- Cultural Reformations
- List of Illustrations
- List of Abbreviations
- List of Contributors
- National Histories
- Literary Histories
- Enclosed Spaces
- The Eucharist
- The Saints
- Vernacular Theology
- When English Became Latin
- Heresy and Treason
- Naughty Printed Books
- Utopian Pleasure
- Poetic Fame
- London Books and London Readers
- The Reformation of the Household
- Active and Contemplative Lives
- Autobiography and the History of Reading
Abstract and Keywords
This essay examines the role that the specter of idleness played in the ongoing transformation of labor in England during the late medieval and early modern periods. It begins by tracing an historical shift in Christian conceptions of labor through a knotty genealogy of ideas about labor and idleness that extends from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The essay then turns to an early sixteenth-century text that is not often considered in either medieval or early modern histories of Christian thought about labor: Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). The essay contends that Utopia is fundamentally shaped by More’s meditation on labor and idleness and that that meditation opens the utopian text out toward a vexed history of ideas concerning human work that extends forward from the fourteenth century. With its idiosyncratic but historically resonant meditation on human labor, More’s Utopia represents a particularly useful vantage point from which to address the ongoing transformation of Christian conceptions of work in late medieval and early modern England.
James Kearney is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of The Incarnate Text: Imagining the Book in Reformation England (2009), which won the CCL Book of the Year Award for 2009. His essays have appeared in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, English Literary Renaissance, Shakespeare Studies, and the collection Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History. He is currently working on a project concerning ethics and economics in the plays of Shakespeare.
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