Arcadia

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The Garden Symbol Analysis

The Garden Symbol Icon
The Sidley Park garden is the play’s strongest symbol of the shift from Enlightenment-era conceptions of beauty to Romantic ones. Noakes spearheads the change, transforming the grounds from a gentle, pastoral countryside scene to a dramatic Gothic wilderness complete with a moldering obelisk and a fake hermitage. This parallels the transformation in culture at the turn of the 19th century from a focus on reason, science and human progress to emotion and nature. The characters are split ideologically, with Bernard high Romantic, Valentine very Enlightenment, and Thomasina’s math bridging the two. But, as Lady Croom and Hannah both point out, neither garden style is actually more natural or more real than the other. Both designs are human-made for a desired effect.

The Garden Quotes in Arcadia

The Arcadia quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Garden. 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

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).

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The Garden Symbol Timeline in Arcadia

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Garden 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
...overheard Jellaby, the butler, gossiping that Mrs. Chater had engaged in carnal embrace in the garden’s gazebo. Septimus is immediately curious about the news. (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...person with Mrs. Chater in the gazebo. Septimus says that Noakes, whose job as the gardener is about creating picturesquely beautiful gardens, is more like a snake. Thomasina is otherwise engaged,... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...of Sidley Park, and her brother Brice enter. Brice lists features of the Sidley Park garden—the gazebo, the Chinese bridge—and a moment of comic misunderstanding ensues, with Chater and Septimus thinking... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Noakes lays out his plans for garden renovations. Brice hates them, but Noakes explains this is what’s in fashion. The drawings apparently... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Lady Croom returns to the garden renovation plans. She describes how the gentle and carefully cultivated countryside look has given way... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lady Croom blames the garden plans on Romantic literature like The Castle of Otranto. She hears shots from the men... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...briefly enters and exits. Chloë tells Bernard about Hannah’s project—she’s writing a history of the garden. Bernard realizes that he’s read the previous book that Hannah has written, and asks Chloë... (full context)
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...game books, but everything in the house has been taken away in preparation for a garden party. Valentine quickly and distractedly tries to figure out who Bernard is. Bernard explains that... (full context)
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...adds helpfully, that the Romantic poet Coleridge died. Hannah shows Bernard Noakes’s plans for the garden, including the little drawing of the hermit that Thomasina drew in Scene 1. Hannah explains... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
...though Gus hasn’t talked since he was five, he seems to know more about the garden than their mother. (full context)