Radical Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England
An innovative look at the politics of humanism in the English Renaissance
A study in intellectual history and the history of the book, this work examines the humanist movement in sixteenth-century England and traces the reception of a single work, Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), in relation to that movement.A study in intellectual history and the history of the book, this work examines the humanist movement in sixteenth-century England and traces the reception of a single work, Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), in relation to that movement. Scrutinizing translations, popularizations, "anti-Utopias," and theological debates, David Weil Baker makes the case that the humanists of the English Renaissance were themselves reading More's Utopia, Erasmus's Praise of Folly, and other works of Continental humanism in far more politically radical ways than scholars have generally recognized. In particular, during the Reformation and the later controversies to which it gave rise, "Utopia" became a code word for the goals of Protestant extremists, including the dreaded Anabaptists. More broadly, the communism of More's imagined society became associated with the Protestant use of the printing press to disseminate vernacular editions of the Bible and other crucial religious texts and to make this formerly restricted "interpretive property" available to a broader readership.
"A sophisticated and important discussion that should interest both historians and literary scholars. The central argument—that humanist writers feared the appropriations and misappropriations of their words made possible by dissemination through print—is convincing and significant. Baker makes his case through a series of persuasive close studies which also demonstrate striking continuities in themes and issues across the century. His discussions of the ways in which texts sometimes acquired new and dangerous meanings as a result of historical events occurring after their original publication are particularly good, as is his treatment of the differing uses to which More's Utopia was put, by Protestant writers in particular."—R. Malcolm Smuts, author of Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England