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Romantic Conceptions of Beauty 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.
Romantic Conceptions of Beauty Theme Icon

Noakes’s changes to the garden bring it from an 18th century Enlightenment mode of order and symmetry to the 19th century Romantic style, an attempt to return to and celebrate the wildness of nature, rather than to constrain it. Yet Romanticism thematically transcends the garden, becoming a sounding board for each character to express their own philosophies about beauty and art. The characters have mixed feelings about whether Noakes’s garden is beautiful. Lady Croom finds the whole thing overwhelming, even silly: “Where there is the familiar pastoral refinement of an Englishman’s garden, here there is an eruption of gloomy forest and towering crag”” (Act 1, Scene 1).

In the present day, Hannah agrees that Romanticism is “intellectual rigor turned in on itself…cheap thrills and false emotion” (Act 1, Scene 2). Bernard, on the other hand, is a scholar of Byron, one of the most important Romantic poets, and he sees the Enlightenment’s will to order and divide as false, and science’s progress as unimportant. He prefers the Romantic emphasis on individual experience: “A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need” (Act 2, Scene 5). As for Thomasina, and Valentine after her, their stroke of genius is to try to combine both forms of beauty, bringing the scientific rigor of the Enlightenment to bear on the wildness of nature.

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Romantic Conceptions of Beauty ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Arcadia related to the theme of Romantic Conceptions of Beauty.
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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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.)