkling of what that might mean? It's when you use elements of fantasy and science-fiction to describe a place that doesn't exist (usually it's far, far away or in the distant future) as way to think about issues of government, society, justice, etc. So, maybe you're getting how the philosophy fits in here, too? Although More's Utopia coined the term for this literary style, Plato's Republic is arguably the first Utopian/Dystopian work of literature, so it definitely has some pretty serious roots in the world of philosophy.

    Wait, but what's dystopian? Dystopian is a term used to specifically describe fantastic worlds that are clearly meant to be horrible: Do Not Live This Way! Unlike Utopian literature, which suggests that the world being described might be better than our world, dystopian literature is definitely not. Anyone heard of The Hunger Games? A perfect dystopian example.

    But once you read Utopia (and, for that matter, go read the Republic too!) you'll probably start to understand that this distinction isn't so clear. Is Utopia really better? Many characters in the book don't seem to agree. Maybe all utopias are also dystopias...? We're going to leave you with that deep thought.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    It's kind of big deal, actually. Such a big deal, that an entire genre is based on its title: Utopia. Utopia is a name More invented by combining the ancient Greek adverb "not" (ou) with the Greek word for "place" (topos)... ta, da: No-place. Many people point out its etymology in order to remind readers that even though we use the English word "utopian" to describe somewhere good, More really meant it to just describe somewhere impossible.

    However, he was also, surprise surprise, playing a word game. "U" also sounds like the Greek suffix for "good" (eu) making the name Utopia also suggest "good-place." Confused? Don't worry, you kind of should be. More wants us, the readers, to have to decide which version of this name fits best. For some similar title-based fun, check out "Why Should I Care?"

    P.S. In case someone cares, and in case you can pronounce it, the original, full title of the book is De optimo reip. statv, deque noua insula Vtopia, libellus uere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festiuus. Good luck with that one.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The ending of Utopia is famously ambiguous, and also, a bit anti-climactic. So don't worry if you finished the book with a bit of a huh?

    For centuries, people have found the ending frustrating because after reading pages (and pages and pages) of all this info on Utopia, we never get much of a sense of what our narrator and author, Thomas More, thinks of it all. All he says is that some things seem silly, a few things seem okay, and he doubts anything will change. Bit of a downer.

    The biggest question of all is, if More has this lukewarm attitude about Utopia, why'd he write this whole book? It's one thing to write a book about somewhere great, it's another to write a book about somewhere horrible, but why write a book about somewhere sort of average, with good and bad?

    We are so with you on the frustration, but there are a few ways to look at it that might help. First, there is some pretty controversial stuff in this book, especially for More's time. So the ending allows More, the person, who works for the king and doesn't really want to get into trouble, to distance himself from Hythloday's opinions. More can just be like "I'm reporting what I heard! Don't shoot the messenger!"

    Second, just like the ambiguity of the title, More wants his readers to do some thinking on their own. He doesn't want to just spoon feed us answers for how to be good. Instead, he wants this book to spark debate and force people to think about these important issues. So go on, be frustrated, go debate-it-out with some friends. More would be thrilled.

  • Setting

    Antwerp, Belgium

    Buckle your seatbelts, Shmoopers, because the setting in Utopia is a whole web of goodness. One level of setting is where the action of the primary narration takes place; in other words, the stuff we hear from Thomas More about his conversation. The second level is the action of the secondary narration, the stuff we hear from Hythloday that takes place, well, pretty much everywhere.

    The Primary Setting, brought to you by Thomas More

    Okay, so if you think this primary/secondary stuff is kind of confusing, you can relax. The primary setting of Utopia is nice and simple: it's a city in Belgium called Antwerp and it takes place roughly in the year 1515. Within Antwerp, almost everything except the initial run-in happens in the garden of More's house. See? Simple.

    Why Antwerp? Didn't More live in England? He did, but since Utopia is a story about travel, it does makes sense that More would want to set his story somewhere away from home. Even though he can't compete with the world traveling Hythloday is doing, he can show that being involved in Renaissance political and intellectual circles (as he was) means that travel is a part of day-to-day life.

    It also shows that even though More works for the English King, he's still an internationally-minded person. Just because he has the interests of England close to his heart doesn't mean he isn't down with other countries. Hmmm, sounds rather different than the isolated island of Utopia, doesn't it?

