Thomas More, Utopia - The University of West Georgia

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Engl 6110: Early American Literature Seminar
Fall 2007
Lesson Plan, September 10, 2007
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1) As I mentioned in my email, I would like to spend some time talking about the
things that are ideal in this ideal society. In other words, what aspects of Utopian
society make it visionary, exemplary, radical, progressive, and maybe simply “a
good idea”?
2) I would also like to discuss the topic of religion and religious authority, especially
in light of readings, themes, and communities we will be discussing soon. Some
of the questions I have come up with are:
1. How are priests chosen?
2. What is the relationship between the individual and the
divine/God?
3. How can the individual gain knowledge of God?
a. Direct/mystical communication? Mediation through
the priests or sacred texts?
b. Are there any religious/sacred texts (scriptures) that
equate the “word/language” with the divine “Word”
or will/mind of God?
c. How do the priests gain spiritual authority? What is
their position with relation to
i. The people?
ii. God?
4. How does More’s Catholicism influence the depiction of
religion, church, priesthood, etc. among the Utopians?
5. NB (later down the road): How does the crucial question
of religious authority/knowledge change/come under attack
in “utopian” communities that are decidedly Protestant in
their religious outlook, such as the New England Puritans?
3) WHAT SEMIOTIC SYSTEMS DO THE UTOPIANS CREATE (i.e. does
More create for the Utopians)?
4) The Criticism: What kind of paradigms for analyzing utopian literature
and/or utopian communities does the criticism establish? Which questions
can we usefully ask and apply to other texts/communities/experiments
throughout the semester?
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Finally, I’d like to peek your curiosity about our next topic—the trials and
tribulations of New England Puritanism. Here’s an excerpt from the very end of the
trial transcript of Anne Hutchinson:
Gov. [Winthrop]. Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you
are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and
are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.
Mrs. H[utchinson]. I desire to know wherefore I am banished?
Gov. Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied.*
Curious? Disturbed? Chills? Feathers ruffled? Do you want to know what Anne
Hutchinson did to become “a woman not fit for [Puritan] society”? And why she
did not even know or understand the causes of her banishment? And what the
court thought those reasons were? You can go ahead and start reading the
selections for 9/17 (see the updated syllabus online and the reserve list!).
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*From “The Examination of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson at the Court of Newtown.” In: The
Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638: A Documentary History. Ed. David D. Hall.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1968. 348.
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