The history of utopian literature from the mid-seventeenth century to the present cannot be treated in detail here, since there are more than 50 works that ought to be included in such a study. A brief survey will have to suffice for present purposes. A few of the better known and more influential works will be analyzed briefly and classified according to the main directions of development of the theme.
The idea behind the references to the "Golden Age" in the literature of the ancients represents a nostalgic yearning for a kind of life which they imagined was free from the stresses of their more competitive, more commercial civilization. Similarly, the poetic creations of imaginary gardens, the earthly paradises described by Medieval writers, often reflect yearnings growing out of dissatisfaction with things as they are. Another familiar manifestation that took literary form was the pastoral, an idealized representation of simple, happy shepherds. Examples can be found ranging from the eclogues of Theocritus and Virgil to Tasso and Spencer in the Renaissance. In several of Shakespeare's comedies the escape from the city and the court into "the green world" is described in appealing terms. The Duke Senior in As You Like It contrasts his life of exile in the Forest of Arden with the ways of the court in these terms: