Order and Disorder in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’
In Arcadia, Tom Stoppard presents a dynamic interplay of order and disorder that exists ‘eternally and creatively’ (Demastes 91). Order is generally associated with laws, structure, control, and in the play, it is exemplified by the Classical temperament, corresponding also to Newtonian science. Its antithesis is Romanticism, which is exemplified by disorder, emotions and intuition, as well as deterministic chaos. Through the dialectic of order and disorder, Stoppard suggests that ‘life can be chaotic, but also stable, and within chaos there are windows of order’ (Fleming 67). Thus, although we may not ultimately attain knowledge, it is still worthy to pursue knowledge, as the very pursuit of knowledge is justified and worthy in itself. The incompleteness and chaos of unknowing is a state that we must come to embrace, as it is necessary to provide impetus for change and life itself.
The jam pudding that Thomasina stirs, is reflective of the natural progress from order to disorder. As the jam is stirred, the trails of jam move towards a larger disorder that cannot be stirred back together by going the other direction, as she ‘cannot stir them apart’ (8). This is contradictory to the Newtonian laws, which ‘go forwards and backwards’ (119) Consequently, Thomasina intuits the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that heat ‘goes only one way’ (119), from hotter to colder, ‘as a wooden stove that must consume itself until ash and stove are as one, and heat is gone from the earth’ (89).
Her modern relative, Valentine, also believes that randomness, disorder and chaos is as much a part of reality as order, and that far from being infinitely reversible as Newtonian physics, suggested, the system is gradually running down: the jam indeed cannot be unstirred. A similar observation by Valentine also suggests the inevitable one-way progression of heat and by its implication, general disorder in the universe, ‘Your tea gets cold by itself, it doesn’t get hot by itself.’ (106) He goes on further to elucidate, ‘What’s happening to your tea is happening to everything everywhere’ (106).
In a later scene, Thomasina complains that the geometry she has been taught confines itself to simple shapes, ‘as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles’ and this leads her to tackle shapes which seem random and irregular, believing that ‘nature is written in numbers’ (51). This subsequently leads to the creation of the ‘New Geometry of Irregular Forms’ (59). In doing so, Thomasina understood the possibility of applying Classical science into nature, giving rise to a new way of appreciating beauty. In response, her tutor, Septimus is initially adamant in accepting her revolutionary idea, rationalizing that explaining nature by man’s geometry is impossible, a task that leads into ‘infinities where we cannot follow’ (52).
Valentine, as a modern day chaos theory expert, understands Thomasina’s intentions of her invented Geometry, in that the understanding of science, maths, arts, nature and chaos are by no means mutually exclusive. He refers to chaos theory as ‘turning out to be the mathematics of the natural world’ (61). He explains to Hannah that order and disorder co-exist naturally, that ‘the unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is’ (64). Yet, he also admits that ‘these things are full of mystery’ and that ‘The future is disorder’ (65). Although, he concludes optimistically that ‘It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong’ (65). Such a statement encapsulates the importance of knowledge, or at least the pursuit of it, that even though more knowledge subverts and contradicts prior knowledge, it is the very progress that we should be satisfied and be content with.
Indeed, Hannah has an epiphany that captures the essence of Valentine’s attitude towards the knowledge of chaos and order, in saying ‘It’s wanting to know that makes us matter’, indicating that paradoxically, the achieving of knowledge is ‘trivial’ (102), but ‘Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final’ (103). Thus, in accepting that things can be ‘full of mysteries’ (65), and that facts ‘can’t prove to be true’ (101), we are able to transcend beyond uncertainty and disorder, embracing it as as simply part of life and the nature of knowledge itself.
While Thomasina’s and Valentine’s perspectives encourage a widening view of the idea of order in existence, the actual cultural perspective of her contemporaries argues that God is indeed Newtonian. Lady Croom’s ideal of Sidley Park reflects her perspective that Nature should be ordered: ‘trees are companionably grouped at intervals’, ‘the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged’ (19). In fact, she even goes so far as to say that Man has the moral right to order Nature, as suggested in ‘nature as God intended’ (19). Her idea of nature, is one that is ‘regularised to conform to a human vision of what God’s creation should be: orderly, linear, geometrically symmetrical’ (Demastes 88).
While Lady Croom’s ideal of Sidley Park is one that is ordered and dictated by careful design, Mr Noakes himself is of the view that ‘Irregularity is one of the chiefest principles of the picturesque style’ (19), thus his idea of beauty is one that imitates Salvator Rosa: wild, untamed, Gothic. Nonetheless, as much as the design that Noakes undertakes for the reconstruction of Sidley Park is meant to imitate nature, true nature is one that exists without the interference of man’s design. As Hannah puts it, ‘English landscape was invented by gardeners imitating foreign painters who were invoking classical authors’, hardly natural or indicative of Bernard’s idea of ‘real England’ (36). In fact, Hannah sees the Park as a metaphor for ‘what happened to the Enlightenment’, which ultimately resulted in ‘the decline from thinking to feeling’, one that is characterized by ‘cheap thrills and false emotions’ (39).
