TOM STOPPARDArcadiaACT ONESCENE ONEA room on the garden front of a very large country house in Derbyshire in April 1809. Nowadays, the house would be called a stately home. The upstage wall is mainly tall, shapely, uncurtained windows, one or more of which work as doors. Nothing much need be said or seen of the exterior beyond. We come to learn that the house stands in the typical English park of the time. Perhaps we see an indication of this, perhaps only light and air and sky.The room looks bare despite the large table which occupies the centre of it. The table, the straight-backed chairs and, the only other item of furniture, the architects stand or reading stand, would all be collectable pieces now but here, on an uncarpeted wood floor, they have no more pretension than a schoolroom, which is indeed the main use of this room at this time. What elegance there is, is architectural, and nothing is impressive but the scale. There is a door in each of the side walls. These are closed, but one of the french windows is open to a bright but sunless morning.There are two people, each busy with books and paper and pen and ink, separately occupied. The pupil is Thomasina Coverley, aged 13. The tutor is Septimus Hodge, aged 22. Each has an open book. Hers is a slim mathematics primer. His is a handsome thick quarto, brand new, a vanity production, with little tapes to tie when the book is closed. His loose papers, etc, are kept in a stiff-backed portfolio which also ties up with tapes.Septimus has a tortoise which is sleepy enough to serve as a paperweight.Elsewhere on the table there is an old-fashioned theodolite and also some other books stacked up.Thomasina: Septimus, what is carnal embrace? Septimus: Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef. Thomasina: Is that all? Septimus: No ... a shoulder of mutton, a haunch of venison well hugged, an embrace of grouse . . . caro, carnis; feminine; flesh.
1 Thomasina: Is it a sin? Septimus: Not necessarily, my lady, but when carnal embrace is sinful it is a sin of the flesh, QED. We had caro in our Gallic Wars - 'The Britons live on milk and meat' - 'lacte et carne vivunt. I am sorry that the seed fell on stony ground. Thomasina: That was the sin of Onan, wasn't it, Septimus? Septimus: Yes. He was giving his brother's wife a Latin lesson and she was hardly the wiser after it than before. I thought you were finding a proof for Fermat's last theorem. Thomasina: It is very difficult, Septimus. You will have to show me how. Septimus: If I knew how, there would be no need to ask you.Fermat's last theorem has kept people busy for a hundred and fifty years, and I hoped it would keep you busy long enough for me to read Mr Chater's poem in praise of love with only the distraction of its own absurdities.