Arcadia

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Thomasina Coverly Character Analysis

Thirteen years old at the play’s beginning, and 16 at the end. Daughter of Lady Croom and student of Septimus. She’s a lively, witty girl with a precocious and creative skill for mathematics. During the play, we see her come up with two major ideas that had never been expressed in her time. One resembles the second law of thermodynamics, which states that systems tend to move towards entropy. Thomasina discovers this in her way just by thinking about stirring a rice pudding. Her other major idea resembles chaos theory—she’s interested in trying to mathematically predict the future, and figures out a basic formula to show various future possibilities.

Thomasina Coverly Quotes in Arcadia

The Arcadia quotes below are all either spoken by Thomasina Coverly or refer to Thomasina Coverly . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of Arcadia published in 1994.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Thomasina: Tell me more about sexual congress.
Septimus: There is nothing more to be said about sexual congress.
Thomasina: Is it the same as love?
Septimus: Oh no, it is much nicer than that.

Related Characters: Septimus Hodge (speaker), Thomasina Coverly (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play begins, the differences between Thomasina and Septimus couldn't be more obvious. Thomasina is a young, naive girl (barely a teenager), while Septimus is her older, more confident tutor. Curiously, Stoppard doesn't immediately convey Septimus's knowledge of the world by showing him to know math or poetry; instead, he characterizes Septimus as an authority figure by making it plain that he knows about sex--that, not Septimus's academic training, is what separates him from his pupil (who, it's quickly shown, is more than his mach in intelligence). Septimus also comes across as a distinctly modern kind of character, someone who's fairly frank about sex and sexual pleasure--an important kind of character in a play that flashes back and forth between the Romantic and contemporary eras.

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When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backward, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?

Related Characters: Thomasina Coverly (speaker), Septimus Hodge
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomasina is very young, but she notices that she can't "unstir" her pudding; that is, she can make her bowl of pudding more and more disorderly, but she cannot recreate order in a "natural" way. Thomasina has stumbled upon an idea that's at the core of modern mathematics and science: the principle of entropy. The total entropy (i.e., disorder, heat energy) of a system is always increasing: thus, Thomasina can increase the entropy of her pudding, but she can't decrease it again. Thomasina's idea has been known since ancient times, (it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said "you can't bathe in the same river twice," often interpreted as an observation about entropy), but as we'll learn by the end of the play, Thomasina is actually a mathematical prodigy. Furthermore, the concept of entropy could be interpreted in a more philosophical way, in that life itself tends towards disorder and decay, and it is only through human will and action that we cling to our senses of meaning and order.

But Sidley Park is already a picture, and a most amiable picture too. The slopes are green and gentle. The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage. The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged—in short, it is nature as God intended, and I can say with the painter, “Et in Arcadia ego!” “Here I am in Arcadia,” Thomasina.

Related Characters: Lady Croom (speaker), Thomasina Coverly
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Stoppard gives us the title of the play and Lady Croom stakes out her loyalty to the Enlightenment mindset, not the Romantic. Croom surveys her gardens and criticizes the revisions Noakes wants to make--which would result in a wild, disheveled, romantic look. She prefers gardens that are beautiful and orderly--gardens so pretty that they could provoke one to say, "Here I am in Arcadia." (Arcadia was a Classical example of a pastoral, idyllic place of natural beauty and harmony.)

The notion of a clean, orderly garden is characteristic of Enlightenment upperclass society; the idea of a garden being more chaotic and unpredictable is more characteristic of Romanticism. Furthermore, this passage is crucial because Lady Croom quotes a line depicted in a famous painting by Poussin (and one by Guercino), but the words in the painting are inscribed on a tomb, suggesting that the speaker is dead, or is even Death himself, saying "here I am even in Arcadia." There's death (or entropy, perhaps) lurking everywhere in beauty--as Thomasina has already pointed out, everything naturally decays over time, even (and especially) Croom's beautiful, orderly gardens. Croom is unrealistic about the nature of the universe (as per her absurd suggestion that a garden represents "nature as God intended," and her notable misinterpretation of the play's titular quotation).

Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?

