Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Front Matter | Summary

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Summary

Thomas More created a set of materials that were published at the front of Utopia, before the beginning of the manuscript itself. These include:

Map of Utopia. A beautiful woodcut of a map showing the island as it is described in Book Two. It includes various castles, harbors, the coastline, and other details.

Utopian Alphabet. There is, of course, no real Utopian alphabet. Still, More creates a page showing how the imaginary Utopian alphabet would translate into the Latin alphabet. He also shows how a Utopian verse would be translated into Latin. The Utopian language, as presented in this front matter, is a creative combination of ancient Greek and Latin.

Four Verses in the Utopian Tongue. Four short poems are reproduced, including:

  • A "translation" into English of the poem shown on the prior page. The content of the poem is in praise of Utopia's founder: "My king and conqueror Utopus by name / A prince of much renown and immortal fame." The real author of the poem may well have been the real-world Peter Giles, who plays a major (fictional) role in the book itself.
  • A poem titled "A Short Meter of Utopia," credited to an imaginary poet named Anemolius who is "poet laureate and nephew to Hythloday." The poem extols the virtues of Utopia: "Now I am like to Plato's city / Whose fame flies the world."
  • A poem titled "Of Utopia," contributed by More's (real world) friend Gerard Geldenhouwer, a Dutch professor who oversaw the printing of the book.
  • A poem titled "To the Reader," by Cornelius Graphey, another real-world poet and friend of Peter Giles, who recommends the book to the reader. The first stanza asks, "Will thou see this wretched world / how full it is of vanity?" The second stanza refers the reader to "that worthy clerk Sir Thomas More," whom he describes as having "wit divine fully learned."

Prefatory Epistle. A letter written from Thomas More to Peter Giles in which More asks Giles (a real person with whom he actually met in Flanders) to show the draft of Utopia to (the imaginary) Raphael Hythloday. He wants to make sure all the details are accurate. He also debates with himself in the letter. He wonders whether it is really a good idea to publish Utopia given that "some there be that have pleasure only in old rustic antiquities, and some only in their own doings."

Analysis

The front matter is a collection of engaging and imaginative pieces of work created not only by More but also by several of his friends. The front matter weaves together reality and imagination with the help of several renowned individuals who all supported or actually helped make the project a reality.

By creating a map, an alphabet, and the "translation" of a Utopian poem, More (at least in theory) inspires the reader to believe in the reality of Utopia. The same end, presumably, is gained by having two well-known and very real scholars write about Utopia. The idea is that Utopia is really a place that could be reached by any traveler knowing its location. Of course, no one would really believe in the reality of any of the front matter as Utopia is quite obviously an invention of More's imagination.

Some of the materials in the front matter provide insight into More's personal and official life. He mentions interactions with a (real) servant named John Clement with whom he traveled to Flanders and whom he mentored. Clement later married More's adoptive daughter.

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