Thomasina does not accept her mother’s Arcadia, looking instead for an expanded version and encouraging nature to reveal its own order through irregular design. She admires Noakes, calling him ’The Emperor of Irregularity’ (116) and sees his landscaping work as an inspiration for her ‘New Geometry of Irregular Forms’ (59). The differing ideals on the subjective beauty of Sidley Park ultimately reveals the characters’ inclinations towards Romanticism or Classicism.
The dynamics of the relationship between Bernard and Hannah display the tension between Romanticism and Classicism. Both are characters that have fixed ideas on how to pursue knowledge. To Hannah, she sees the world in binary terms and privileges thought over emotion. To her, the Romantic movement was a ‘sham’, while the ordered classical gardens represented ‘paradise in the age of reason’ (39). Yet, ironically, to prove her idea that ‘The Age of Enlightenment [was] banished into the Romantic wilderness’ (90), Hannah must rely on instinct and intuition. She embodies Stoppard’s notion that classical and romantic temperaments are not mutually exclusive, but rather coexist in people. In contrast, Bernard embodies the romantic temperament, being energetic, ‘bouncy on his fee’ (46), passionate and prone to intuition. He wears a ‘peacock-coloured display handkerchief’ (23) suggesting his flamboyant and ostentatious personality. He conducts his research through intuition – ‘By which I mean a visceral belief in yourself. Gut instinct. The part of you that doesn’t reason.’ (68) Fixated on the idea that Byron killed Chater in a duel, he ‘left out everything which doesn’t fit’, for which Hannah calls him ‘arrogant, greedy and reckless’ (80). Through Bernard’s downfall, Stoppard warns against the perils of stubborn ambition, especially when the pursuit of knowledge is ultimately for fame and recognition. Despite his failure, Bernard perceptively points out the relevance of the arts and humanities, arguing that it is impossible to measure or restrict arts by the quantitative terms of ‘scientific progress’ and ‘parameters’, claiming that ‘You can’t stick Byron’s head in your laptop’ (82). He thus champions the value of artistic knowledge as opposed to science, suggesting that the purpose of arts is more personal, and if ‘knowledge isn’t self-knowledge, it isn’t doing much’ (84). In Bernard’s failure and Hannah’s success in attaining knowledge, Stoppard makes a provoking argument that science and intuition are equally important, as it is necessary that one needs to be simultaneously curious about the mysteries of what we cannot know, while accepting uncertainties in knowledge that science cannot explain, in order to move forward in attaining knowledge.
Septimus aptly summarizes our understanding of balancing chaos and order in the pursuit of knowledge, ‘When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone’ (128). In this hypothetical future where all knowledge is fully achieved, the tension between order and chaos will finally be reduced to nothing, yet this is the time when everything ‘must cease and grow cold’ (128). There lies the message that Stoppard intends, that it is only through the constant dialectic and tension between chaos and order, reason and emotion, knowing and unknowing, that provides meaning and gives purpose to existence.
Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2009. Print.
Fleming, John. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (Modern Theatre Guides). London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009. Print.
W. Demastes, William. The Cambridge Introduction to Tom Stoppard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.
Ars Erotica: Analyzing “Arcadia” and “Eva Luna”
“Language is not a neutral instrument.”
Literature is never without an ideology, whether intended by the writer, interpreted by the reader, inherent in the language, or implied by the context. Thus, an author or a playwright’s particular manipulation of medium – a particular style – always serves a purpose; the author’s, or the audience’s. The heroine’s characterisation, the erotic scenes, and the intertextuality in Isabel Allende’s écriture féminine Eva Luna (1987) exhibit the vital potential of sexual and creative female expression. Furthermore, the novel’s revision of the postcolonial genre, magical realism, for the female Subaltern contextualises the problematic decisions and experiences of women in Latin American society. The characterisation of women, the satirical devices, and the cyclical structure of Tom Stoppard’s comedy of ideas Arcadia (1993) could represent the struggle for the inclusion of the feminine psyche and Eros into patriarchal epistemology. Though segregated by their cultural and historical context, both texts are unified by their feminist discourse on women’s sexuality; in other words, they are instances of ars erotica .
