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Arcadia | Study Guide

Tom Stoppard

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Arcadia | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What is Thomasina Coverly's attitude toward love and sex in Act 1, Scene 3 of Arcadia?

Thomasina Coverly is disdainful of the concept of love. She considers intellectual knowledge more important than carnal knowledge, which she knows little about. At first she is dismissive and flippant about the romantic feelings that Septimus Hodge may have for her mother, Lady Croom, and that her mother may have for Lord Byron. She dismisses their potential feelings and reveals her preference when she says, "Well, let them elope, they cannot turn back the advancement of knowledge." She then tells Septimus of her loathing of Cleopatra, who was so consumed by love she traded all the knowledge stored in the great library of Alexandria for carnal knowledge. Thomasina's attitude also reflects her inexperience with romantic relationships and their power.

In Arcadia, how does Septimus Hodge exemplify a deterministic viewpoint?

In Act 1, Scene 3, Septimus Hodge explains his view that knowledge is inevitable in the grand scheme of time. On the basis of deterministic principles that knowledge is outside the scope of the individual will and that individuals have no free will, he proclaims any lost knowledge will be rediscovered eventually. For example, Septimus says, "The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again." His statement about mathematical discoveries also foreshadows the discovery of the mathematics of quantum physics many years after Thomasina Coverly developed her iterative proofs for a new geometry.

Why does Ezra Chater have Captain Brice speak for him in Act 1, Scene 3 of Arcadia?

Ezra Chater has proved himself weak-willed and easily manipulated. He already has dropped his first challenge to Septimus Hodge to duel when Septimus, a master of language, flatters his poetry and promises to write a favorable review. To prevent being persuaded a second time to forego a duel, Chater brings Captain Brice as his spokesperson to issue a second challenge to duel. The audience can assume this arrangement is Captain Brice's idea, or at least receives his strong support, because Brice, who is in love with Mrs. Chater, has a vested interest in Chater's possible demise. Captain Brice is clearly manipulating Chater to put him in harm's way, but once again, Chater is too dim-witted to recognize when he is being played.

In Arcadia, why does Lady Croom order Septimus Hodge to take control of Lord Byron's pistols?

Near the end of Act 1, Scene 3, Lady Croom repeats a conversation with Lord Byron in which he blames his lameness on a habit of shooting himself in the foot as a child. Lord Byron, who suffered from club feet, a congenital condition, is speaking metaphorically but Lady Croom interprets his words literally. She asks Septimus Hodge to take control of Lord Byron's pistols to protect Lord Byron from himself under the mistaken belief he is clumsy and has a penchant for shooting himself. This action reveals she may be developing romantic feelings for Lord Byron because she is so concerned about his physical well-being.

At the end of Act 1, Scene 3 of Arcadia, why does Septimus Hodge say, "And then it's off to the Malta packet out of Falmouth"?

Septimus Hodge has accepted the inevitability of a duel with Ezra Chater and assumes he will kill Chater in the process. Because dueling is illegal, Septimus would be forced to flee the country to avoid murder charges. Lord Byron has been talking about catching a ship to Malta from Falmouth after he leaves Sidley Park. Septimus plans to trade places with Lord Byron by taking his berth on the ship while Lord Byron takes over Septimus's duties as Thomasina Coverly's tutor. He even supposes Lady Croom would prefer this outcome so she could continue her romantic liaison with Lord Byron. As Septimus leaves, slamming the door behind him, the audience can understand a plan like this would go against Septimus's orderly mind and cause him considerable distress, as he would be acting destructively and against his very nature.

How do Thomasina Coverly's mathematical equations relate to the structure of Arcadia?

Thomasina Coverly creates iterative equations to represent the irregular patterns of objects found in nature. The scenes within the play are iterative as well. The present-day scenes echo the scenes that take place in the past. Although the characters of the two time frames are different, there are striking similarities between some of them. Both time frames include a mix of scholars and Coverlys. The specific details may differ, but the outlines of the plots are similar with seductions and miscommunications causing difficulties in both the past and present households. The overall effect is more than repetitive. It speaks to an understanding of the enduring qualities of human nature and the patterns of time. Each scene builds on the others, revealing more connections between the time frames until the two merge into one scene at the end.

In Arcadia, why does Valentine Coverly have such a difficult time believing that Thomasina Coverly understood what she was doing with her equations?

Valentine Coverly's skepticism is twofold. First, the historical context of Thomasina Coverly's equations does not make logical sense to him. The mathematics she is doing would not come into existence until after the development of computers. He does not see how it could be possible to envision such mathematics without the aid of a computer. But also layered in his response is a latent sexism. He is shocked a girl could come up with the idea and refuses to acknowledge her genius. Instead he credits her achievement by comparing her to a monkey at a piano playing keys but not understanding what the notes mean.

Why does Valentine Coverly say in Arcadia Act 1, Scene 4, "It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing"?

Valentine Coverly is talking about how the discovery of quantum physics completely changed scientific understanding of the natural world at the molecular level. The logical, orderly laws of physics that Newton spelled out had been assumed to be universal, even on the microscopic level. To discover molecular particles behave according to an entirely different and largely unknown set of rules is tremendously exciting to Valentine. As he points out later, there have been only a handful of times in human history where the concept of the world shifted so radically. To be part of a paradigm shift in scientific thought from Newtonian physics to quantum physics and the laws of thermodynamics means there is much to discover.

In Act 1, Scene 4 of Arcadia, why does Hannah Jarvis say, "Yes, I know. I've always been given credit for my unconcern," and what does it reveal about her?

Hannah Jarvis makes this remark in response to Valentine Coverly's compliment on her "good breeding" for not asking about Gus Coverly. Valentine is assuming her lack of questions is a sign of restraint and respect. However, Hannah implies in truth she usually is not interested enough to ask, but people assume she is showing good manners. Her response paints a picture of a cool, detached, aloof person who does not get involved in others' business. Her curiosity is focused more on her personal and academic interests than on the activities or problems of other people. Emotional and interpersonal aspects of life seem to be of little concern to her; however, if they are larger than they seem, she keeps them to herself.

In Act 1, Scene 4 of Arcadia, how do Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale exemplify the conflict between Classical and Romantic thinking?

In Act 1, Scene 4, Hannah Jarvis presents evidence to Bernard Nightingale that Mrs. Chater remarried in 1810. Their reactions to and interpretations of this evidence exemplify the differences between their ways of thinking. Hannah, representing the Classical, logical order of thinking, indicates Ezra Chater's death does not prove he died in a duel because he could have died from any number of other causes. Bernard, however, insists the remarriage is proof of his theory, despite not saying explicitly how Chater actually died. Driven by his instinct about what happened, Bernard represents the Romantic view of knowledge and this, to Hannah, represents shoddy thinking. Their views represent the conflict between intellectual and emotional claims of truth.

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