    If you're interested in the specific setting of More's garden, check out "Locus amoenus" in Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory.

    The Secondary Settings, brought to you by Raphael Hythloday

    While the gang's all chatting in More's garden, Hythloday's stories take us practically around the world. The two central world spots we hear about are the home of Cardinal Morton in England and, it almost goes without saying, the island of Utopia.

    The home of the Cardinal is important because it represents another version of the kind of philosophical discussion that More, Giles, and Hythloday are all having. See? Secondary setting mirrors the primary setting... whoa.

    Because Utopia doesn't actually exist, we only get a vague description of where the island might be geographically: somewhere between the Caribbean and India. Also remember that cartographers (people who make maps) were only just starting to figure out the organization of the planet, so we can cut them some slack.

    If you're looking for the nitty-gritty details of the geography of the island of Utopia, you should check out the very beginning of the Detailed Plot Summary of "Book 2," where Hythloday tells you all you'd ever want to know... and more. 

    The fact that Utopia is an island is also really important. And if you weren't already thinking that islands tend to be places where special stuff goes down, More kind of hits your over the head with it: Utopia is a man-made island! One day it's a regular old peninsula, the next day, it's an island. In some sense, it seems like Utopia needs to be an island. Why? Well, islands are special places and are often the site of "off-the-grid" type activities. Check out "The Island" under Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory to have more of the mystery revealed.

    The Historical Setting

    The historical setting of Utopia might actually be, weirdly, even more important than its physical setting. Why? Well, one of the jokes of Utopia (and this tends to be true of u/dystopian literature in general) is that even though it appears to be all about this imaginary, non-existent place, it's really invested in its actual social, economic, and intellectual place in the real world.

    For More, that world was Tudor England, aka The English Renaissance. The Tudors were the ruling dynasty of England during the 16th century and produced two of England's most famous monarchs: Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.

    Thomas More and Tudor England

    Okay, now for the deets.

    Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, which pretty much just means he was a big deal. The two men were actually quite close, and More advised Henry not only on issues of politics, but also on issues of morality, religion, and philosophy. He encouraged Henry to be an intellectually-minded king, tutoring him in various aspects of philosophy and literature.

    Hopefully, it's starting to become pretty clear how Utopia is very directly dealing with these kinds of issues. More was a devout Catholic—he almost became a monk—but also cared deeply about being of service to his country. So we can imagine he spent a lot of time thinking about how to be both of those things simultaneously.

    Considering that he did have a great deal of respect for Henry and thought he had the potential to be a philosophical king, it's possible that the ambivalence toward Utopian communism More-the-character voices was shared by More-the-man. Kings might be able to work, maybe.

    We can think of Utopia as reflecting a larger trend in European politics at the time, which was an increase in the political power of particular, individual kings along with an increase in attention to questions of intellect and philosophy. More, it seems, is trying to think juggle these two realities. And you know what? It ain't easy.

    Sadly, the promising relationship More and Henry had initially was to end in tragedy. Henry, as you probably know, decided he was so over his wife, Catherine of Spain, and wanted to marry this cute young thing Ann Boleyn (Elizabeth I's mama, by the way). Since divorce was pretty much a complete no-go in the Catholic church, Henry decided he would be his own church. How humble. More couldn't morally accept this break with his faith and refused to support Henry. Henry was not pleased and had poor Thomas More beheaded.

    Thomas More and Humanism

    Like the name suggests, at its core, Humanism was all about humans: how we should live, how we should learn, how we should govern ourselves, and so on. That might sound kind of vague and obvious, but before this, people didn't really think in those terms, often turning simply to God as the one, big answer.

    The intellectual viewpoint of Humanism, instead, promotes the idea that God empowers individuals to figure things out for themselves and so, hello, we should all be doing that. It's these humanists who are responsible for the rediscovery of Greek and Latin learning and generally advocate for educational reform that puts philosophy and moral living—communicated through art and literature—first.

    Thomas More was one of these guys, and he was a major force for bringing Humanism into England. Because Humanism is all about understanding ourselves philosophically, as opposed to nationally or strictly religiously, Humanists tended to be pretty international people. And sure enough, but what kind of people do we meet and talk to in Utopia? Yep, Giles, Hythloday, Cardinal Morton—all these people would have been considered part of a Humanist circle.

