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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Hythloday's Visit to England

Hythloday continues with his reasons why he refuses to put himself into the service of the king by providing an example of how easy it is for the monarch to adhere to laws that are unjust. Some time ago he had visited England and stayed with Cardinal Morton. While there he had dinner with the Cardinal and a lawyer who was incredulous that despite the number of thieves hanged, there seemed to be no decrease in cases of stealing. He did not see how such a superb justice system could continue to produce thieves. Hythloday replied that this did not surprise him since it was food that most people were after and therefore they had to steal in order to survive. Then Hythloday listed the causes of why people became thieves by citing unemployment in England. Wounded soldiers who could find no work; disbanded retainers of a rich lord who had no qualifications; and peasants displaced from their age-old fields due to the great demand for sheep pastures could not even depend on the generosity of alms houses and monasteries because the high cost of food made it difficult for these places to be of help. These men and women therefore had to steal.


Hythloday continued that a man's life was worth more than the money or items stolen. Furthermore, if death was the punishment for both stealing and killing, a thief would be tempted to kill this victim so that he could not be identified later. This was a cruel law going against God's commandments. Punishing a man by death is only murder sanctioned by law. The English aristocracy, along with the middle class, are criticized for being crazy for a luxurious life. Their vices like visiting the taverns, alehouses and brothels, gambling, football, tennis adversely affect the morale of the people.

Morton was very upset by Hythloday's statement and asked him how he would handle the situation. Hythloday had quoted the example of the Romans who made their prisoners work in quarries. These men paid off their debts by working for the state. Many of those who at the table did not agree with Hythloday until they realized that the Cardinal endorsed his ideas and then they also agreed. When a wag asked if those who were unable to engage themselves in any work due to old age or illness should be put into monasteries and nunneries, the Cardinal smiled at the joke but it was misunderstood as an approval and was seconded by all present there.

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