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Theatre / Arcadia

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Arcadia is a 1993 play by Tom Stoppard. It is the story of a Child Prodigy, Thomasina Coverly, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge, living in the early nineteenth century, as they explore the relationships between the Enlightenment and Romanticism; order and disorder; Newton, Fermat, and Lord Byron. These scenes are alternated with the modern-day descendents of the Coverlys as they are visited by two writers doing original research that ties back to Sidley Park: Hannah Jarvis, studying The Hermit who once lived on the grounds; and Bernard Nightingale, following up a lead on the Byron connection. These two plots become more and more intertwined, until they finally merge and characters from both times share the stage.


Both plots take place in one room in Sidley Park, the Coverly estate, and thus share a set— including props that might be anachronistic, like Valentine's laptop. An apple given to Hannah in 1993 is left onstage and then eaten by Septimus in 1809.

Arcadia was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 1995. The recently-closed (2011) revival was nominated for Tonys for Best Revival and Best Featured Actor (Billy Crudup as Bernard).


Arcadia contains examples of:

  • Accidental Kiss: Invoked. Bernard kisses Hannah after she tells him that Septimus and Byron were schoolmates, but Hannah says that it was only out of "general enthusiasm". He later tries to make a move on her, but considering he was just caught in flagrante delicto with Chloe, it isn't very effective.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Hannah jokes about it exasperatedly when Bernard propositions her.
    Bernard: Ah well, yes. Men all over.
    Hannah: No doubt. Einstein—relativity and sex. Chippendale—sex and furniture. Galileo—'Did the earth move?' What the hell is it with you people?
  • Arcadia: Justified Title and Discussed Trope
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hannah figures out who the hermit is - Yay! Thomasina is going to burn to death right after the play ends - not so much yay.
    • Not only that but That aforementioned hermit? Thomasina's beloved tutor that went mad after she died.
  • Brick Joke: Hannah warns Bernard that if he publishes his supposed 'findings', he won't be able to leave the house without a paper bag over his head; he finishes the play doing just that. Thomasina calls Fermat's Last Theorum "a joke to make you all mad"; she later calls her own algorithm a joke, to which Septimus says "it will make me as mad as you promised."
  • Butt-Monkey: Ezra Chater just can't catch a break.
    • The mystery botanist who died of a monkey bite. aka Ezra Chater.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Thomasina: "The note in the margin was a joke to make you all mad."
  • and later
    • Thomasina: "It was a joke."
    • Septimus: "It will make me as mad as you promised."
  • and
    • Septimus: "Be careful with the flame."
  • The Casanova: Septimus, up to a point; offstage, Lord Byron. Bernard would like to be this but isn't.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Gus ends up being the one who cracks the "hermit's" identity at the end.
  • Child Prodigy: Gus and Thomasina.
  • Can't Spit It Out: Almost everyone seems to suffer from this except for Lady Croom and Thomasina. Valentine and Gus both like Hannah, but the former can't seem to do more than joke about it, and Gus, being mute, literally can't say a thing. Septimus sleeps with everyone except Thomasina, even though she's the only one he actually cares for.
  • Dance of Romance: Thomasina and Septimus have a waltz lesson (and a kiss) in the last scene.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everybody.
  • Death by Sex: Inverted. Thomasina wouldn't have died if Septimus had slept with her that night.
  • Dramatic Irony: Done to tragic effect with Thomasina and comedic effect with Bernard.
    • Bernard presenting his "proofs" of Mr. Chater being gunned down in the duel with Byron. As he gloats over having traced Byron's presence to a dead hare (which Augustus mentions having shot, though Byron claimed it - not to mention Septimus recounting how Byron was always a lousy shot), Bernard's unknowingly making himself into an ass.
  • Duel to the Death: Mr. Chater wants one with Septimus. After the conversation, so does Captain Brice. Bernard claims Byron fought one. In fact, no duel takes place at all, as the Chaters and Brice are sent away the morning the duel is supposed to happen
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Averted. Septimus, and Valentine are very good mathematicians, and Thomasina is a math prodigy. Also averted on a meta level by the playwright himself, who wrote the play after reading a book on chaos theory.
  • Fermat's Last Theorem: Septimus assigns it to Thomasina as a joke.
  • Foreshadowing: Septimus consoles Thomasina over the loss of the Library of Alexandria in 48 BC, promising that all that is lost will be found again. This turns out to be prophetic when Thomasina dies in a fire, leaving her formulas to remain unsolved until 100 years later.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Thomasina has the cleverest (and most tactless) brain of anyone in the play, to Septimus' suppressed delight.
  • The Ghost: Lord Byron and Mrs. Chater's actions drive a significant portion of the plot, but they never appear onstage.
  • Hands-On Approach: Valentine uses Hannah's finger to press the computer key zoom out on the fractals created by Thomasina's iterated algorithms.
  • Heroic BSoD: It's stated that Septimus has one after Thomasina's death and never really recovers.
  • History Repeats: One of the main themes of the play is order vs. chaos: Everything in nature is locked into mathematics. However, even as the formula continually repeats, changes are bound to occur. Hence we see events in 1809 being echoed in the present (The time periods start to blur together in Act II). Such events include:
    • People getting busted while having "carnal embrace" in the gazebo/hermitage.
    • "Am I the first person to have thought of this?" [bewilderment] "Yes, as far as I know you are the first person to have thought of this."
    • "Lord Byron was amusing at breakfast."
    • "I don't know that I have received a more unusual proposal."
