Course Hero Logo

Arcadia | Study Guide

Tom Stoppard

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Arcadia Study Guide." Course Hero. 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 6 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, February 27). Arcadia Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Arcadia Study Guide." February 27, 2017. Accessed June 6, 2023.


Course Hero, "Arcadia Study Guide," February 27, 2017, accessed June 6, 2023,

Arcadia | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Act 2, Scene 5 of Arcadia, what do the responses to Bernard Nightingale's question, "Where was I?" reveal about the listeners?

When Bernard Nightingale's practice lecture is repeatedly interrupted, he asks, "Where was I?" to get back on track. The listeners' answers reveal their own preoccupations that shape what they hear. The first time Bernard asks, Valentine Coverly responds, "Pigeons." This answer shows his focus on the game books, which he describes as his true inheritance. Chloë Coverly responds, "Sex." This answer highlights her pursuit of sexual relationships. Hannah Jarvis's response is "Literature," which aligns with her academic research into the lives of writers. The second time Bernard asks, Valentine plainly says, "Game book," while Chloë says, "Eros," confirming their preoccupations. Hannah says, "Borrowed," which emphasizes her focus on research results. The three perspectives also represent three forms of knowledge—experiential (Valentine), carnal (Chloë), and historical (Hannah).

Why does Valentine Coverly call Bernard Nightingale's research on Lord Byron "trivial" in Act 2, Scene 5 of Arcadia?

Valentine Coverly calls Bernard Nightingale's research trivial for two reasons. First, Valentine is a scientist, whose focus is on data and empirical, or scientific, knowledge. He believes scientific knowledge is the only kind that is truly valuable and that other types of knowledge, such as intuitive or historical knowledge, do not matter if they do not advance scientific understanding. He calls the details of history, such as who did what in the past, trivial because he sees them as useless information that has little effect or purpose in the contemporary world. Bernard's research into Lord Byron's history, therefore, would be trivial information according to Valentine's perspective. However, Valentine's reason for revealing his opinion at this point is personal. Bernard has become argumentative, and his comments are insulting. Valentine throws out the trivial comment as a way to shut down the conversation and to annoy Bernard who is already being overly emotional.

How does the tone in Act 2, Scene 5, of Arcadia reflect the characterization of Bernard Nightingale?

In Act 1, Bernard Nightingale is arrogant and pompous. In Act 2 Stoppard reveals the darker sides of Bernard's character—his temper, his verbal abusiveness, and his complete lack of ethics. Stoppard creates a negative tone in his descriptions and stage directions related to Bernard. He notes, "Things are turning a little ugly, and Bernard seems in a mood to push them that way," and uses words with negative connotations such as shouting, ignoring, and jeering in his line directions for Bernard. More revealing, though, is the content of Bernard's responses, which escalate from condescending to insulting to threatening. His barbs are tailored to the vulnerabilities of the recipient. He tells Valentine he has not presented a "proper" argument. To Hannah, he claims she "never understood" Byron and denigrates her popular history book as a "novelette" before openly mocking her abilities. Bernard's verbal tantrum continues until he announces he would like to push all scientists over a cliff. The angry and bitter tone Stoppard creates in this scene reveals the inner character of Bernard as much darker than just an overly confident academic.

How does Hannah Jarvis's defense of her book jacket indicate a change in her character in Act 2, Scene 5, of Arcadia?

Hannah Jarvis is a rationalist who values evidence. She repeatedly admonishes Bernard Nightingale for making jumps in logic without substantial evidence to support them. Yet when confronted with the claim the image on her book jacket is not Lord Byron and Caroline Lamb, Hannah turns to her emotional, gut instinct for validation she is right rather than to empirical evidence. She says to Bernard, "But Bernard—I know it's them! ... How? It just is. 'Analyzed it', my big toe!" Her acceptance of instinctual knowledge shows a certain growth from the beginning of the play when she would accept only empirical knowledge as proof.

How does Stoppard use the symbol of heat in Act 2, Scene 5 of Arcadia?