    The question then becomes, is the island of Utopia More describes in his book a kind of Humanist ideal? There's no easy answer, but we will point out that there is a lot of philosophy and Greek learning happening on that island, but not a ton of individualism. As usual, we're going to let you think this one out.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (8) Snow Line

    Utopia may sound like your average travel fantasy, but it's actually about some pretty deep stuff. The text investigates some heavy-hitting questions of political philosophy, some of which are very specifically about sixteenth century European politics. That doesn't mean these questions aren't applicable today—they totally are—but it can take a little more time and consideration to draw those connections. Read: it's really confusing.

    This one also requires some patience. Utopia doesn't really spend a lot of time constructing a plot or story. Mostly, it's just describing very long conversations between various characters as well as, obviously, characteristics of Utopia. All this makes for an incredibly rewarding read, but you do have to stick with it.

    Oh, and did we mention it was originally written in Latin? So, you know, there's that too.

  • Writing Style

    Playful; Systematic

    Fun and Games

    Playful? Utopia? Yes, really. Just because some of the issues at hand are serious, doesn't mean More isn't having fun with this whole invent-your-own world thing. You know all those funny names that appear in the book? A lot of them are actually puns on different Greek words—including, you know, the title. That's More having a blast. He's not only sneakily naming characters and people things like "speaker of nonsense," but he's also showing off his Greek skills.

    Easy as 1, 2, 3

    Utopia is also playfully systematic. That's right, it employs its playfulness in a pretty systematic way. The text is divided into two sections called Books: the first is a debate about politics and philosophy while the second is the description of Utopia. Within the description of Utopia, there are handy-dandy subdivisions, like "Warfare and Slaves," that organize all that descriptive info. 

    But the most systematic aspect of the text would be its format as a dialogue. No, we don't just mean people talk a lot (although, they do), we mean that More is using an old and respected philosophical format to organize his book: the (Platonic) dialogue.

    Made famous by our old friend Plato, the dialogue was a very popular Renaissance format that (1) had a quick little back-story called the "frame" and (2) mostly described a long conversation between two or more acquaintances about any number of philosophical topics. So, even though we might find the back and forth conversation between these characters a bit tedious, and even hard to follow, for Renaissance readers it would have been a very familiar and systematic way to organize a text.

    And just in case you're still perplexed by how a long, philosophical discussion can be playful too, it's helpful to know that not all philosophical dialogues were serious. (Gasp. We know). In fact, one of More's absolute favorite Greek authors, a guy named Lucian, invented comedic dialogues, which are full of complete silliness.

    It's all Latin to Me

    In case all of More's ancient Greek word games weren't enough dead language fun for you, don't forget that More also wrote the text of Utopia in Latin. And guess what? He had some fun with it.

    While Latin is incredibly systematic language, almost mathematical, it's also very flexible. Word order? Not a big deal. Subjects, objects, verbs, and all that good stuff can be pretty much in any order you want. And More goes a little nuts with this, constructing all kinds of wacky Latin sentences that sometimes makes reading the text in the original almost like solving a puzzle.

    But, you ask, wasn't More English? Why isn't he writing in English? (Why?!) When he wrote Utopia, Latin was the international language of the highly educated—the people More would have expected to be reading his text. English, along with all the those other languages like French, Italian, and German were called the vernaculars, and were considered to be less sophisticated than Latin. Funnily enough, that's all about to change only a few year after More writes Utopia (hello, Shakespeare!) and it gets translated into those unsophisticated vernaculars very quickly. In fact, Utopia was read so much for frequently in translation that people rarely look at the Latin today.

  • Locus Amoenus

    We're in Latin territory now, folks. Locus amoenus means a "pleasant place" and it's a common literary space where people chill out. Typically, it's a garden, somewhere with lots of nature going on, often enclosed or literally separated from the outside world.

    A Little Picture

    This image makes a small, but important, appearance in the very beginning of Utopia, when the three men head back to Thomas More's house to have their talk:

    "After greeting one another and exchanging the usual civilities of strangers upon their first meeting, we all went to my house. There in the garden we sat down on a bench covered with grassy turf to talk together." (1.11)

    More than just a lovely place to have a conversation—although gardens are totally that—the retreat to a garden for a specifically philosophical conversation was a typical move in philosophical dialogues. This matters because even though Utopia is a story about travel and a new world, this moment in the garden is signaling that it is also meant to be read as a work of serious, philosophical importance.

    A Bigger Picture

    The locus amoenus can also refer to the Garden of Eden, that Biblical paradise that Adam and Eve were kicked out of for eating that darn fruit of knowledge. It makes sense that we'd be thinking about that image in a book that describes, for Hythloday at least, the "paradise" of Utopia in contrast to the Fallen (hint: sin, sin, sin) world of Europe.

    In fact, the idea of a locus amoenus and the idea of a utopia have some not-so-subtle similarities: they're both isolated from the outside world, seem to be very peaceful, and, no, it's no coincidence that those Utopians love their gardening. These similarities suggest that we can read the whole island of Utopia as one big version of the locus amoenus. As the Garden of Eden connection makes clear, the locus amoenus, like a utopia, is a place that seems to be perfect but is actually problematic. Both concepts, then, are also reminding us that perfection itself is a problematic concept.

    Fun Fact: Utopia was written during the time of New World discoveries (more on that in "New World Discovery") and some people actually believed that if Europeans sailed around the world enough, they would actually find the Garden of Eden (as of yet: no luck). So travel, new beginnings, imaginary worlds, sin, gardens... yep, they're all actually brought together in the image of the locus amoenus.

  • Pride

    Of all the many faults Hythloday finds with European society (there are lots!), pride is numero uno. At the end of his description of Utopia he spends a lot of time explaining just how bad pride can be:

    "And in fact I have no doubt that every man's perception of where his true interest lies... would long ago have brought the whole world to adopt Utopian lows, were in not for one single monster, the prime plague and begetter of all othersI mean Pride. Pride measures her advantages not by what she has but by what other people lack. Pride would not deign even to be made a goddess if there were no wretches for her to sneer at and domineer over. Her good fortune is dazzling only by contrast with the miseries of others, her riches are valuable only as they torment and tantalize the poverty of others. Pride is a serpent from hell that twines itself around the hearts of men, acting like a suckfish to hold them back from choosing a better way of life. Pride is too deeply fixed in human nature to be easily plucked out." (2.109-110)

    Yowza. Hythloday—not a fan of pride, the sin of thinking you're better than everyone else.

    Hythloday thinks this sin is particularly horrible because it needs other people to stay unhappy or miserable in order for you to keep feeling good about yourself. Considering how much time Hythloday spends criticizing the poverty and oppression going in Europe, it's not surprising that he would be so heated about what he think is its root cause.

    Poetic Pride

    We've also noticed that Hythloday is so worked up about this pride issue that he suddenly starts using very poetic language instead of his usual straight-forward, factual descriptions. The most obvious poetic aspect of this rant is his use of personification: he's turned the abstract concept of pride into a creature with characteristics of a living thing. Ta da! We bring you Pride, the "monster," "goddess," and "serpent" (hint: you can often tell something is being personified when it's capitalized).

    This image of pride is clearly so important to Hythloday because he really wants his listeners to remember it—that's why he uses such strong, imaginative language. It sticks with you, right? It's a lot easier to understand the danger of something if you describe it as trying to strangle your heart (yikes!) than if you explain the moral, social, and economic consequences of a particular tendency in human character (snooze).

    While Hythloday's point of view here may not sound like rocket science to us (pride makes us want to accumulate wealth and keep it ourselves... obvious) it would have been a more radical perspective at the time. For much of the Renaissance and before, a person's economic status was linked to their spiritual and religious status: God likes good people and gives them wealth, less good people don't get wealth. Seriously. Economic injustice was considered an oxymoron. So give Hythloday some credit. Even though his rant about pride may sound a bit old-fashioned, he's actually being kind of forward-thinking.

  • Fool

    Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice... well, there's only one Fool in Utopia. But this Fool has the special distinction being both a character and a symbol.

    "There was a parasite standing around, who liked to play the fool, and was so good at it that you could hardly tell him from the real thing" (1.26)

    In Thomas More's time, to be a "fool" wasn't just to be a dummy. It was, believe it or not, an actual position in courts and wealthy households. The fool essentially had two roles: he was meant to be entertaining (kind of like a clown) and he was meant to be brutally honest (kind of like certain comedians today). The fool would often roam around making fun of people, but in such a way that revealed something true or important about their character. Because this was the fool's job, and because he could pass everything off as a joke, the fool was never really punished.

