– Tom Stoppard Essay, Research Paper
Arcadia, a typically postmodern play by Tom Stoppard exemplifies this movement
through use of the features of postmodernism and by it s ambiguous ending.
Some of the features used in the play which demonstrate this include the shifts in time from past to present, concurrent props used sets of both eras, the characters overlapping at the end, parallel characters in both eras and textual references. Its ambiguous ending and satirical style also combine to make it a very fresh, new play.
The play begins with a humorous introduction into the student-tutor relationship between Thomasina Coverly and Septimus Hodge. Stoppard immediately sets the tension between cerebral and passion themes by Thomasina s curiosity, tell me more about sexual congress. while Septimus attempts to engage Thomasina s attention in proving Fermat s theorem. These opposites become numerous in the play as Stoppard contrasts free will and determination, science and the humanities, romantic and classical and female intuition with male dogmatism.
The play, takes on a number of different meanings when looked at from different
perspectives; some would claim that it is satire on academia and the world of researchers such as Bernard, others would say that was more about history and the fallacies of studying primary evidence. The play utilizes many theories concerning science and philosophies on life, and so many might say this play is about living life, an existential thought in the play as Thomasina fulfills her potential in life and burns on the eve of her seventeenth birthday.
Time is used in the play very cleverly and as we are transported back and forth, we learn information from both eras that would do them both good but they have no way of transporting that information but through the play. A good example of this is when Hannah believes that the woman standing next to Byron is Charlotte Lamb, a woman that Bernard claims was never there. When we arrive, back in the 19th century, we find Hannah s assumption to be correct, yet she has no way of knowing.
We also learn information from the play that is talked about in the present century before it happens in the past, so we know what will happen next in the play. When Hannah talks of Thomasina s death, we are prepared for it as it unfolds later in the play. We would have no way of knowing that Thomasina did die, unless it was mentioned by Hannah.
The props used in one era remain in the next but without any thought for them; Hannah ignores Septimus thick quarto, lying on the table, when it could be of so much use to her. The apple on the desk also plays an important role. It conveys the sense of time, and yet one knows that it couldn t be the same apple, withered over two centuries. As the play draws to its end, the table is cluttered with many items; geometrical solids, the computer, tea mugs, Septimus books and Hannah s research papers. All the history represented on the table becomes clutter and untidies the desk.
The characters have parallels in the other era, some are easy to spot such as Gus and Lord Augustus and others are rather obscure like Hannah and Thomasina. Stoppard cleverly plays with the parallels of his characters, particularly in the last scene where the two couples are waltzing. Hannah s younger parallel Thomasina is dancing with the much older Septimus whilst Hannah herself dances with the younger Gus, both who represent the artistic side of Arcadia; Thomasina and Septimus symbolizing the scientific side.
He also uses the waltz as a symbol for Arcadia: a dance filled with so much passion yet requiring the skill of complex steps and moves.
In the main theories suggested of free will and determination, Stoppard proposes that while there may be patterns in the physical universe that suggest our existence has order (can be determined), human nature in it s perversity defies neat definition. That while we may be able to make order out of the chaos of our world, our own lives remain unpredictable, but interesting. In the same way, he does not make any neat conclusions about any of the theories presented and leaves it to the reader to make sense of what Stoppard really means.
The textual references in the play are both scientific and artistic: Fermat s last theorem and iterated algorithms in Thomasina s primer compared with Chater s inscription in the Couch of Eros and the Picadilly Recreation. Intertextuality is a major element of postmodernism and Stoppard uses this feature heavily, as he appropriates from texts by Newton, Byron and even Hannah s work-in-progress.
The existential factor in the play, is very much a post-modern idea and Stoppard
juxtaposes it with the second law of thermodynamics in the endless list of theories and ideas that are paralleled in the play. The existential idea is most dominant when Thomasina dies; we do not feel sorry that she has, because she had fulfilled the most she could in her sixteen years.
Throughout the last scene, characters such as Hannah, Chloe, Bernard and Valentine begin to understand the events of the nineteenth century. They begin to discover what Septimus and Thomasina had discovered long ago, along with being able to explain what happen to these characters. Along with new realizations, they also find information that disproves what seemed to be true. An example of this is when Bernard realizes that Mr. Chater had not been killed in a duel but rather by a monkey bite. At this point their story changes and they are gradually learning more and more. This scene ends with Thomasina
and Septimus engaged in a dance on the night before Thomasina’s seventeenth birthday. .
The curtain closes as both Thomasina and Septimus fluently dance and so do Hannah and Gus, a rather unexpected scene.
The last scene is the most confusing and the hardest scene to understand. This is primarily because Stoppard constantly alternates between the two time periods and intermixes dialogue from both. With the use of multiple conversations, the main objective of this scene is to show the viewer the connection between the characters of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century.