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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.

Brice (to Septimus): As her tutor, it is your duty to keep her in ignorance.
Lady Croom (to Brice): Do not dabble in paradox, Edward, it puts you in danger of fortuitous wit.

Related Characters: Lady Croom (speaker), Captain Edward Brice, R. N. (speaker), Septimus Hodge
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

In this amusing passage, Thomasina has given some sign that she understands what sex ("carnal embrace") is: a fact that distresses her mother, Lady Croom, and her uncle, Captain Brice. Lady Croom scolds Septimus for teaching Thomasina about such adult matters. And yet she seems more irritated with her brother for trying to sound clever: she tells him to avoid paradox, because he might say something clever without intending to. The way Croome scolds her brother is also interesting because it highlights the word "fortuitous" (i..e, Edward might accidentally say something smart). The concept of accident and randomness is an important theme of the play; the universe's randomness is always increasing, to the point where implausible events are actually likely to happen.

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 2 Quotes

The whole Romantic sham, Bernard! It’s what happened to the Enlightenment, isn’t it? A century of intellectual rigor turned in on itself. A mind in chaos suspected of genius. In a setting of cheap thrills and false emotion…The decline from thinking to feeling, you see.”

Related Characters: Hannah Jarvis (speaker), Bernard
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the scholar Hannah Jarvis makes a series of bold pronouncements about the Romantic era of European history. During the romantic era, she claims, Europe underwent a steady decline. Whereas the Enlightenment era had celebrated thought and rigorous self-control, the Romantics celebrated feeling, freedom, and happiness for their own sakes. The general "decay" from Enlightenment to Romanticism was, for Jarvis, characteristic of a decline from "thinking to feeling."

The passage openly suggests that the contrast between thinking and feeling is a major theme of the play. Hannah, like Lady Croom, is definitely on the Enlightenment/thinking side of the equation. (Such a binary is misleading, however, since the Romantics were hardly the sensual idiots Hannah believes them to be, and the Enlightenment thinkers were hardly the cold rationalists she claims they were.)

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.

We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.

Related Characters: Septimus Hodge (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Septimus gives a long speech about the eternal nature of knowledge. Septimus notes that many of the greatest ideas in history were lost in the Library of Alexandria when it was burned to the ground. And yet these idea have been "reborn"--other human beings rediscovered the ideas later on. Septimus's monologue gives a sense of the limitations of human knowledge: a human mind can only hold so much, just as a traveler can only carry so much in his arms. The finitude of humanity means that certain ideas will inevitably be lost, only to be recovered again.

Septimus's view of history is one of eternal recursion: an idea is gained and then lost, sooner or later. His theories also help us understand why scholarship is so important: by recreating the lives of people who lived a long time ago (as Hannah and her fellow scholars do), we can rediscover some of their ideas--ideas which may have been lost to history.

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.

The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is. It’s how nature creates itself, on every scale, the snowflake and the snowstorm. It makes me so happy.

Related Characters: Valentine (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Valentine continues to explain chaos theory in a lyrical, nontechnical way. Chaos theory, he claims, argues that the world is both predictable and uncontrollable. The tiniest differences in scale or size can have enormous consequences (a principle often called the "butterfly effect," based on the idea that butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo could cause a hurricane in Florida). Interestingly, Valentine claims that small, unpredictable events can sometimes, but not always, be balanced out by large, predictable events. Thus, the world consists of a constant interplay between randomness and predictability: uncertainty, but not too much uncertainty, freedom, but not too much freedom.

The passage is another good example of the "poetic" nature of modern mathematics and science, particularly as Stoppard portrays it. There's something poetic, even magical, about Valentine's vision of the world, even though he's a man of math and science, and can back up his ideas with rigorous proofs. Math is a kind of religion for Valentine, something that makes him "happy"--it gives his life meaning, and seems to have major applications for religion, morality, metaphysics, etc.

Act 2, Scene 5 Quotes

Chaps sometimes wanted to marry me, and I don’t know a worse bargain. Available sex against not being allowed to fart in bed.

Related Characters: Hannah Jarvis (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hannah dryly sums up her take on marriage. She's been proposed to before, but she's always turned down her potential husbands, because she doesn't want to have to worry about things like "farting in bed." In other words, Hannah sees marriage as an attack on her personal (bodily) liberty, justifiable only in that it provides "available sex." At times, Hannah seems like a (pretty nasty) caricature of the modern feminist academic: humorless, opposed to all "conventional" relationships, etc.

It's interesting to think that there are almost no characters in the play, in either the present day or in the Romantic era, who believe in the ideal of love. Hannah dismisses love as sex and the loss of liberty, and Septimus seems to see love as an opportunity for sex, nothing more. The one character who, presumably, does believe in love is Lord Byron, and tellingly, he's never actually on the stage. Arcadia isn't really a play about interpersonal love at all; it's about the various kinds of desire and attraction that might lead someone to pursue mathematics, academia, science, or writing.

Act 2, Scene 7 Quotes

Comparing what we’re looking for misses the point. It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.

Related Characters: Hannah Jarvis (speaker), Valentine
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
In this passage, Hanah makes a stirring speech about the ephemeral nature of all human knowledge (a speech that is seemingly intended to evoke the speech Septimus gave in the first half of the play). Like Septimus, Hannah sees knowledge as necessarily incomplete. Where Septimus sees human limitation as the source of knowledge's incompleteness, Hannah sees desire and eros as the reason for the incompleteness of knowledge. There can never be total knowledge, and that's a good thing: the desire for knowledge is more important and more powerful. Hannah's point of view is rather Romantic, then, since it eschews completeness and perfection in favor of a constant, noble striving. Yet her ideas could also be interpreted as evoking the Enlightenment, since they hinge on the rigorous examination of information. As the play approaches an ending, it becomes clear that even the characters who claim to believe in "thinking, not feeling" actually need both to survive.

…There’s an order things can’t happen in. You can’t open a door till there’s a house.

Related Characters: Valentine (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Valentine analyzes Thomasina's notes on chaos theory, which she saw as an algorithm for predicting the randomness of the universe. Valentine admits that Thomasina understood the basic mechanisms of chaos theory very well: she saw the universe as a fundamentally unpredictable place, in which there was limited room for patterns and order. And yet Valentine also claims that Thomasina didn't really understand what she'd discovered: she didn't understand that chaos theory and the laws of thermodynamics predict the end of the universe. Everything in the universe proceeds from a place of low entropy to high entropy; i.e., things flow from hot to cold, until everything in the universe is exactly the same temperature. (As Valentine puts it, "you can't open a door till there's a house.") Thomasina had unknowingly predicted the end of the world by "heat death."

Valentine's observations illustrate a couple of important ideas. It's strange to think that Thomasina could discover something and yet not see the full implications of her own ideas: and yet such a phenomenon is common in intellectual history. Thomasina's ideas also illustrate a fundamentally pessimistic view of life: the world is getting more chaotic, and all human attempts to reverse the chaos will prove futile in the end. (That is, death exists "even in Arcadia.) In the end, both Enlightenment and Romantic notions of the world prove wrong, since they both hinge on a "pattern" (either intellectual or emotional) that, mathematics teaches us, must eventually break down. And yet perhaps Valentine's notions of life and fate are just as culturally determined as Thomasina's and Septimus's: perhaps Valentine's pessimism about the fate of the universe is just as arbitrary and mythological as his predecessors' optimism.

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