Arcadia Topics for Further Study
by Tom Stoppard

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Like many playwrights who write about ideas, Stoppard relies on symbolism to convey deeper levels of meaning. In Arcadia, one of the more important symbols is the landscape of Sidley Park, which undergoes several changes in the course of the play and is talked about by all the characters, past and present. Examine the ways the landscape at Sidley Park is viewed by the people who stay there and explain how it becomes an important symbol in the play.

One of the principal themes in Arcadia is a collision between passion and reason, the heart and the head. The Romantic movement of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries influenced all of Europe. Explore Romanticism by investigating some of the great Romantic literary figures of the age like Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Shelley, and Victor Hugo. What are some of the great Romantic works of literature written by these artists? What is the Romantic view of the world? How do these Romantic artists express this view in their work?

Very few plays rely on mathematics and scientific theory as essential plot elements, yet they are essential to Arcadia. Investigate the most important scientific theories of the play: Fermat's Last Theorem, Chaos Theory, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (brief information about each is available in most encyclopedias). What do each of these theories suggest? How or why is each theory symbolically important to the events, characters, and themes of Arcadia?

In Arcadia, Stoppard uses a technique known as juxtaposition to place characters and thoughts next to each other for the audience to compare and contrast. This happens each time the scene changes from the historical past to the contemporary present. It seems there are characters in Sidley Park's past (the 1809-12 scenes) who have counterparts in the modern scenes. They may share personality traits, express similar ideas, or share the same interests. Who do you suppose is Septimus's counterpart in modern day Sidley Park? How about Ezra Chater's? Does anyone in the present come close to resembling Thomasina and her powers of intuition? Compare two or three sets of character counterparts and explain how the juxtaposition of these characters helps your understanding of the play.