Related Characters: Thomasina Coverly (speaker), Septimus Hodge
Related Symbols: The Apple and Its Leaf
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important section, we see the novelty of Thomasina's thinking. Thomasina has learned so much about mathematics from Septimus that she begins to think in terms that eclipse the intellectual dogma of her era (and her teacher). Thomasina has learned how to model curves like a bell curve or a circle; but now she wants to discover the curve that can model the shape of a leaf or a rose. In short, Thomasina wants to use mathematics to discover the source of the beauty of the natural world.

Where do we situate Thomasina in the Enlightenment-Romanticism binary? Perhaps Thomasina's example shows us that it's really not a binary at all. Like the Romantics, Thomasina embraces the link between mind and nature; at the same time, she seems to want to use mathematics to break down nature into a series of rigorous patterns, not unlike the Enlightenment thinkers. In general, Thomasina's project goes beyond anything that the Enlightenment or the Romantic era was capable of achieving: her ideas are actually more characteristic of chaos theory, a distinctly postmodern theory of mathematics. Thomasina, one could argue, is the truly "modern" character in the text, someone who belongs in the 20th or 21st century.

Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

I, Thomasina Coverly, have found a truly wonderful method whereby all the forms of nature must give up their numerical secrets and draw themselves through number alone.

Related Characters: Thomasina Coverly (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomasina begins the scene by claiming that she's discovered a mathematical proof that will allow her to model the shapes of natural objects like trees and leaves. It's not immediately clear if Thomasina really has discovered such a proof, or if she's only pretending.

Thomasina's discovery (and it is a real discovery, we later learn) is important because it anticipates chaos theory, a school of science and mathematics that wouldn't appear for more than 100 years. Thus, Thomasina's discovery seemingly confirms Septimus's observations about the cyclical nature of all knowledge: certain discoveries get lost in time, only to be rediscovered later on. It's also worth noting that Thomasina's discovery seems to be lost in part because she's a young woman--the sexism of her society ensures that her contributions to mathematics aren't valued, let alone remembered.

When your Thomasina was doing maths it had been the same maths for a couple of thousand years. Classical. And for a century after Thomasina. Then maths left the real world behind, just like modern art, really. Nature was classical, maths was suddenly Picassos. But now nature is having the last laugh. The freaky stuff is turning out to be the mathematics of the natural world.

Related Characters: Valentine (speaker), Thomasina Coverly
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In the present-day, Valentine, a mathematics student at Oxford, discovers Thomasina's proof for how to model chaotic natural structures. He acknowledges that Thomasina wasn't just bluffing: she really had stumbled upon a form of chaos theory 100 years earlier than anybody else. Valentine goes on to give an informal history of modern mathematics. Mathematics was once seen as a way to model the world in an orderly and predictable fashion. But over time, mathematics became increasingly abstract and alien to the natural world: innovations like non-Euclidean geometry and set theory seemed to have little application to the real world. But in the end, it became clear that the world of mathematics really was applicable to reality: the only way to truly model natural objects like leaves and trees was to use chaos theory.

There's a lot to unpack here. Notice that Lady Croom's theory of the orderliness and regularity of the natural world is nonsensical: as it turns out, the natural world is infinitely chaotic, to the point where only the most abstract of mathematical formulae can represent it. Furthermore, notice the analogy Valentine makes between mathematics and painting: the boundaries between different intellectual disciplines fades away as civilization enters the 20th century.

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Thomasina Coverly Character Timeline in Arcadia

