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1FeingoldZoe FeingoldProfessor SmithEnglish 20111/26/12Inability to Interpret the Past Evinced Through Mathematical Models Presented inArcadia Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, raises questions about the predictability of the future and the ability to know the past. Stoppard presents these questions by juxtaposing characters from the early 19th century who are concerned with understanding the future with “modern day” (late 20th century) characters who seek knowledge of the past. In Derek Alwes’ critical essay “’Oh, Phooey to Death!’: Boethian Consolation in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia,” Alwes claims that “the larger perspective conferred on us by the temporal shifts in the play enables us to recognize that we can recover much of what has been lost”(3). I agree with Alwes’ claim that the temporal shifts in the play allow us (the audience) to recognize that much of what has been lost in the past can be recovered; however, Stoppard’s portrayal of the way in which the past is recovered allows us to recognize that, though we may be able to discover facts about the past, we cannot fully understand the events/phenomena and their motivating forces. Arcadia presents many of its ideas by way of mathematical theories being explored by 19th century Thomasina and 20th century Valentine. By analyzing and comparing the mathematical models of
2Thomasina and Valentine, we can deduce Stoppard’s intent to portray the incomprehensibility of the past.While Thomasina’s mathematical model proposes a method of applying a pattern to the present, or to existing forms, in order to predict the future, Valentine attempts to apply patterns to past events to explain the present. Both Thomasina and Valentine demonstrate an understanding that changes in the universe are spontaneous and random, that is, an understanding of the laws of entropy, but they nonetheless conceive that there can be patterns applied to the randomness. Thomasina undertakes the project of using equations that feed into each other (iteration) to diagram the form of a leaf. “We must work outward from the middle of the maze,” Thomasina says to Septimus in reference to diagramming natural forms using mathematics, “We will start with something simple. I will plot this leaf and deduce its equation”(Stoppard 41). Thomasina is concerned with