It would be hard to define the word utopia in a manner that could relate to everybody. There are just too many types of people out there with different perceptions of what is ideal. So, instead of focusing on every group of people and their thoughts and ideas on utopia, I have decided to focus on how the individuals of Shakespeare's time have changed immensely to what people today think of as utopia. I have gained some of my information from the plays of Shakespeare as his stories, although fictional, represent the thoughts and ideas of the people of that time.
What is utopia? Is it a worldwide human culture that, in the absence of environmental change could be expected to have a long, stable life? As we have noticed, civilization is moving in its own direction, and whether we think it is utopian is beyond us. Plus, we must also wonder if there is still enough time to live in a utopian-type society.
At the point at which human civilization is currently in, we must question whether this civilized model can or should survive. On the other hand, it is just this fact that makes humans unique. Therefore, this type of civilization should be retained, if that is possible, of course. There can be strong arguments for both sides but it is really obvious that the duty of any species is to survive. We can assume that civilization can be defined as what a human being is. But, to assume this is to assume that giving up our civilization would cause us to adapt to another, uncivilized lifestyle. This new lifestyle could eventually lead us to death then since we would be something different than what we now are.
When we think of a society, we must think of those things that come with that society. These such things are poverty, disease, and mental anguish for example. The issue is to keep these things at a normal level. The only real way to keep these at an absolute minimum is to give up civilization, as can be seen by observing other civilizations of our world. One way to minimize poverty, for example, would be to minimize overpopulation. Humility could be one way to minimize disease and mental anguish. Given with what we have seen through the environmental crisis that surrounds us, it would be safe to say that no existing culture has yet developed into a utopian-like culture. The reason for this is that there has been no agreement about the state of the environment or the causes leading to its current condition, or its attempt to control human numbers. To me, the control of human numbers seems to be the center of the problem. There is a tendency for humans to view the world in black/white either/or terms. Shakespeare knew this and therefore this type of thinking was the basis of certain parts of his plays. For example, in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello, Othello sees the world in this black/white point of view as Iago tells him about his wife's cheating. Othello immediately gets angry and jealous assuming that Iago is telling the truth all before asking his wife Desdemona. We can see this common theme of jealousy in many of Shakespeare's plays as the men were more apt to trust their friends' words than those of their own wives. The result of all of this is an all or nothing attitude that concludes that it is our way or no one's.
As the idea of feminism comes to mind, I can't help but to think of what individuals of the Renaissance thought about these ideas. Females were considered to be inferior to men in every way at this time. Females were not even allowed to act on stage as it was thought that they would not perform as well as men. If a female did in fact, do something that men were only supposed to, they were considered to be unnatural. If a female was seen with more than one man, she was considered to be a prostitute while the men could have as many females as they felt fit. So, when talking about feminism, we should agree that it should be included in any form of society. In some places, masculinism has dominated for so long to where feminism has been excluded. But, like I said before, a society can't last without the ideas of masculinism or feminism. The goal of a society should always be to maintain a balance. This balance was maintained in the Renaissance with the ruling of the king and the queen. The power made available to the feminists should in all cases be balance by an opposing masculinist power base. This shouldn't be hard to maintain as long as one have a care regarding all problems that may come. Change is always necessary for the continuation of a civilization because the environment within which we operate is continually changing. On the other hand, too rapid change also causes instability as can be seen in the growth of fundamentalism. When this happens, a balance is called for. When certain problems stabilize, change will not be so common or necessary. With the ideas of feminism vs. masculinism, the industrial west can be labeled masculinist while the rest of the world can be described as feminist. The values of feminism will degrade those ideas of the masculinists because of restrictive rules regarding the environment, and masculinism is harmful to the environment. As was thought in the Renaissance, the masculinist should be the head of the family as it would maintain order.
As in the case of education, masculinist and feminist ideas again bring up an argument. Education is a function of the operation of the masculine principle. Is it right to conclude, then, that every person should have as much education as possible? Feminists argue and are not impressed with increasing the dominance of the ego, which is the purpose of education, so that, certainly in that sector of society to be dominated by feminism education should be minimalized. They think that the pursuit of intellectual values should be available to those who wish. To become successful in doing this, a two-way system is called for. Public education should be minimalist, providing the minimum requirements of citizenship. Private institutions, on the other hand, should be available for those who wish, on their own resources to take advantage of them.
In Sir Thomas More's Utopia, he gives his ideas about the utopian theme. He says that it is fundamental for humankind to develop our own, imaginary utopias even though their names for certain places may differ. The word utopia was More's decision. He believed that it is inevitible for people to create a better system for people to live together as a result of the stupidities, corruptions, and inequities of human nature. In the "Golden Age" of literature, the idea was a yearning for a kind of life which the ancients imagined was free from the stresses of their more competitive, more commercial civilization. We see many writers today even writing about the subliminal, or the imaginary life describing that as their own utopia. Likewise, poetic creations of things like imaginary gardens and earthly paradises described by writers often reflect yearnings growing out of frustration with things as they are. Another theme that often comes up when talking of utopia is the pastoral. This is the idea that has to do with nature and an idealized representation of simple, happy shepherds. Tasso and Edmund Spencer are two Renaissance writers that represented this kind of writing. Shakespeare also talked of the idea in his comedies as certain characters wanted to escape from the real life of the city and the court into the "green world" as it is described. In Shakespeare's play As You Like It, the Duke Senior compares his life of exile in the Forest of Arden with the ways of the city as:
Now my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.(Act II, Scene I)
In yet another of Shakespeare's plays, The Tempest, Gonzalo talks in more explicit utopian language as he outlines his plans for a new and better society.
Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,-
And were the king on't, what would I do?
