Tom Stoppard,

Arcadia, A play.


Thomas Cole


Setting; Derbyshire, a huge estate still intact but with landscape changes made after the opening act’s events that are equated to both concepts in philosophy and melodies in music (waltz the 19th century dance).

The play | The Acts & Scenes | meaning | critical reading | Questions | vocabulary | characters & plots | Themes


5          Scene One      ACT ONE

19        Scene Two

39        Scene Three

47        Scene Four

57        Scene Five      ACT TWO

71        Scene Six

77        Scene Seven



Arcadia, New York: Faber and Faber, 1993.


Interpretation, costumes and characters:

Read "Words on Plays" 2013 by the American Conservatory Theater



Arcadia meaning the image or idea of life in the countryside that is believed to be perfect from the Greek ideal and later Roman pastoral traditions that portrayed country-life as being superior to living in cities and towns.


A double entendre in time and in taste

                        • 1809                         Napoleonic Europe (Sadi Carnot’s ideas on heat and steam engines) a time of optimism and reforms.


                        • Contemporary            1990s (post cold war) – Einstein & time dilation, entropy / feedback, a period of fear and triumph.


Et in Arcadia Ego        for        Et in Arcadia Ego      is play on words / word play meaning, I too (death) am in paradise (Arcadia); is an ancient theme.


Some double meanings in the play:

Carnal and Carne

Time and existence

Entropy and fire

Fire and sexual desires

Rationalism and Romanticism,

Poet & Botanist, appearances & reality,

Steam engines and natural landscape art,

Tutor & lunatic (hermit),

Professor and novelist,

Experts and novices,

rivalry and duels


George Gordon Lord Byron went to Trinity College Cambridge as did the Tutor, Hodge – who most likely survives, though he is erroneously thought to have killed Chavet in a duel



Questions concerning the themes:


What is true, real, and verifiable?


What is landscape?


How has science and mathematics revealed the characteristics of physical materiality?


How precisely is entropy related to spacetime?


How is time a creation of fiction?


Can we recover from loss?


How can we discover the truth or falsity about what happened in the past?



Other plays




The organization of the play



Scenes          Seven scenes in Two acts



1          April 1809,     Septimus Hodge (tutor) – Thomisina Coverly (student)

2          Contemporary, An English Don, Bernard meets the writer Hannah at estate

3          School room “God could make only a cabinet.”  (p.41)

4          Hannah discovers Thomasina Coverly’s mathematical formula



5          Hannah (writer), & Valentine (manor lord) her Bernard (Don),  lecture

6          The aftermath of the alleged (not true) duel

7          A mixture of the two periods to reveal Newton’s replacement by heat loss

            Hannah informs Bernard he is wrong about Chater's death in the duel


7          “If you do not teach me the true meaning of things, who will?”

            Fermat’s last theorem explained by Septimus

41       “Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.” Thomisina on Newton’s mathematical formulas

47       “The New Geometry of Irregular Forms” discovered by Thomisina Coverly

49       “It’s how to look at population changes in biology.” Valentine on Thomasina’s algorithm

51       “The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is. It’s how nature creates itself . . .Valentine

52       “The future is disorder.” Valentine on mathematics of grouse populations

63       Hannah explains to us that Byron did not kill Chater in a duel, despite Bernard’s contrary idea that Lord Byron did kill Chater in the duel.

65       “We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos,” Bernard

69       Hannah & Bernard exchange canards and divergent views of the past

73       Lady Croom’s reproach

75       “It is a defect of God’s humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them.”

90       Thomasina to Noakes -– concerning the steam engine "You can never get out of it what you put in"





Synopsis of the action


Act One           1809


carnal embrace                                   intercourse, fidelity


Fermat’s last theorem               Pythagorean theorem does not work in 3 + dimensions


Noakes & lanskip architecture --  spy or a redesigner? the serpent in the garden


Act Two           1995


            Bernard's incorrect lecture read to the family


            Bernard the Oxford Don apparently divulges Byron's mysterious visit and departure


            the duel with Chater over his wife


            the curious role of Septimus Hodge -- Gordon Lord Byron's, classmate


93        Chater died in Martinique in April 1810 of a monkey bite having discovered a Dahlia Hanna



One critic notices that:

Tom Stoppard has created a random and chaotic play (as possibly as a playwright can express in writing and crafting a twisted plot) that tests and crumbles our notions of time and space, or past and present order in the narrative of the play. He does so deliberately in an effort to create reality.


Stoppard strives to bring play writing from acts that are arcs and scenes that are angles to organic, unordered, and chaotic forms that more closely represent the conditions of natural existence.


double entendre, means a deliberate attempt to use a phrase that can be taken in one of two ways, or both of those ways at once. "A word or phrase open to two interpretations."

double entendre is inherent in the term Arcadia, meaning paradise literally; while figuratively meaning: the imposition of human contrived landscapes to look more natural on an existing terrain; not just a more picturesque representation of natural settings.









Tom Stoppard, "Arcadia," New York: Faber and Faber, 1993.

Arcadia is also available from Amazon. (Read & listen) {hear here!}


See Leo Marx, for an exposition of "Et in Arcadia Ego" idea (Machine in the Garden).


Read "Words on Plays" 2013 by the American Conservatory Theater