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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).


Tropes used in Arcadia (theatre) include:
  • 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.
Cquote1.svg

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?

Cquote2.svg
  • 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 warning Bernard that 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."
  • 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. 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: Septimus.
  • Death by Sex: Inverted. Thomasina would have survived if Septimus has slept with her that night.
  • Dramatic Irony: Done to tragic effect with Thomasina.
    • 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 we just saw Septimus carrying instead - not to mention Septimus recounting how Byron was always a lousy shot), Benard's unknowingly making himself into an ass.
  • Duel to the Death: Captain Brice manipulates both Mr. Chater and Septimus into this. Following his repeated attempts to dodge the duel, Septimus finally gives in — only to be written off as MIA when no one can locate him the next morning.
  • 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: Sepitimus 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 1803 being echoed in 1993 (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."
    • Couples waltzing.
  • Hot for Teacher: Thomasina.
  • Hot Teacher: Septimus (he's only 23 after all).
  • Identical Grandson: Augustus and Gus (though there is a possibility they are intended to be the same character)[1]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Only in It For the Money: Bernard is so desperate to cash in on his historical findings (gossip, in all practicality) that he doesn't even bother to verify them.
  • Prophetic Name: Mrs. Chater?
  • Really Gets Around: Mrs. Chater.
  • 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.
  • She's All Grown Up: Thomasina
  • Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids: Hannah.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus 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).
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Septimus and Thomasina.
  • Teacher-Student Romance: Subverted with Septimus and Thomasina since they never make it past their first two kisses
  • The Casanova: Lord Byron
  • The Charmer: Septimus
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Upper Class Twit: Bernard in Arcadia, though he's somewhat of an Upper Class Wit as well.
  • Upper Class Wit: Septimus and Valentine.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Most of Stoppard's plays are by a dramaturge/English major for dramaturgse/English majors. Arcadia is written for mathematicians.
  • The Voiceless: Chloe's younger brother, Gus. It's implied that he is autistic.
  1. The name "Gus" can be short for "Augustus"... or "August" or "Augustin" or "Augusto"
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