The Hermeneutic Dilemma in Thomas More’s Utopia

Ikram Ben Arfi


Thomas More’s Utopia is subject to diverse interpretations on as various levels as the diversity of the literary text.  Far from being a simple object, the literary text follows different principles, meanings and connections. The shift from examining the text interpretation to its sign representation reflects the major shift of emphasis in contemporary literary theory and criticism. This paper is structured on these two orientations. The reader of More’s Utopia is left guessing as to which parts of the brilliant jeu d’esprit are seriously intended to raise a hermeneutic ambiguity and which are mere paradox.  On the one hand, there is an implicit “heuristic method” of great importance to a better understanding of the book. On the other, the explicit content can be better examined through the “scholastic method” which, “though only implicit in the work, used by More to make his criticism of the world created by an abuse of that method all the more ironical”.[1] The present paper focuses on the hermeneutic dilemma of More’s Utopia. The text interpretations that step outside the structural poetics suggest that, as a humanist, More establishes a distance between him and his own text through the use of irony and satire. Only after a postmodern reading of the text will apparent clarities of statement turn into delightful puzzles or vexatious anxieties of interpretation. This relative plethora of interpretations of Utopia is true and the themes, the dialogues and the language use are symbolic of it.

[1] P. Albert Duhamel, « Medievalism of More’s Utopia », Studies in Philology , Volume lII, N° 2, April, 1955, p. 99.


Utopia, Post/Structural Poetics, Mimetic/Rhetorical Symbolism, Postmodernism Hermeneutic, Dilemma.

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