TOM STOPPARD QUESTIONS
Assigned: Tom Stoppard. Arcadia (Norton Vol. F, 2752-2820).
Of Interest: Skidmore College Guide to Arcadia
1. Consider the play's title: what associations does the word and place "Arcadia" call to mind? That is, where is the real Arcadia, and what does the name have to do with the development of the pastoral tradition in poetry? (Theocritus is one Greek poet you might want to research at least briefly.) To what extent is Sidley Park, where the action of Stoppard's play happens, an Arcadian space?
2. There's much speculation about physics and mathematics (broadly speaking) running all through this play. Explain as much as you can about its significance with regard to what the characters do, say and feel. For instance, Thomasina notes early on that you can stir something together but you can't stir it apart: look up "second law of thermodynamics" and "entropy": how might Stoppard be using these principles to address human desire and conduct?
3. What is the role of Lord Byron in Stoppard's Arcadia? He never actually puts in an appearance in the play; he is not a character in that sense, but he is important. Relate the basics of his significance to the play, and examine a few instances where he is mentioned to explore his relevance to some of the themes that interest Stoppard. Why might Stoppard be interested in incorporating real people from the past into a work of dramatic fiction?
4. In Scene One, how do mathematics or physics and erotic interests already start to cross paths? Consider the scene's conversations between Septimus and Thomasina: how do those conversations involve both realms?
5. In Scene One, what is your impression of the visiting poet Chater? Consider his conversation with Septimus: what is the substance of it, and how do they manage to conclude the matter for the time being?
6. In Scene One, Lady Croom engages in a spirited conversation regarding Sidley Park's landscaping as proposed by the landscaping architect Noakes. What is this architect proposing to do, and what does the Lady think about it? Why is the art of landscaping such an important topic in this play: what might it say about the interplay of neoclassical and romantic views of nature?
7. In Scene Two, examine the dialogue between Hannah and Bernard. Why is Bernard visiting, and what information does he seek from Hannah concerning Lord Byron? What are Hannah's professional interests: what is she doing at Sidley Park, and what are her notions about the passage from the values of the Enlightenment to English Romanticism?
8. In Scene Three, we return to the Nineteenth Century. What is Thomasina's attitude here towards love? What problem does she have with it? Moreover, explain the cause of the prospective duel between Septimus and Chater: what is the cause of the argument here? How does Septimus respond to the challenge thrown his way?
9. In Scene Four, what does Valentine explain about his project at Sidley Park? What principle of modern physics does he describe to Hannah, and how does this principle reflect upon the knowledge that the present- day scholars in the play seek and gather, and perhaps other things they do as well?
10. In Scene Five, explore the argument that Hanna, Valentine and Bernard get into regarding the nature and purpose of knowledge: does anyone get the upper hand in this argument? How do they begin to pick apart one another's theories? Which of the three characters interests you most, and why?
11. In Scene Six, what new developments are related concerning the prospective duel at Sidley Park: what really seems to have happened?
12. In Scene Seven, how does Bernard's theory about Lord Byron as the killer of Mr. Chater unravel? Where do Hannah and Valentine's researches stand by now? Whose ideas seem most relevant by the play's end?
13. In Scene Seven, what does bringing the characters from the two respective time frames together towards the play's end illuminate or settle? Why, perhaps, does the play end with a pair of couples dancing: how does their act of dancing invite us to conclude all the intellectualizing, philosophizing and intrigue we have processed up to this point? That is, try to explain the poignant quality of the conclusion.
Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.