The titular character’s development, through intertextuality and metafiction, in Isabel Allende’s magic feminist novel Eva Luna subscribes to the notions of écriture féminine and celebrates women’s life-giving faculty: “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.” Eva’s biblical conception unfolded from her mother’s decision, never having “succeeded in accepting the tyrannical god” (9), to “disobey an order” (19) and “pleasure” (20) a man bitten by a viper; but instead of ensuing mortality, Consuelo saves him from death. Moreover, she names their creation Eva, “so she will love life” (22) and share it, and though “her father’s name isn’t important”, subverting patriarchal lineage, she appropriates “Luna”, after his “tribe, the Children of the Moon”, thus combining two potent matriarchal symbols. She further empowers her daughter by imparting “the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface… it is legitimate to enhance it and colour it to make our journey through life less trying” (21) and guiding her through life, for “if [Eva] can remember [her], [Consuelo] will be with [her] always” (43). Eva’s sexual awakening to ars erotica, instigated by A Thousand and One Nights, is crucial to challenging phallogocentrism: “Eroticism and fantasy blew into my life with the force of a typhoon, erasing all limitations and turning the known order of things upside down” (146). The “multiple possibilities of [her] womanhood” (192) cannot be expressed by the “pointedness and singularity” of masculine language; in lieu, her later writing is parler femme. In reclaiming “the splendid gift of [her] own sensuality”, she comes “to know [her] body”, expressing her subjective sexuality in itself and for herself. Eva’s relationship with Riad Halabi is juxtaposed against Huberto Naranjo’s suppression of her joissance and creativity. His machismo enforces silence and deception, for she “never spoke of her fantasies” and “feigned satisfaction”, to gratify his sense of entitlement to Eva’s body. Her fabrication of rape corrupts the liberating potential of her imagination and she is “unable to concentrate on [her] work or stories” (220). Eva fulfils her ultimate being by reconciling, as Scheherazade did, sexuality, politics and storytelling. Her writing is “salvation through fabulation”4; it gives her “the power to determine [her] fate, or invent a life for [herself]” (241) or to love “exactly as [she] had been describing… in a scene” (291) and the means to broadcast her non-violent, imaginative emancipation of political prisoners as a telenovela. Isabel Allende empowers the protagonist of Eva Luna by writing of the female experience and body in “white ink” and honouring the female gift of life through intertext with the Bible and Arabian Nights and metafictional strategies.
The problematic, ideological introduction of minor characters in Eva Luna encourages a feminist reading within the context of postcolonial, patriarchal Latin American society. Zulema is condemned for perpetuating her position – “dependent on her husband for everything” (148) – by choosing to “put up with [her husband] rather than work to support herself.” Apathy and idleness have eradicated her identity; she is, metaphorically, an “enormous toy” to her husband’s lust, “a great pale fish abandoned” (149) by the patriarchal ideal of marital fulfilment. Yet she has been “educated to serve and please a man” (148) as her sole function, her value judged as an object, on the basis of “no flaws” (141), domestic ability, and purity. While Zulema is dispossessed of her worth, as defined by her body, for she “could not bear body hair… offended by her own odour” (149), Madrina is “proud of her voluminous flesh… pubis shadowed by kinky fuzz… a strong sweetish odor” (45). She embraces her synaesthetic body and enjoys her sexuality as part of her subject, while remaining devout to Catholicism, thus challenging the archetypal virgin/whore dichotomy, and also empowering women through sacrifice. She baptizes Eva “with a thorough cleaning of the church” (46), an ironic purification; however, the binary oppositions of patriarchal, religious dogma corrupt her nurturing capacity: “the boundaries between good and evil were very precise, and she was ready to save [Eva] from sin if she had to beat [her] to do it”. Having “analyzed her [limited] possibilities” (118), Senora rose to an illusion of power through “imagination”, “patience and hard work” (113) and exploiting her sisterhood. This Janus stereotype is reinforced by her mock submission: “It’s better to say yes to everything and then do whatever you please.” She “never batted an eyelash” (120) at her “distinguished clientele”, paradoxically influential and respected but, nonetheless, a prostitute, reliant on the objectification of women. Hence, Senora appropriates the patriarchal aesthetic of the feminine, without deconstructing it. Melesio/Mimi complicates the conception of female, for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism argues transsexuality is a medical industry, “an institutional expression that women are defective males”, reflected in her hyperbolic “metamorphosis” (203) through “enough hormones to turn an elephant into a migratory bird”, or stereotypically performative, as with Mimi’s occupation as a drag queen. On one hand, she is a “divine apparition” (197) and an “Amazon” (203), embodying feminine beauty and strength, but on the other, she is an “unsettling” (204) “freak”, becoming “fanatically submissive” to conform to patriarchal expectations. There is “some difficulty understanding Melesio’s struggle to become [a woman]” but ultimately, “feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make [them] for ourselves”, and this respect is evident in her willingness “to go through hell to achieve it” (203). Isabel Allende’s characterization in Eva Luna promotes intersectional feminism by positioning women’s choices within their cultural context.
In Tom Stoppard’s satire on epistemology and eroticism as a feminist discourse, the characterisation of Thomasina Coverly and Arcadia’s echoing structure can be interpreted as a representation of women excluded from the generative centre of knowledge, as well as forbidden from self-knowledge of their own vital Eros. The “genius” (65) protagonist is positioned on the brink of intellectual revolution and self-discovery, catalysed by her philosophical equilibrium between Classicism and Romanticism. In reconciling nature and humanity with science and maths – for “if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell” (51) – both through intuition and reason, she subverts the patriarchal dichotomy of these paradigms; accordingly, she is met with resistance and silencing. Septimus drily ascribes her an “alpha minus… for doing more than was asked” (51), punishment for challenging the confines of the partial knowledge deigned appropriate to restrict women to patriarchal thought. Valentine, like Septimus’s resonating “gibe”, is disinclined to credit Thomasina’s “fancy… not a discovery”. “She was just playing with numbers. The truth is, she wasn’t doing anything… Nothing she understood.” (63) The dramatic irony in Valentine’s dialogue enhances Thomasina’s erasure from academia, hinged on and perpetuating the axiom that women are cognitively inferior to men, consequently compounding female dependency and masculine dominance.
Similarly, “the Byron gang” (32), in a derisive metaphor, “unzipped their flies and patronized all over” Hannah’s best-selling Caro, to disparage the feminist revision of a patriarchal historical discourse that dehumanizes women, as in Septimus’ bilingual pun, “caro, carnis; feminine; flesh” (4). Thomasina punningly mocks the keeping of maidens, as in Captain Brice’s unwitting irony, “in ignorance” (17) of their sexuality, to protect them from sin, or rather, so their husbands may retain their purity: “There are some things… such as embracing a side of beef, that must be kept from her until she is old enough to have a carcass of her own.” (18) Moreover, the parallel epiphany of Thomasina and Chloë underlines the necessity of the feminine Eros to a comprehensive understanding, in the innuendo “the action of bodies in heat” (114), and the chaos and mortality it entails. Hannah’s confirmation of meaning in the “struggle” (103) for knowledge, “knowing that failure is final”, and Thomasina’s response to being “doomed” (127) – to dance – celebrates the female capacity for life, in opposition to their definition in terms of “negativity, lack, and emptiness” . Therefore, Tom Stoppard’s style in Arcadia could condemn the silencing of women within epistemology and promote a consideration the female libido in ontology.
Tom Stoppard’s and Isabel Allende’s styles – his characterisation, satire and bifurcated structure contrasting with her intertextual écriture feminine – both serve a feminist purpose in Arcadia and Eva Luna. While she narrates women writing themselves in their own language and others facing choices in her patriarchal Latin American culture, he dramatizes their ostracism from epistemology; nonetheless, they share a celebration of the female Eros, woman’s sexuality and life force. Most importantly, these literary works mark the re-emergence of feminism from the realms of linguists and theorists to mainstream consciousness and third-wave activism.
 Bolinger, Dwight. 1980. Language the Loaded Weapon – The Use and Abuse of Language Today.
 Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality.
 Hélène Cixous. 1975. The Laugh of the Medusa.
 Diamond-Nigh, Lynn. 1995. Eva Luna: Writing as History.
 Tong, Rosemarie. 1994. Feminist Thought: a more comprehensive introduction.
 Klages, Mary. 2006. Hélène Cixous: The Laugh of the Medusa.
 Greer, Germaine. 1999. The Whole Woman.
 Gay, Roxane. 2014. Bad Feminist.
 Koene, Jacoba. 1997. Metaphors for Marginalization and Silencing of Women in Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna by Isabel Allende.
Human Knowledge in Hawksmoor and Arcadia: A Comparison
Hannah, a character from Arcadia, asserts, “It’s all trivial…it’s wanting to know that makes us matter”, a statement which suggests that the need for knowledge is an essential part of human nature. Stoppard and Ackroyd explore this concept through themes such as emotion vs. Intellect, the concept of ignorance, learning and teaching and the effect of the texts on the audience, but while Stoppard argues for human knowledge, Ackroyd is more ambiguous and questions its necessity further.
The main dichotomy explored is emotion vs. intellect. In Arcadia, the garden symbolises this conflict, as it represents “the decline from thinking to feeling” and “the Age of Enlightenment [being] banished into the Romantic wilderness”: the intellectual shift in Europe as emotion overpowered intellect. Lady Croom attacks this scheme cuttingly, wondering at the need for a wilderness of a garden when classical, rational order is more appealing; thus, it seems at first that Stoppard is criticising the new garden and the Romantic Movement. This impression is enhanced when Thomasina criticises Cleopatra for falling in love and allowing a great library to be burned, thus favouring intellect over emotion. Later, she carelessly says “let them elope, they cannot turn back the advancement of knowledge”, again showing her to be unsympathetic towards love and more interested in scientific progress. However, the characters in Arcadia that represent Classicism, such as Septimus and Hannah, fall in love in the play and abandon their classical reserve, thus implying that emotion is superior to intellect. Moreover, Thomasina, who is so concerned with human knowledge and is aware that “carnal embrace addle[s] the brain”, passionately states that she must learn the waltz – a romantic dance – and eventually falls in love with Septimus, again suggesting emotion is superior to intellect. Conversely, Stoppard uses the schoolroom – which symbolises “reverence for learning and the exaltation of knowledge” – as the main setting, thus presenting intellect to be significant, despite the conflict in the garden. However, the schoolroom is also the setting for gossip, comic arguments, discovering love and the final waltz, thus suggesting that, ultimately, emotion and intellect are inseparable.
Hawksmoor, on the other hand, at first appears to disregard intellect completely; Dyer mocks the Age of Enlightenment and scientific advancement, arguing that London is “a Hive of Noise and Ignorance” rather than progressive, and that the human autopsies Wren delights in will not teach him human nature. Joyce Carol states that: “Dyer’s is the voice of the most despairing (and exulting) anti-intellectualism, a throwback to medieval notions of the necessary primacy of the irrational; Wren’s is the civilized voice in which we should like to believe.” Her criticism implies that Ackroyd favours emotion over intellect. Also, Ackroyd presents Wren as – despite all his progressiveness – ignorant, so we are less likely to support his “Sensible Knowledge”; furthermore, Hawksmoor – a rationalist who focuses on “the facts” and “the principles of reason and of method” – is eventually converted to Dyer’s mysticism. However, although Dyer scorns intellect, he is human and cannot eliminate the thirst for knowledge from his nature. Moreover, many critics (and Ackroyd himself) have said that Hawksmoor is “primarily a novel of ideas” and “an intellectual puzzle” and does not focus on human emotion, and therefore indirectly favours intellect over emotion, unlike Arcadia.
Both texts also explore the concept of ignorance and our perception of it. Stoppard explores how knowledge can be used for destructive means – “bombs and aerosols” – and how knowledge can seem worthless: Bernard argues that “we were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos” and that it is not necessary to understand the ways of the universe. Furthermore, the biggest discovery in the play, that the “Universe will cease and grow cold”, is just a discovery, not a solution; also, the biggest tragedy in the play is the irreversibility of time: Thomasina will die and we, the audience, can do nothing about it, just as no one can prevent the extinction of our species. Therefore, Stoppard questions the purpose of knowledge when we cannot change anything. On the other hand, human knowledge is still a necessity because it is in our nature to need and want it. Thus, even as Thomasina realizes our extinction is inevitable, she does not regret her knowledge; instead, she cheerfully states that she wishes to learn to waltz, showing that acquiring knowledge is still an intrinsic part of her nature. Even if the knowledge is “trivial”, even if “failure is final”, we still want to learn; ignorance is terrible because it means that we have acquired nothing since we were born. As Hannah says, “it’s wanting to know that makes us matter”, even if the knowledge is inconsequential or futile.
Ackroyd, however, suggests that knowledge is no more useful than ignorance and that we will always know less than we think. Dyer dismisses all Wren’s discoveries as “Fopperies”; for all his advancement, Wren cannot save his son or eradicate the superstitions in London. The churches symbolize our state of ignorance; Dyer builds them in such a way that they are “intricate labyrinth[s]” and are full of secrets which emphasize how much we don’t know. Our ignorance is also portrayed through the story of Faustus: the Devil tricked him, and Ackroyd seems to suggest we have also been tricked – we are so pleased with our advancement and progress, but how much do we really know? Moreover, even if Hawksmoor realizes the cause of the murders, his knowledge will not help him transcend the boundaries of time; therefore, even if we did know more, what use would it be? Ackroyd implies that ignorance is inevitable and human knowledge is worthless.
Human knowledge is also explored through the effects of the texts on the audience. In Hawksmoor, we have more knowledge than the characters. First-person narrative makes us complicit in Dyer’s schemes and gives us knowledge of the murders that the detective, Hawksmoor, doesn’t have. Furthermore, we are aware of links between the times – such as the superstitions, the children and the tramps, and similarities between characters – and therefore are aware of a future which Dyer does not realize. However, the novel has a labyrinthine structure and is disorientating – the repetition of names, places and events increases the plot’s ambiguity, while the use of unfamiliar language and intertextuality decreases our understanding of the text. While Ackroyd may have used this structure to symbolize our state of ignorance, he instead proves our need for knowledge because this confusion frustrates us as we want to understand. Moreover, the present-day sections are written in the style of the mystery genre, but the mystery is not solved; this does not allow us to accept our state of ignorance, as Ackroyd may have intended, but leaves us unsatisfied and frustrated. Ted Gioia says of Ackroyd “in his mimicry of the mystery genre, he has created certain expectations that cannot be adequately resolved with just a sensitivity to ambiance and a piling up of coincidences…needs more than atmospherics to leave us satisfied at the tale’s end.” Thus, the effect of Hawksmoor on the audience, with regards to human knowledge, is to prove that it is a necessity.
In Arcadia, we have more knowledge than the characters concerning the plot, but it can be argued that the allusions and technicality are bewildering for us. We are aware that Bernard’s theory about Byron is wrong, we are aware that Thomasina died on her seventeenth birthday, and we are aware that the hermit in the garden is Septimus. However, topics such as chaos theory, iterated algorithms, Fermat’s last theorem and the second law of thermodynamics are complex and unheard of by many – Stoppard’s play has been criticized as being aimed at intellectuals and not appealing to a wider audience. On the other hand, some of the characters are as ignorant as we are of these theories and have to be instructed, thereby allowing us to be taught these theories as well. The fact that the audience are aggravated by their ignorance and puzzlement proves that the need for human knowledge is a deep-seated part of our nature.
The importance of human knowledge is also explored through the constant learning and teaching in both texts. Both texts begin with a teacher-student scene: in Arcadia, Septimus is instructing Thomasina, and in Hawksmoor, Dyer is instructing Walter. In Hawksmoor, Mirabilis imparts his satanic knowledge to Dyer, Wren instructs Dyer in architecture, and Walter informs him of the gossip in the office; moreover, the main characters (Dyer, Wren, and Hawksmoor) also seek knowledge through research. The transfer of knowledge is widespread, and it is no coincidence that all the characters have a frenzy to know – even as Ackroyd maintains that knowledge cannot help us, his characters still prove that human knowledge is a necessity as none of them, even Dyer, are willing to exist in a state of ignorance. Arcadia’s characters share this need to learn and the transfer of knowledge is also widespread in the play; in the present-day scenes, academic, scientific and mathematical knowledge is shared, while in the past, Thomasina presents her theory to Septimus, and the exchange of gossip-knowledge is also clear. Moreover, the characters’ frustration when they don’t understand proves their need to acquire knowledge. Valentine, for example, is “shaking and close to tears” when he cannot prove his theory that there is a pattern to the so-called randomness of nature; similarly, Hawksmoor is frustrated when he cannot find the serial killer. The continuous exchange of knowledge and learning-teaching relationships in both texts suggests that this is an immense part of our lives, and therefore a fundamental part of our nature. Furthermore, we sympathize with the characters’ frustration because we understand it, again proving wanting to know being a part of our nature.
While Arcadia ends by proving intellect is just as important as emotion and that human knowledge is an essential part of our nature, Hawksmoor’s ending attempts to prove to us that ignorance is our natural state and that we will never know as much as we think we do. Stoppard agrees that our knowledge is limited but argues that we must carry on learning; indirectly, Ackroyd too acknowledges, through his structure and characters, that human nature will never be content with ignorance.
“The Highest Passion is Terrour”, New York Times, 1986: Joyce Carol Oates
“New Angles on an Old Genre”: Ted Gioia: “http://www.postmodernmystery.com/hawksmoor.html
The relationship between science and love in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia”
Tom Stoppard is famous for the wit and intellectual appeal of his creations, and Arcadia perfectly fulfills these characteristics. Stoppard has the capacity to exquisitely present the most simple, yet important things in life. The play is uniquely structured, utilizing complex mathematical theorems and numerous historical references that reveal myriad themes, while juxtaposing the past with the present, the Classical with the Romantic, and the mathematical with the poetic. All of this is done to prove one of the most basic human truths: that — despite all logic — the human being cannot fully live without love. This essay aims to explain the relationship between the mathematical aspects of the play and the way love is portrayed.
Mathematics and science play a starring role in Arcadia. The play does not only feature mathematicians as central characters, but it also uses mathematics and science to endow everyday things — clouds, a leaf, a population of birds — with magnificence and magic. Mathematics is far from being just a collection of simplistic calculating rules; it can provide extremely rich descriptions of our complex world, and of us. The point of using, for example, the second law of thermodynamics, is not to understand it fully, but to see how it helps understand the relationship between past and present, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty and the absolute uncertainty of love.
As it is fit for a play set partly at the dawn of the 19th century, when the Age of Enlightenment was giving away to the Romantic era, it is also about sex, love, jealousy and other messy human emotions that cannot — supposedly — be neatly reduced to a mathematical formula. Whenever the characters try to fix and understand reality, whether it be through the use of language, through the use of narratives designed to control and explain their experiences, or through the study of science, they discover that life is not so easily confined and defined. As a consequence, the play makes one question how much love, life, mathematics and science can be related and how far can the latter take us in explaining what life and love are all about.
