Arcadia (play)

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Arcadia is a 1993 play by Tom Stoppard concerning the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge.

Contents

Synopsis

Arcadia is set in Sidley Park, an English country house, in both the years 1809–1812 and the present day—1993 in the original production. The activities of two modern scholars and the house's current residents are juxtaposed with the lives of those who lived there 180 years earlier.

In 1809, Thomasina Coverly, the daughter of the house, is a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics well ahead of her time. She studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge, a friend of Lord Byron (who is an unseen guest in the house). In the present, a writer and an academic converge on the house: Hannah Jarvis, the writer, is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; Bernard Nightingale, a professor of literature, is investigating a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron. As their investigations unfold, helped by Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in Thomasina's lifetime is gradually revealed.

The play's set features a large table, which is used by the characters in both past and present. Props are not removed when the play switches time period, so that the books, coffee mugs, quill pens, portfolios, and laptop computers appear alongside each other in a blurring of past and present.

Plot

Scene 1 opens on April 10, 1809, in a garden front room of a country house in Derbyshire with tutor Septimus Hodge trying to distract his 13-year-old pupil Thomasina from her enquires as to the meaning of a "carnal embrace" by challenging her to prove Fermat's Last Theorem so he can focus on reading the poem "The Couch of Eros", a piece written by another character, Mr. Ezra Chater. Thomasina starts questioning why the jam in rice pudding can never be unstirred, which leads her on to the topic of determinism, beginning to develop a theory regarding the chaotic shapes of nature. This however is interrupted by Mr. Chater himself who is shortly revealed to be angry that his wife, Mrs. Chater, was caught engaging in "a perpendicular poke" in the gazebo with Septimus, and has come intending to challenge Septimus to a duel. Septimus defuses the situation by heaping oleaginous praise on "The Couch of Eros", a tactic that works, as at this point Chater doesn't realise that it was Septimus who had previously negatively reviewed an earlier work of his, "The Maid of Turkey". Landscape architect Noakes enters, shortly accompanied by Captain Brice and Lady Croom, who then proceed to discuss the proposed modifications to the gardens, with Thomasina drawing a picture of an imaginary hermit (in the biblical style of John the Baptist) onto Mr. Noakes's picture of the garden (with its fantasy hermitage) as he sees it in the future.

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