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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.
Death Theme Icon

The title of the play comes from the Latin “Et in Arcadia ego,” from a poem by Virgil made famous by a 1638 painting of that title by Poussin. As translated by Lady Croom to Thomasina, the phrase signifies “Here I am in Arcadia.” What Lady Croom intends as a statement on the beauty of her grounds contains the darker meaning that death lurks even in the loveliest surroundings. The “I” speaking in the poem is death, and, in Virgil’s poem and Poussin’s painting, the line is an inscription on a tombstone in Arcadia, a countryside region of Greece known for its harmonious natural beauty.

From Thomasina’s Scene 1 musings on the omnipresence of death, in the form of hunting, in her childhood, to Septimus’s eventual fate as the doom-obsessed madman in the midst of carefully plotted Romantic scenery, death underpins all of the characters’ searches for beauty and love. And at the center of the mystery that Hannah’s trying to research, the question of who the Sidley hermit was, is Thomasina’s death, which drove Septimus crazy with grief. Still, sex, love, and contributions to the world of scholarship are all ways to transcend or be remembered after death, and in that way to gain a kind of immortality.

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Death ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arcadia related to the theme of Death.
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.


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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.