In the Arcadian universe, the common notion that love and science occupy opposite poles in human experience gets turned on its head. Rational, logical science and irrational, passionate love have something in common: both are unpredictable and chaotic. The mixing of mathematical theorems with love and history may seem strange at first glance. Stoppard has explained that his inspiration for Arcadia came from reading the mathematical theory novel “Chaos” at the same time as exploring the style, temperament, and art of Romanticism and Classicism and particularly the differences in these styles. Throughout the novel, the dominant theory is, in fact, the “chaos” theory. The nature of knowledge, whether mathematical, physical or historical, is chaotic. The play itself, as Stoppard says, is “chaos constructed” (Demastes and Kelly, 1994:5), with a couple of bifurcations and finally getting to the last scene, which is extremely mixed up.
The thoroughness with which Stoppard integrates these mathematical ideas into the action of the play demolishes the idea that he only used the chaos theory as a way to strengthen his play, since it was the scientific theory in fashion at that time. On the contrary, his purpose is to explore — using this theory — the clash of rationality and emotion, the unpredictability of passion, and the way chaos can develop from logic. He shows how certain mathematical ideas and theories reflect and resonate with these themes.
Science has long been a primary way in which humans have sought to understand the world that surrounds them. In the opening scene, Thomasina is taking a look into Newtonian science and Euclidian geometry, modes of thought that see the world as linear, ordered, and stable. In human terms, Newton and his classical laws of motion seem to leave no room for unpredictability and free will. Thomasina explains the ramifications of what would happen if everything behaved according to Newton’s laws of motion with the supposed situation that if all atoms were stopped, someone really smart could write the formula for all the future. This apparent causal determinism suggests a deterministic, mechanical universe; it is one of strict order, regularity, and predictability. However, Thomasina has already begun to intuit that this view of the universe is incomplete and she tells Septimus about how stirring the rice pudding backwards will not make the jam come back together. This seemingly simple observation points to the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the increasing disorder in the universe.
This disorder is not seen entirely as something bad, and Valentine and Hannah even seem to celebrate that those scientists before mentioned were wrong, because it opens so many doors, it creates so many mysteries; they celebrate uncertainty. Indeed, the play as a whole acknowledges the difficulty of truly knowing anything. In the depiction of people striving to understand the past and to find the keys that unlock the mysteries of nature, the play is a celebration of the human struggle to obtain knowledge, to understand as much as possible. Rather than despair, Stoppard embraces a cautious optimism and expresses a resounding belief in human agency rather than materialistic views of life. Arcadia is a confirmation that despite all the indeterminacy, people can use their intellect and intuition to gain knowledge and understand what surrounds them. It suggests that science often works, that people can lead fulfilling lives. Even without all the answers, people can be happy, and that interacting with uncertainty is part of what makes human life worth living.
The joke, on the first scene, that sexual attraction is the attraction Newton left out is one of Stoppard’s metaphorical conceits for the difficulty in mapping out individual destinies. Newton’s laws work when they operate in a vacuum, and it is the friction of the real world that destroys predictability. Likewise, the multiple variables and contingencies of reality, which include love and the heat of sexual passion, preclude predictable, deterministic lives. The richness of deterministic chaos as a metaphor for human life and interactions is its paradoxical quality. The sense of determinism, of the inability to control with whom one falls in love is there, yet the play also shows free will in action as Septimus decides not to consummate the relationship with his pupil. In Arcadia, the characters experience both determinism and unpredictability, both fate and free will.
Hannah is a character whose dominant personality is “scientific” in that she loves dispassionate intellect. She states that the Romantic Movement was a “sham”, and the ordered, classical gardens that were replaced represented paradise. Hanna puts thought before emotion, the classical over the romantic, and sees the world in binary terms. She sees emotion as an unwanted irregularity, a potential collapse into disorder. Ironically, to prove her idea that the Age of Enlightenment banished into the Romantic wilderness, she must rely on instinct and intuition. To summarize, she embodies Tom Stoppard’s notion that Classical and Romantic temperaments are not mutually exclusive, but rather co-exist in people. A parallelism could be drawn, with Romanticism being love and Classicism being science. Only one cannot fulfill the task of understanding life, but the two must be intertwined in order to work together.
In the seventh scene the play’s ideas are manifested in human terms as the richness and complicatedness of Stoppard’s characters, themes, and dramatic structure integrate. It is a scene rich with imagery, many revolving around heat. Steam engines, thermodynamics, sexual passion, and candles are all present. To varying degrees, the moments that involve these items or ideas involve construction or destruction as they can be life affirming or life denying.
