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
Academia and Education Quotes in Arcadia
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.
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.
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.