The timeline below shows where the character Thomasina Coverly appears in Arcadia. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...A tortoise, named Plautus, sits on the stack of papers on the simple, large table. Thomasina, the 13-year-old student, asks Septimus, her tutor, what “carnal embrace” means. Septimus doesn’t give her... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Thomasina explains to Septimus the gossip chain—Mr. Noakes, the gardener, witnessed the carnal embrace from afar,... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Thomasina won’t be dissuaded from the topic of sex. She is disgusted but intrigued. She asks... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Thomasina wonders if God is a Newtonian—that is, if God agrees with Newton’s laws of physics.... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Chater enters angrily. Septimus sends Thomasina away. She guesses that Fermat’s note about having a proof for his theorem was a... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...inscription to Septimus, surely the opposite of the scene Noakes expected to find. Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother and the mistress of Sidley Park, and her brother Brice enter. Brice lists features... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...hyperbolically criticizing the garden and exposing everyone else’s ridiculousness. He mentions “carnal embrace” again, and Thomasina mentions that she knows what that is now. Just as everyone is getting upset about... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...maybe Septimus’s schoolmate has managed to shoot a pigeon. Brice thinks, rather, that it was Thomasina’s brother Augustus who shot the pigeon. She exits with the other men. Thomasina muses about... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Thomasina begins to sketch in a little hermit on Noakes’s plans for the hermitage. Thomasina asks... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...shows Bernard Noakes’s plans for the garden, including the little drawing of the hermit that Thomasina drew in Scene 1. Hannah explains how Noakes changed the garden from gentle and pastoral... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Back in the 19th century, the tortoise, and Gus’s apple, remain on the table. Thomasina attempts to translate Latin. Septimus reads a letter to which he has no reply, then... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Thomasina understands that Septimus is sad that Lady Croom likes Byron. She continues on with her... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus attempts to put the lesson back on track, to the Latin poem about Cleopatra. Thomasina says she hates Cleopatra, who does a disservice to women by being so irrationally driven... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Back in the present day, Hannah and Valentine are looking at Thomasina’s old math textbook. Hannah reads Thomasina’s note about how she’s discovered a “method whereby all... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Valentine explains Thomasina’s meaning, looking at both the textbook and Thomasina’s notebook, where she’s written more details and... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Hannah asks for more details about how Valentine’s work relates to Thomasina’s. Valentine explains that he’s trying to find the mathematical algorithm that describes patterns in the... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
...search of the books. Gus enters, and Valentine prepares to leave. Hannah, still focused on Thomasina’s iterations, asks why no one did that kind of work until the 20th century. Valentine... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...thermodynamics, which describes how everything is headed towards entropy. Hannah wonders if this connects to Thomasina’s work. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...a confession of love to her, and the other a letter about rice pudding to Thomasina. Septimus left both because he expected he might be killed in a duel this morning,... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 7
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...the table, wearing Regency period clothing (ie, from the early 19th century, the time of Thomasina and Septimus). A pot of dwarf dahlias sits on the table. Chloë reads the title... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Hannah looks at Valentine’s work. He shows her how he’s iterated Thomasina’s equation millions of times, producing a beautiful fractal-like pattern. He says this work, “the Coverly... (full context)
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...time periods begin to overlap, though the characters, separated by 200 years, don’t interact. Augustus, Thomasina’s brother, who’s played by the same actor as Gus, enters the room, chased by 16-year-old... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Thomasina reviews her math notebook. Septimus didn’t give her a grade for what she calls her... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Thomasina asks Septimus if she’ll marry Byron. He’s doubtful. Augustus, bored with the lesson, leaves in... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...to Noakes, and the piano to Gus. Lady Croom complains about the pump noise to Thomasina, while Chloë and Valentine exit to have their photo taken (they’re still wearing Regency-period clothing).... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Thomasina finishes with the French essay, which discusses a flaw in Newton’s theories. Determinism, the idea... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
...wonders who might live there. Septimus mysteriously asks whether the hermitage might fit a piano. Thomasina mentions that the steam pump cannot ever work efficiently, because of the same forces of... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
The lighting changes to evening. Septimus enters carrying a lamp, and Thomasina enters carrying a candle. Thomasina blows out the candle, exclaims that she’ll be 17 tomorrow,... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Hannah and Valentine enter. Valentine goes to the table to find Thomasina’s diagram. Septimus also finds Thomasina’s diagram. Valentine realizes that the diagram shows heat exchange, and... (full context)
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Bernard enters, removing his costume and planning to leave. Septimus and Thomasina dance slowly and kiss. Chloë enters angrily. Her mother discovered her and Bernard carrying on... (full context)
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Septimus and Thomasina continue to waltz. Then Septimus lights her candle and tells her, “Be careful with the... (full context)