ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

An Analysis of the play 'Arcadia'

Updated on May 2, 2015

“Drama is about ideas and society”.

Through the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, one is able to discover new ideas and gain a better understanding of society through drama. Set in the same State room in Derbyshire, but alternating between two time periods, the parallel structure of the play indirectly compares and contrasts the differences between the characters in the 19th Century and those in the 20th, relating to the idea that everything is cooling down.

While Thomasina questions her tutor Septimus about Newton’s theory of Determinism and the Second law of Thermodynamics, three other academics in the 20th Century are also exploring new ideas and theories – about those in the 19th. The theories and ideas that they are in the process of investigating are in fact, reflected in society, which can be seen through drama, in the interaction of characters on stage. The play explores the loss of heat and fluidity of love and expression of thought as society progresses, complementing the idea of Newton’s theory that the whole world is cooling down until the apocalypse.

This idea is presented through drama in the beginning, as Thomasina muses that if you stir jam one way, it gets stirred into the pudding, “but if you stir backward, the jam will not together again”. This is paralleled in the 20th Century by Valentine who realises that though you “You can put back the bits of glass but you can’t collect up the heat of the smash”.

The recurrence of fires in the play is a symbol of this loss of heat. The first fire mentioned is the fire of Alexandria, destroying the Great Library, to which Thomasina passionately mourns the loss of “All the lost plays of the Athenians!” showing the irreversibility of heat. The loss of energy from the fire cannot be retrieved; neither can the knowledge of the famous Athenian plays burnt with it. As with the other fires in the play, you cannot put back the heat in the reaction, or get back the knowledge that has been lost, such as Lord Byron’s letter to Septimus, the “cabbalistic proofs” found in the hermits hut, or the potential and vitality of Thomasina and the discoveries that she and Septimus would have made together, lost, when she died in the fire.

The loss of heat from these reactions, loss of knowledge and spirit, reinforce the idea that everything is cooling down, in society as well as physics, and nature and science must be at one “time must needs run backward, and since it will not, we must stir our way onward mixing as we go”. But in stirring onwards, society proceeds to lose its fluency and elegance. The contrast in dialogue between the two time periods reflects the loss of fluency and beauty from the 19th century to the 20th Century. Changing from the charismatic wit of Septimus, a character we naturally warm to, with his youth and energy, his comical puns are lost, and the audience is faced with a pompous, arrogant Bernard, and the short staccato sentences exchanged by the “modern-day” characters and “so the Improved Newtonian Universe must cease and grow cold”.

Where duels between lovers were a matter of pride and dignity, and the harlot Mrs. Chater was accorded the dubious honour of a simile from Septimus, “her chief renown is for a readiness that keeps her in a state of tropical humidity as would grow orchids in her drawers in January” to describe her promiscuity. Septimus valiantly tells a lie and leads Chater to believe that his wife has slept with the enemy in order to secure a better review for his recently published poem. However, in contrast, in the 20th Century, the affair between Chloe and Bernard is captured with a lot less class or chivalry on Bernard’s part, he apologising to everyone rudely and making a hurried exit through the door. There are no accusations to be made, no duels fought, no arduous suitors fighting over who will defend her virtue – society has mellowed, lost its lustre, cooled down.

In the final scene, the dramatic interposing of characters from both time periods on the stage at the same time, exposes the idea that everything is cooling down. The awkward dancing between Hannah and Gus is compared with the fluid waltzing of Thomasina and Septimus, a symbol of the loss of heat, the loss of energy, and the ability to verbalise or put ones feelings into actions.

The elegance of morality, etiquette and the expressive nature of love are all lost, in a time, gone with the wind. But as time must, go on, forward, not “tock tick” as Bernard suggests, so must the gradual loss of heat in our lives, fluency, fluidity, flamboyance; fly out with the heat of the reaction. And nature and science are agreed in the descent of our society, as we cease and grow cold.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)