David Harris Sacks, ed. Utopia, by Sir Thomas More. Boston & New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. Pp. xvi, 236. Cloth, $39.95; ISBN 0-312-12256-X.
David Harris Sacks, professor of history and humanities at Reed College and author of two books on early modern British history, has made an important contribution to the Bedford Series in History and Culture with this edition of Sir Thomas More's Utopia. The Bedford Series is designed to present important historical documents in a manner that helps the reader study the past as historians do. More's widely read and highly influential Utopia is certainly an important historical document, and Sacks's edition aids the reader in approaching the document as a historian would in several ways.
The document encountered here is not a translation of one of the many Latin editions, but rather Ralph Robynson's corrected and revised second English translation published in 1556. Selecting this edition allows the reader to experience the same version of Utopia read by sixteenth-century Englishmen with a few minor alterations. Sacks greatly aids the reading of sixteenth-century English prose by modernizing spelling and punctuation and by adding extensive annotations to explain archaic words, phrases, and idioms. Sacks's selection of Robynson's translation of Utopia also shows the role it played in shaping later views of the work by downplaying its philosophical and religious dimensions and highlighting its social and economic ideas.
This change in interpretation resulting from Robynson's translation of Utopia is analyzed in a seventy-nine page introduction by Sacks that presents the cultural and institutional framework within which Utopia was written and read. Divided into three sections, the first, entitled "Texts," looks at the literary and philosophical prototypes used by More in writing the book. Sacks points out how the debates among Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero over private property and the relationship of philosophy to the active life of politics is reiterated in the debates in Utopia between Hythloday and More. "Contexts," the middle section, looks at how part of Utopia was written to help More resolve an important personal issue-whether he should accept an office offered by Henry VIII. The economic, religious, and political life of England in More's time is analyzed, and Sacks shows how More's desire to bring reform to church and society leads him to accept a position in the royal government. The last section, "Developments," surveys the changes in England between the first appearance of Utopia in Latin in 1516 and Robynson's English translations in 1551 and 1556. By mid-sixteenth century the crown was supreme over the church and England was increasingly a Protestant nation. Thus, what Utopia had to say on government and religion was no longer relevant, but England's social and economic problems remained, and Robynson and others who helped publish the English translation transformed Utopia into a treatise addressing the social ills faced by mid-century England.
Sacks's Utopia is ideally suited for humanities and historical methodology courses. However, the cost of the hardback version might limit its classroom use.
Harry E. Wade Texas A&M University-Commerce
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Wade, Harry E.|
|Publication:||Teaching History: A Journal of Methods|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2000|
|Previous Article:||The Social Dimension of Western Civilization.|
|Next Article:||A Social History of the Russian Empire 1650-1825.|