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date: 29 September 2020

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.

Keywords: idleness, labor, England, Thomas More, Utopia, garden of Eden, “sturdy beggar, ” vagrancy, enclosure, black death, medieval, early modern

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