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Arcadia

Tom Stoppard

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

There is an implicit and persistent conflict between reason and emotion in Arcadia. Which characters might be said to embody reason and which characters might be said to embody emotion? Does this conflict find any resolution in the play?

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia reveals the implicit conflict between reason and emotion. Stoppard creates characters as test models of each quality. For instance, Hannah Jarvis is the champion of reason, and Mrs. Chater is the champion of emotion. Mrs. Chater, however, does not help the play find resolution, as she never enters the stage. It is rather the struggle and journey of Septimus Hodge and Hannah Jarvis that brings the play to its final conclusion and victory of emotion.

The conflict between reason and emotion is introduced in the first pages of Arcadia. As Thomasina and Septimus work on their lesson, Thomasina innocently asks Septimus to tell her the meaning of carnal embrace. From this moment, academic knowledge never leaves sexual knowledge far behind. After all, Thomasina's main theory, which is central to the theme of the book, rests on the motion of "bodies in heat." Her modern counterpart, Chloe, voices the specific implications of Thomasina's theory. Chloe suggests that Newton's theory was wrong because he didn't account for the random and unplanned nature of sexual attraction.

What is Chaos Theory? How might the structure of Arcadia exemplify Chaos? How is Chaos Theory dealt with or introduced in the play?

Chaos Theory, also called nonlinear dynamics, is often considered one of the greatest advancements in the physical sciences after relativity and quantum mechanics. Stoppard's main source of chaos theory information came form James Gleick's book Chaos: Making a New Science, but mathematics have always been influential in Stoppard's works. Chaos theory itself focuses the characteristic behaviors of nonlinear systems. Nonlinear dynamics are processes that are "chaotic," but not random. As David Peak and Michael Frame have pointed out, "Chaos is irregular output from a deterministic source. The future of chaotic behaviors is completely determined by its past. Chaos is not chance or randomness." Therefore, chaos systems are random but have some degree of predictability that may bear some statistical long-term results. The "iteration" is central to chaos theory. Iteration is the repetition of a computation of a mathematical algorithm. The iteration is described as dynamic because the equation is a process. What results from an iteration is a set, which makes a mathematical picture called a fractal. Fractals can be used to describe physical shapes and things in nature.

Chaos Theory, in Arcadia is introduced by Thomasina Coverly. Thomasina creates a fractal (or the beginning of one, eventually completed by Valentine) by creating an algorithm and repeating it. In the style of Fermat, Thomasina leaves her equation undone with a note in the margin of her page. Valentine is the formal voice of chaos theory, the mathematician, researcher, and distant relative of Thomasina. Valentine articulates Thomasina's discovery of chaos theory in layman's terms for us and for Hannah.

Why do you think Tom Stoppard chose to portray two separate time periods in Arcadia? How do the time periods interplay or speak to each other? What commentary results?

The portrayal of different time periods, the early nineteenth century and the present (1993) in Arcadia reveals a progression of knowledge and values across different generations and centuries. The time periods focus around two distinct stories: that of Hannah Jarvis and that of Thomasina Coverly.

The family of Thomasina's age is refined and aristocratic, at the height of high society. Thomasina and Septimus value new discovery and spend their days working on new problems and possible solutions. In Hannah's tale, the Croom family has gone into a bit of insanity and disarray. The Croom children, at least Gus and Chloe, are uneducated, the parents are absent, and the children have developed curious characteristics. The smart genes of the Croom family seem to have remained intact: Gus is the genius, Chloe is terribly perceptive, and Valentine is a chaos theory researcher; however, there is something missing in the household. The family is no longer high society. Although they hold a ball for the county, the family dresses up in Regency clothing harkening to a riper time in the power of the English aristocracy.

Suggested Essay Topics

There are numerous twinnings or couplings of people from one time period to another (ex. Gus and Augustus Coverly) in the play. Pick one or two of these pairs and describe the similarities and differences between the two. Why do you think Stoppard made such pairings?

What kinds of knowledge do the characters in Arcadia seek? What conflicts may exist between different kinds of knowledge?

Compare romantic and classic elements of Arcadia. How does the Garden reflect romanticism? What characteristics do the characters in the play attribute to romanticism and classicism?

What progression does Hannah Jarvis make during the play? Does she have certain classical or romantic qualities? What kind of knowledge does Hannah value at the beginning of the play? What kind of knowledge does she value at the conclusion of the play?

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