I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour; treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
To excel the golden age.(Act II, Scene I)
Even if we take the term utopian literature in the sense of a detailed description of a nation or a commonwealth ordered according to a system which the author proposes a better way of life than any known to exist, the history is still extensive. This all could be formed if the present society could be cancelled and people could start over.
Although many great works of literature were produced after Thomas More discovered utopia, there were also writers who developed anti-utopias. Anti-utopias or distopias are a group of works commonly associated with the utopian tradition even though the works seem to be in direct contradiction to utopian tradition. Three works mentioned are Samuel Butler's Erewhon, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and George Orwell's 1984. It is the purpose of these anti-utopian works to offer utopian solutions to social, economic, and political problems at the outset. Usually, though, the reader discovers that the author's real purpose is satirical.
Since Brave New World is the only one of these three I have read, it is the one I will talk about. This fictional story offers examples of what life might be like on earth in the next 500 years if technology were to play a dominant role in society. Skyscrapers would be taller, travel will be mainly by air, and diseases will be completely eliminated are just a few examples that the book gives. One of the most unusual features of the anti-utopian society is the denial of equality. Classes are defined through controlled genetics and thus the society is full of dumbwitted, underdeveloped individuals to work jobs that are least popular and at the same time require lesser skills. As humans grow, they are brought up in controlled conditions until they reach a hatching' stage. Even in this test tube stage they are marked for treatment that will produce the type of human desired. The type of human is marked by the alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon symbols. The individuals are conditioned to have certain desires and to believe certain things according to the kind of service for which they are designed.
Like I said before, every individual is employed according to his classification. People mainly gain their entertainment through sports, whether they play it or watch it is their choice. Every evening in this society seems to end with going to bed with the opposite sex. Sexual relations are completely promiscuous. The thought that every person of this community has in his or her mind is that "everyone belongs to everyone." There is no such thing as marriage. The government provides contraceptives so that sexual relations don't interfere with the test tube method of producing children. Basically, sex was purely for sport.
The planning for their many amusements has two main purposes. One is intended to stimulate the economy. The games all require expensive equipment which in turn requires more factories and more opportunities for people to distribute their pay checks. The next purpose of amusement is to keep the people busy during waking hours to minimalize their thinking as much as possible. This brave new world as Huxley portrays turns out to be a horror because, even though the people seem happy, it means death to individuality, liberty, art and literature, and mostly to the spirit of man.
As literature about utopias grew, so did the dreams of those who wanted to establish a real utopian community. As we have seen, the utopian spirit has been revealed through the written words of those who were critical of the world they lived in and who were also dreamers of a better world. These dreams have brought these people from the old country' that they can no longer tolerate to a new, open territory. For this reason, the 19th century in America seemed the perfect time to do this. There were many settlements for these communities in the United States and Canada that were both large and small. Some of these became successful while some failed. Some of these communities have continued through many generations.
As I mentioned before, Sir Thomas More gives his idea of a utopian theme in his book Utopia. He talks about this through this character of Raphael Hythloday centering on such things as country life, cities, officials, occupations, community life, economy, learning, philosophy, and religion. One of these that was of particular interest to me was economy. The markets of these people were nothing more than supply houses where one can take what they want for free. They produce an overabundance of food so that they are able to export their food to foreign countries, which are exchanged for gold and silver. The Utopians are not allowed to have private property and they have no money. The wealth that they gain through trade is used only for war while the citizens are taught to despise material things.
When talking about utopias, the topic of nature is usually presented along with it. It is reasonable then to talk about nature when mentioning philosophy in a utopian community as More explains. This philosophical position seems to be the foundation for all knowledge to these Utopians. This leads them to believe that the life patterns must follow along with the rules of nature; and since nature prompts people to seek pleasure, pleasure is regarded as the goal of life. Furthermore, careful distinctions are placed over the values set between pleasures of the body and of the mind.
The last idea that I found interesting while reading about More's utopian community was religion. More mentions that there is no single religion throughout the community but a certain amount of doctrines is permitted. There is a belief in immortality and as a result the people have developed a cheerful attitude toward death. Also contained in the community are people whose dedication to a life of service and sacrifice correspond to the religious orders in the Christian church. The priests are men of great character and dignity and the churches are large and beautiful.
To end I would just like to relate to you the contents of an article I found written by Pavel Ivanov and Jon Will called The ways to the future. They say that in order to achieve a utopian community, one must strive for it and in order to do this, people must dream and tell others of their dreams. They say that the goals must be formulated as clearly as possible in order to make the struggle for the new life conscious and also to remove any undue expectations. They also mention that the dreamer must be honest with him/herself and the future must be built today using the materials and skills people have now. "One cannot expect that some deed would bring Utopia into life, and that everything will be perfect in the world after that."(Ivanov, Will). Utopia will only give the direction of effort while the result may be different and require a change in the original views. The authors relate to the reader that complete knowledge is the key for the improvement of anything in the world. They say that any act directed to bringing knowledge to the people would make the humanity closer to the future while any act concealing something from common knowledge is a crime against the future. To end, they try to get the point across that one cannot just forbid the false' ideas. "One has to suggest new ideas that would be much more robust and attractive. Though it will be necessary to limit religious propaganda, the main attention ought to be paid to the propaganda of the new ideology, demonstrating its universality and consistence."(Ivanov,Will).
In this paper I hoped that I have related to you what it is about utopias that I saw while learning about it through this class and through my English major. I have found that times and ideas have definitely changed since the Renaissance particularly with the rights of women. I have also found that there are many new ideas that have been born as a result of Sir Thomas More's analysis'. I'm still not sure right now what I believe about building utopian communities. Maybe they are impossible ideas. Maybe with the right dream and the right dreamer there is a chance. Maybe, as certain actors have said in Shakespeare's plays: "The world is a stage and we're all just actors."