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Academia and Education Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Mathematics, Nature, and Fate Theme Icon
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Academia and Education Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Arcadia, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Academia and Education Theme Icon

Both the 19th century and modern-day sections are structured around academic pursuits. In the 19th century, the dynamic between Septimus, the quick-witted tutor who never condescends to his young student, and Thomasina, the pupil whose brilliance transcends her teacher’s, shows education at its finest. In the last scene, when Thomasina has gone from 13 to nearly 17, sexual tension has entered their interactions, but the play presents this too as sincere and warm-hearted. We learn from Hannah’s research about the hermit that this would prove to be the most important relationship of Septimus’s life—after Thomasina’s death, he lives out the rest of his days trying to carry on her intellectual vision, though, in all his mathematical calculations, he’s unable to make any important breakthroughs. His fate shows how teaching and learning are closely tied to love and the search for truth.

In the present day, Hannah and Bernard represent modern academic discourse, and embody its good and bad aspects. Both are competitive, single-mindedly obsessed with their own views on their subjects, and, despite their similarities, constantly feuding. But the play also shows the joy of academic research, which is a combination of treasure hunt and boxing match. As the pair races to uncover what really happened at Sidley Park, they demonstrate how academia, in its best form, can bring lost knowledge to the attention it deserves. Once again, the systems of education are shown to be essential to bringing truth to light, bestowing on long-gone people lasting renown, which may soften the devastation of death.

Academia and Education ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Academia and Education appears in each scene of Arcadia. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Academia and Education Quotes in Arcadia

Below you will find the important quotes in Arcadia related to the theme of Academia and Education.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

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.


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Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

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 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.