Throughout the scene there is friction between Bernard Nightingale and other characters. Physically, friction generates heat; therefore, the relational friction creates a metaphoric heat in the interactions. This heat builds until near the end of the scene when Bernard attempts to seduce Hannah Jarvis and admits he already has seduced Chloë Coverly. After Hannah slaps Bernard, the interactions cool, indicating the beginning of heat death, or death of knowledge, in this case carnal, from lack of heat. The scene aptly ends with a discussion of the heat death of the universe and the second law of thermodynamics that the hermit of Sidley Park, Septimus Hodge, continued to write about until he died.

In Act 2, Scene 6 of Arcadia, what do the letters Septimus Hodge leaves in his room reveal about his true character?

Septimus Hodge wrote two letters as he prepared for the duel, knowing he could die soon. One letter is to Thomasina Coverly, and the other is to Lady Croom. His desire to write to them as possibly a final act in life shows how important Thomasina and Lady Croom are to him. He declares his love for Lady Croom in his letter to her. Considering the circumstances, his affection for her seems genuine despite his usual lack of sentimentality. His potentially posthumous love letter also shows his reluctance to voice his true feelings in person. His letter to Thomasina mentions her jam metaphor. Other details of the letter are not revealed, but it can be assumed he gives her one last lesson about determinism and the cycles of time to comfort her in his absence. The letters thus reveal that his feelings go deeper than what he has led Lady Croom and Thomasina to believe.

Why does Septimus Hodge burn the letter from Lord Byron without opening it in Act 2, Scene 6 of Arcadia?

The unopened letter represents job security for his teaching position. With it, he has the potential to blackmail Lady Croom for her affair with Lord Byron, assuming the letter discusses the circumstances of Lord Byron's departure. By holding onto his job this way, however, he would incur Lady Croom's resentment. She already has proven herself vindictive, so Septimus feels hesitant to cross her. On the other hand, by burning the letter in front of her without opening it, he demonstrates his loyalty to her, which has a powerful effect on her ego. Burning the letter also signifies the end to both their relationships with Lord Byron and the events of the previous few days.

What is the significance of having the tortoises and the Augustus and Gus Coverly characters look the same in both time periods in Arcadia?

The "twin" tortoises and "twin" Coverly sons strengthen the visual connections between the time periods. The similarities highlight the repetition of patterns across time while also pointing out how certain elements may appear the same but have significant differences. The personalities of the boys exemplify this dichotomy. Augustus and Gus look exactly alike, and are played by the same actor, but their personalities are opposite. While Augustus is outgoing, brash, loud, and does not seem particularly intellectual, Gus is socially withdrawn, mute, and considered brilliant intellectually. The twin tortoises play similar roles as the pets of Septimus Hodge and Valentine Coverly, so much so that the audience might wonder if they are indeed the same animal, an idea that intensifies the impression of continuity over time.

How is Chloë Coverly's theory of how the universe works in Act 2, Scene 7, alike and different from Thomasina Coverly's theory in Act 1, Scene 1 of Arcadia?

Both Chloë and Thomasina Coverly have epiphanies about how the universe functions and wonder if they are the first to have thought of them. Thomasina believes a theoretical formula could be written to predict the future if one were able to comprehend all the possible actions of all the atoms in the universe. Her theory thus represents a deterministic view of the universe. Chloë, on the other hand, has an epiphany about why the deterministic view of the universe does not work in reality, concluding the very opposite of Thomasina. Chloë theorizes that sex messes everything up because people are always attracted to people they should not be, and thus the future is unpredictable.

In Arcadia what effect do the props on the table have throughout the play?

Many of the same props, or versions of the same props, appear on the table or elsewhere in the room in various scenes in both time periods. Some of the props appear new in the 19th-century scenes and greatly aged in the 20th, such as the garden books, game books, and other paper props. The tortoise, the apple, Lady Croom's garden books, Thomasina Coverly's lesson notebooks, Septimus's folio, and the theodolite are overlapping props that serve to connect and blur the lines between time periods and bring to life the contemporary researchers' subjects. In the final scene characters from both time periods interact with the props at the same time, showing that people across time sometimes did the same things in the same places. The overlapping prop pieces also serve as a reminder that after people are long dead, the items they leave behind tell the stories of their lives.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Arcadia? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!