    • Couples waltzing.
  • Hot for Teacher: Thomasina.
  • Hot Teacher: Septimus (he's only 23 after all).
  • Humiliation Conga: Bernard discovers that Byron didn't kill Chater just after he's touted his new discovery ("I was on The Breakfast Hour!"), is obliged to admit his mistake in an open letter in The Times, is forced to have his picture taken for the local newspaper for a separate event (that the national press will probably pick up on), and is finally caught in flagrante delicto in the hermitage with Chloe.
  • Identical Grandson: Augustus and Gus (though there is a possibility they are intended to be the same character)
  • Ironic Echo: "A scrape."
  • Ladykiller in Love: Septimus. Too bad the object of his affection dies right after the play ends, and it's kind of his fault.
  • Last Minute Hookup: Subverted. Septimus and Thomasina dance and kiss and she invites him up to her room, but he declines and she dies that night.
  • Let's Duet: Lady Croom and Count Zelinsky play one on the piano offstage (with a suggestive, sudden pause at the end), to Septimus's annoyance and dismay.
  • Lies to Children: the very first lines of the play consist of Thomasina asking Septimus what "carnal embrace" was, only to be told that it consists of "throwing one's arms around a side of beef." Subverted quickly when Thomasina figures out it's something else entirely, and force Septimus to tell her what it is (along with an explanation of Fermat's Last Theorem).
  • Love Dodecahedron: or as Lady Croom puts it, "It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them."
  • Love Epiphany: Septimus has one in the last scene. Too late.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Septimus. Technically, Accidentally Causing the Death of Your Love Interest By Not Sleeping With Her Out of Concern for Her Future makes you crazy.
  • Mad Mathematician: The hermit, aka Septimus after Thomasina burns up along with her essay on non-equilibrium thermodynamics. It's implied that Septimus goes insane both from grief and his inability to recreate Thomasina's formulae.
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Bernard attempts to invoke the trope, claiming that he would have been content with Aristotle's 55 crystal spheres before Newton broke everything down into motions. The play as a whole defies it, merging mathematical concepts like chaos theory and iterated algorithms into human nature and the world around us.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Septimus is able to seduce Lady Croom with his intellect.
  • Not So Different: the reserved, unemotional Hannah and the flamboyant Bernard are polar opposites, yet even Bernard relies upon mathematical analysis at one point. Near the end Hannah says that she doesn't have proof who the hermit is, but she's certain it's Septimus—just as Bernard didn't have proof that Byron shot and killed Chater, but he was certain that he did. At the very end, Hannah gets the proof she's waiting for.
  • Oblivious to Love: Hannah.
  • Prophetic Name: Mrs. Chater?
  • Really Gets Around: Mrs. Chater: sleeps with both Septimus and Lord Byron while married to Ezra and conducting a long-term affair with Captain Brice.
    • Though the two characters who comment most on this are also examples - Septimus sleeps with both Mrs Chater and Lady Croom while slowly falling for Thomasina, and Lady Croom sleeps with Lord Byron, Septimus, and (implicitly) Count Zelinsky while married to Lord Croom.
  • Regency England: Half the play is set in 1809-1812; the other half is contemporary.
  • Romancing the Widow: Inverted—Captain Brice cuts to the chase by having the rival suitors for Mrs. Chater's affection duel each other. When that doesn't take, Brice packs off Mr. Chater to the Caribbean.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Invoked by several of the characters at various points in the play. The transition "from thinking to feeling" is exemplified by the transformation (in the 1800s) of the garden from Classical to Picturesque.
  • Room Full of Crazy: The Sidley Park Hermit aka Septimus filled the hermitage floor to ceiling with reams of paper,"cabbalistic proofs that the world [was] coming to an end," unable to recreate or contradict Thomasina's discovery regarding the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    Valentine: It's an iterated algorithm.
    Hannah: What's that?
    Valentine: Well, it's ... Jesus ... it's an algorithm that's been ... iterated.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Thomasina
  • Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids!: Hannah.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Zig-zags all over the place. The 1800s-era love story ends in tragedy, which Hannah thinks is indicative of "the whole Romantic sham", but her work (and her dance with Gus) resolve both the academic and romantic loose ends from the past. While the play makes fun of Bernard's fame-hungry antics, it outright states that the pursuit of knowledge, however unsuccessful, is worthwhile in and of itself (and in the play, the truth comes to light eventually).
  • Stacy's Mom: Lady Croom
    Thomasina: Are you in love with my mother, Septimus?
    Septimus: You mustn't be cleverer than your elders. It's not polite.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Septimus and Thomasina.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Subverted with Septimus and Thomasina since they never make it past kissing
  • The Casanova: Lord Byron
  • The Charmer: Septimus
  • There Are No Coincidences: We are told at first that Ezra Chater the poet, a guest at Sidley Park, is separate from Ezra Chater the botanist, who died in Martinique. We are told wrong.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Upper-Class Twit: Bernard, though he's somewhat of a Gentleman Snarker as well.
    • Though he is one of the less posh characters in the play, thanks to the fact that six of them are members of the Coverly family. Even Byron is their social inferior; Bernard, like Septimus, is way down the scale within England's intricate class system.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Most of Stoppard's plays are by a dramaturge/English major for dramaturgs/English majors. Arcadia is written for mathematicians.
  • The Voiceless: Chloe's younger brother, Gus. It's implied that he is autistic.


Example of: