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Literature Study GuidesArcadiaAct 1 Scene 3 Summary

Arcadia | Study Guide

Tom Stoppard

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Arcadia | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



Once again it is 1809, and Septimus Hodge is tutoring Thomasina Coverly in Latin. Jellaby is waiting for a reply to a letter, but Septimus sends him away. Septimus distractedly corrects Thomasina's translation of a Lord Byron poem while he writes letters. Again Thomasina gets his attention with gossip about couples in the gazebo. She declares her mother is in love with Lord Byron. Septimus tries to explain it away, but Thomasina observes how her mother's body language reveals her interest in Byron. Thomasina also informs her tutor that, over breakfast and in Chater's presence, Lord Byron noted it was Septimus who panned Chater's last book in the press. Thomasina continues her barrage of insights by pointing out that Septimus is irritated because Lady Croom is paying more attention to Lord Byron than to him. She goes on to explain her theory that all of nature could be written as numbers, still seeking the geometry of nature's irregular shapes.

Thomasina declares she hates Cleopatra for making everything about love and for demeaning women by surrendering power to men. Thomasina is outraged Cleopatra would fall in love with the man responsible for destroying the library at Alexandria. Septimus states his belief in the repeating cycles of time, so one should never mourn lost knowledge because it will be found again. Septimus then displays his Latin fluency by easily translating the poem with which Thomasina has been struggling. She accuses him of cheating and in anger tells him she hopes he dies.

Captain Brice accompanies Ezra Chater to challenge Septimus to a duel once again, this time because of Septimus's scathing review of Chater's book. Lady Croom enters and confiscates, for Lord Byron, Septimus's copy of "The Couch of Eros," inside of which are Septimus's letters. Septimus accepts the challenge to a duel the following morning.


Stoppard develops Thomasina Coverly's competitive personality and impetuousness. Declaring disdain for Cleopatra, Thomasina places a higher value on knowledge than on what she sees as uncontrolled sexuality. In the same way, Thomasina seeks to place order on nature, as evidenced in her fascination with formulas for irregular shapes—imposing reason and explanation on the natural and irrational world. Furthermore, Thomasina demonstrates she is equally observant of people when she accurately interprets her mother's gestures and identifies Septimus Hodge's irritability as jealousy over her mother's attentions to Lord Byron.

Ezra Chater's second duel challenge is less an effect of his determination than an example of weak will and manipulation. Captain Brice accompanies him to provide support, but he clearly is encouraging Chater. Septimus implies why Captain Brice is so keen for Chater to duel when he points out the good captain will gladly take care of Chater's wife if Chater is killed.

Although never seen, Mrs. Chater is the character with the most carnal knowledge. No personal conflict is evident here—it is all passion, or heat. In two scenes, she has already been sexually involved with Captain Brice, Septimus Hodge, Lord Byron, and of course her unfortunate husband. Wherever she is on the estate, sexual action is involved.

The conflict between reason and passion, and whether they can coexist, is a central theme of Arcadia. Thomasina bemoans the destruction of knowledge by emotions when Cleopatra fell in love with the man who destroyed the library at Alexandria. This conflict represents the paradigm shift from the Age of Reason with its orderly thinking to the Romantic era with its irrational emotionalism.

Septimus Hodge discusses the deep cycles of time, a theory that patterns in history eventually repeat themselves. This belief—what is lost will be known again—provides insight into his emotional detachment and lack of sentimentality. It also foreshadows the intellectual developments in the modern time frame, such as Thomasina Coverly's theories being proved by new inventions and Bernard Nightingale's theories disproved by discovery of lost information.

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