Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Gerard Wegemer
Dr. David Sweet
Dr. Andrew Moran
In his Historia Richardi Tertii, Thomas More shares a common goal with Sallust and Tacitus: to help prevent tyranny by promoting civic virtues in readers. After reviewing the similarities between More’s Historia and his classical models, I employ close reading and the insights of narratology to show that More surpasses Sallust and Tacitus in the sophistication of his narrative techniques. More uses an encomiastic introduction, mimetic indirect discourse, and divergent focalization to fill the Historia with a multiplicity of voices and points of view. The result is a complex narrative that is the perfect arena for teaching the art of character discernment, especially through the “character puzzles” of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth. These character puzzles are carefully constructed to assist the reader in discovering and exercising the principles of character discernment.
A close reading of the text shows that King Edward falls far short of the humanist ideal of kingship, since he is ambitious, imprudent, prone to flattery, and puts his own pleasure ahead of his people’s good. The “character puzzle” of Queen Elizabeth is more difficult to solve. Why does she allow her son to leave sanctuary when she knows there is “nothing more hazardous” than to put both her sons in Richard’s power (CW15 394/20)? By carefully analyzing the entire Historia—including More’s references to Lucian’s De Calumnia, Livy’s History of Rome, the Book of Lamentations, and Petrarch’s “De Obedientia ac Fide uxoria, Mythologia”—I conclude that Elizabeth approaches the decision of whether to give up her son not as a mother, but as the leader of a faction. She is primarily concerned with what will advance her political interests and restore her fortunes, not with what will save her son.
After explaining More’s use of narrative techniques and “character puzzles” to help readers discover and exercise the principles of character discernment, I conclude that the sophistication of More’s narrative techniques makes his Historia Richardi Tertii superior as a work of art to Sallust’s Bella and Tacitus’ Annales.
Johnson, RoseMary C., "Improving on Sallust and Tacitus: Thomas More's Narrative Techniques in Historia Richardi Tertii" (2021). Electronic Dissertations & Theses. 27.