    This meant that the fool was often the only person who could offer honest criticism of someone in power (something Hythloday is very worried about). Regular person criticizes king: off with their head. Fool: whatever, he's just a fool.

    In Utopia, we can see the fool exploiting this position when he makes a joke connecting beggars to friars, suggesting that they are both people who endlessly require money. Even though the Friar gets all up in arms, he's the one who ends up looking silly for taking the fool so seriously. Fools aren't supposed to be serious (or are they...?).

    Fascinated by Renaissance fools? You should check out the jester (another name for a fool) Feste in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

  • New World Discovery

    In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue... only 15 years before Thomas More wrote Utopia. Yep, that's right—only recently had the possibility of discovering entirely unknown, new worlds become a very real part of More's life.

    Because Utopia means "no-place" and "good-place" (see "What's Up with the Title?" for the full run-down), many people have read the book as an allegory for travel and discovery. Utopia is meant to represent our unquenchable desire to find new places that will somehow be better than ours or offer ways for us to fix our world. (This is why some people have also thought of Utopia as being similar to science-fiction, which often explores the idea that alien-contact will bring profound change for the better.) It also, of course, suggests that such a quest might be impossible.

  • The Weary Traveler

    He's mysterious, he's older, he'd rather pessimistic, he's "seen things," he's been changed... this, friends, is the weary traveler, a famous figure (always a man, we're afraid) who appears in tales of long voyages. It all starts with Homer's Odyssey and continues to be an image of the life-changing and exhausting toll of long trips to faraway places. Raphael Hythloday is just such a man:

    "I was about to return to my quarters, when I happened to see [Peter Giles] talking with a stranger, a man of quite advanced years. The stranger had a sunburned face, a long beard and a cloak hanging loosely from his shoulders." (1.9)

    We can think about the unique look of this figure as a way of signaling on the outside a change he's undergone on the inside. He doesn't look like most people because he's been through things most people haven't. The realities of long-distance travel by ship were harsh, and many explorers returned to their native lands physically and emotionally changed; these real-life adventurers actually did resemble their fictional counterparts.

    If you're intrigued by these mysterious travelers check out Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner for some more juice.

  • The Island

    We know Utopia is an island. In fact, the first king, Utopus, physically turned it into an island, so if you're thinking that's got to be important, you're on the right track. Check it out:

    "They say (and the appearance of the island confirms this) that their land was not always an island. But Utopus, who conquered the country and gave it his name […] also changed its geography" (2.43)

    Islands have a long tradition of being places where unusual, magical, even scary stuff happens. Think Homer's Odyssey, where Odysseus encounters all kinds of fantastical stuff on different islands he accidentally visits: witches, giants, dead people, monsters. So, if you're going to invent a undiscovered, unconventional society somewhere on the planet, it's going to be an island.

    Islands are also naturally isolated, so they can exist just outside the bounds of authority and away from the influence of the rest of the world. Think about how important that fact is for the whole social organization of Utopia, which has developed entirely different customs and attitudes to living than anywhere else.

    That's it. We're moving to Hawaii.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Peripheral Narrator)

    Our author, Thomas More, is also our first person narrator. Yep. How's that for confusing?

    This wasn't all that uncommon at the time. In fact, since discovery of the new world was an actual historical reality (check out "New World Discovery" in Symbols, Imagery. and Allegory) real-life explorers, like Christopher Columbus, were writing accounts of their discoveries in the first person. More was just channeling those accounts.

    It works, too, because the whole thing contributes to the "I swear this actually happened!" We really feel like we're listening to an actual account:

    "It would take too long to repeat all that Raphael told us he had observed in various places, nor would it altogether serve our present purpose. Perhaps on another occasion we shall tell more about the things that are most profitable" (1.12)

    There More goes, trying to give the effect of actually being there and having to deal with the constraints of time and memory.

    Oh, one other thing. Remember that Utopia's first person narration is a first person account of another first person account. While More suggests that they might chat with this (non-existent) person again in the quotation above, there's something a little fishy going on with how well he recalls Hythloday's very long and detailed description of Utopia. Just saying.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      Anticipation Stage

      Raphael Hythloday is a smart, smart guy, but he's bored with the regular old day-to-day and disenchanted with the political corruption and economic inequality of Europe. Luckily for him, there's lots of exploring going on, so he joins a ship, takes his books, and sails the world.

      Initial Fascination

      Hythloday is completely taken with this wonderful island of Utopia that he finds. He admires their customs, government, and legal system, particularly because they are all so different from what he knows in Europe. They welcome him openly and eagerly read the many books he has with him. He likes it there so much he stays for five years.

      Frustration Stage

      Since Utopia doesn't exactly fit with your typical "Voyage and Return" story—although it is playing around with that narrative model—Hythloday's "frustration stage" is a bit unusual. Instead of becoming frustrated with life in Utopia, the longer he stays in Utopia the more frustrated he becomes with what he knows is going on in Europe.

      Nightmare Stage

      For Hythloday, this aspect seems less a particular stage than a general attitude. Although he returns to Europe to teach people about Utopia, Hythloday seems perpetually pessimistic that Europe and European governments are capable of being changed. At times, this outlook seems so dire, you wonder if Hythloday is capable of being happy anywhere other than Utopia.

      Thrilling Escape and Return

      Well, for poor Hythloday, it's really quite the opposite. He voluntarily leaves Utopia in order to return to Europe and share with other Europeans all that he's learned about Utopia. As his tone and general outlook suggest, Hythloday seems far from thrilled to be back in Europe and would much rather never have returned from Utopia.

    • Plot Analysis

      Exposition (Initial Situation)

      Traveler meets Traveler

      While traveling in Europe, Thomas More meets his old friend Peter Giles and makes a new friend, Raphael Hythloday. Since they all love chatting and sharing their experience, they decide to go and have a long chat. This set-up is pretty basic since Utopia isn't your typical story-driven book.

      Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

      Philosophy vs. Politics: The Showdown

      Even though our friends all thought they were on the same page—love traveling, love philosophy, love chit-chatting—it turns out that Hythloday doesn't believe that philosophy and politics mix. Even though this conflict is just a conversation, there are some pretty major ethical ideas at stake here.

      Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

      You've been where?

      It turns out that Hythloday has lost his faith in European politics all because of this island he visited called Utopia. There, they do stuff right. More and Giles definitely want to hear more, so Hythloday tells them all about it. The fact that Hythloday has been to another country that operates so completely differently from the European countries that More and Giles know is what really gets their attention. It means that this discussion changes from being purely abstract to having some serious, real-world stakes; according to Hythloday, some people actually do live totally differently.

      Falling Action

      All about Utopia

      Hythloday gives all the gritty details about the country of Utopia , barely stopping to interject his own opinion and without interruption from his listeners. Even though his narration seems totally lacking action, every observation he makes about Utopians customs, law, etc. is indirectly critiquing some pretty fundamental aspects of Europe and its identity.

      Resolution (Denouement)

      Until Next Time, Utopia

      After giving the low-down on Utopia, Raphael insists that it's obviously the best country ever. Giles and More aren't so sure. They think that some aspects are good and others are totally wacky, but decide to wait until another day to chat further. This "resolution" to Utopia is famous for being so unresolved and leaving us with more questions rather than answers. Who are we supposed to agree with? What was this whole narrative about?

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I

      Thomas More, Peter Giles, and Raphael Hythloday meet up and decide to have a philosophical chat.

      Act II

      Sitting in Peter Giles' garden, they debate how effective philosophy can be in changing political policy. Hythloday mentions this country called Utopia and they're all hooked. They break for lunch but want to reconvene later and hear more.

      Act III

      Hythloday provides a detailed description of the country and customs of Utopia. While neither More nor Giles is as blown away as Hythloday, they all agree that it raises some interesting questions about how to run a country.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      Virgil, Aeneid (1.10; 1.12)
      Homer, Odyssey (1.10; 1.12)
      Plato (1.10)
      Seneca (1.10)
      Cicero (1.10)
      Sallust (1.18)
      Plato, Republic (1.28, 36, 38)
      Gospel of Luke, New Testament (1.27)
      Many Old Testament References (1.27)

      Historical References

      King Henry VIII of England (1.8)
      Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 and King of Spain from 1516 (1.8)
      Amerigo Vespucci (1.10)
      Dionysus of Syracuse (an ancient tyrannical king of Syracuse (1.29)
      Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1.29)
      Ferdinand the Catholic, or II King of Aragon (and a bunch of other places) (1.29)
      Crassus, the third (and least famous) member of the First Triumvirate: Pompey and Julius Caesar (1.33)