The publication of Utopia followed Columbus's first voyage to America by only 24 years. Utopia preceded by just one year Luther's publication of the Ninety-five Theses that fomented the Protestant Reformation. Michelangelo had completed his four years' labor on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1512. Henry VIII had recently come to the throne of England (1509), was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and was being guided in his government by Cardinal Wolsey as his Lord Chancellor. Some of the principal literary figures of More's generation were Erasmus, Ariosto, Machiavelli, and Castiglione, along with More himself. One of the great periods in Western art was in full swing with Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian heading a long list. The chief explorers in the first decades after Columbus were Vasco da Gama, John Cabot, Amerigo Vespucci, and Balboa.
One highly influential interpretation of Utopia is that of intellectual historian Quentin Skinner. He has argued that More was taking part in the Renaissance humanist debate over true nobility, and that he was writing to prove the perfect commonwealth could not occur with private property. Crucially, Skinner sees Raphael Hythlodaeus as embodying the Platonic view that philosophers should not get involved in politics, while the character of More embodies the more pragmatic Ciceronian view. Thus the society Raphael proposes is the ideal More would want. But without communism, which he saw no possibility of occurring, it was wiser to take a more pragmatic view.
Utopia has a more playful tone than one might think. While More's world is illustrating whatever point he is trying to get across, he is having fun engaging in creating his own world, as is demonstrated in the way he phrases "Then let me implore you, my dear Raphael,' said I, 'describe that island [Utopia] to us!"(Getty 323). He also says "When Raphael had finished his story, I was left thinking that quite a few of the laws and customs he had described as existing among the Utopians were really absurd." This demonstrates that he realizes his world is bizarre, and wants others to realize how out of place it was in their society. More is quite anxious to create his world, and pieces it together in great detail, taking pleasure in what makes world different from our own. However, he wants the reader to take his story seriously, which is why he bases it in reality, saying it is a part of the “New World.” This being the parts of America and its surrounding islands discovered by Amerigo Vespucci in 1497.
St. Augustine's famous De Civitate Dei (City of God, 413–26) is frequently cited as a source for Utopia. It was, of course, well known to More. He had delivered a series of lectures on the work, as has been mentioned. The basic plan of Augustine's book is different from the Republic, although Augustine was a devoted admirer of Plato. By the same token, More's work differs in basic concept from Augustine's, though inevitably echoes of Augustine are to be found in More.
The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656) by James Harrington, is a philosophical novel that described the existence of an ideal constitution, one that is designed to allow for the existence of a utopian republic. It depicted the functions of everyone in this fictional republic - from the agrarian workers, to the low officials, al up to the rights of the ruling senate.
People are re-distributed around the households and towns to keep numbers even. If the island suffers from overpopulation, colonies are set up on the mainland. Alternatively, the natives of the mainland are invited to be part of these Utopian colonies, but if they dislike them and no longer wish to stay they may return. In the case of under-population the colonists are re-called.
Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.