Conclusively, the scientific and the human dimensions of the play are linked in the final scene, where the waltz starts. A waltz is emblematic of deterministic chaos in that there is a prescribes series of steps, but that “deterministic equation” can still yield any number of patterns — Spanish, hesitation, slow waltz, etc. —. In the staging I saw of the play, Septimus and Thomasina’s waltz took them on many different paths through the rome, even dancing between Bernard and Chloë, who are in the midst of their abrupt and unplanned farewell. One of the couples is completely in sync, and the other is not; one is based solely on sex, while the other mixes sexual and intellectual attraction, but ultimately remains platonic as they never consummate their affection. Although Thomasina invites Septimus to spend the night with her, his final answer is that he will not, and that indicates his non-deterministic free will. Nonetheless, the deterministic side of life is also acknowledged in this moment, for it is here that Septimus lights Thomasina’s candle, who the audience knew was going to die in a fire that very night. Her intuition about the heat death of the universe — how everything is going to end at room temperature — becomes painfully and bitterly personal. The dance of life ends in death, but is still a happy one. Even though the “universe must cease and grow cold” (Arcadia, 1993:93), the characters remain happy, even celebratory; Valentine for the joy of scientific, intellectual understanding, and Thomasina for human contact, embodied in the ensuing waltz and kisses she shares with Septimus.
Demastes, William and Katherine E. Kelly (1994). The Playwright and the Professors: An Interview with Tom Stoppard. South Central Review.
Stoppard, Tom (1993). Arcadia. London: Faber and Faber.
Principles of Narrative, and Principles of Mathematics and Science, in Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’
Arcadia, written in 1993 by Tom Stoppard, is concerned with the relationship between order and disorder, past and present, and certainty and uncertainty. The action is split between two timelines unravelling in a room of an English manor house, Sidley Park, almost two hundred years apart. The first narrative depicts the bright daughter of the estate, Thomasina Coverly, who is tutored by Septimus Hodge in 1809. Whilst, in 1933, scholars Hannah Jarvis, Bernard Lightingale, and Valentine Coverly try to piece together the history of the estate from Thomasina’s annotations. Stoppard alternates between both these narratives as well as two timelines. This non-linear narrative tackles a vast array of scientific subjects, including thermodynamics, fractals, and chaos theory.
First of all, it is my stance that Mathematics and Science play a fundamental role in Arcadia. Stoppard takes contemporary Science as his subject matter. This can be seen through the fact that the characters’ lives revolve around Science. For instance, Thomasina’s scientific curiosity is shown from Scene 1. Even while eating her rice pudding she attempts to find scientific explanations for the world around her. In fact, something similar happens to Valentine when he wonders where cream disappears to once added to a cup of coffee, claiming it to be “(…) as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks” (Scene 4). In addition, the aforementioned paradoxes of the play are displayed through the discourse of Science. Also, greater truths about humanity and social matters in general are revealed through the study of different theorems.
The relationship between human situations and scientific principles can be easily seen throughout the play. Arcadia certainly references many scientific principles through the metaphorical use of Science and Mathematics. There are three metaphorical threads that can be followed in the play: “the action of bodies in heat”, which refers to thermodynamics; the unpredictable and the predetermined, which make reference to chaos theory, and plotting and iteration, which are also related to chaos and mathematics. These ideas are explored by many of the characters, particularly by Thomasina, and they all relate to the description of the disorder and irregularity of systems.
Thomasina’s first discovery, the second law of thermodynamics, is glimpsed in Scene 1 and confirmed in Scene 7. Briefly, this law states that the energy in the universe is gradually moving towards disorder. What is more, this law imposes a direction on to time: whereas every other physical law would work the same whether time was going forwards or backwards, this is not true for the second law of thermodynamics. Thomasina points this out when she states that Newton’s equations can go forwards or backwards, but the “heat equation” can only go in one direction. She manages to explain thermodynamics in familiar terms, by stating that “You cannot stir things apart”, which reinforces the idea that Science plays a leading role in the characters’ everyday life. This appears to be the strength of Thomasina’s scientific thinking, she can think about complex ideas in familiar terms.
Moreover, there is a hidden metaphor in Thomasina’s discovery. When she confirms her intuition concerning the second law of thermodynamics in Scene 7, her wording is ambiguous. When her mother asks her what she is studying, she describes it as “The action of bodies in heat”, despite having read an essay referring to the same phenomenon as the “propagation of heat in a solid body”. Thomasina’s wording is not naïve, for she noticed that Lady Croom had been playing the piano passionately with Count Zelinsky. Once again, this shows how Science is used metaphorically to refer to human situations. On another note, the increase of disorder is also embodied by the garden, which loses its order due to the work of Mr. Noakes. Apart from that, the second law of thermodynamics is at work throughout the play, causing degradation rather than progression: Thomasina is going to die and the researchers are having trouble finding information. Arcadia demonstrates this law in relation to time; Stoppard alternates two time periods in a way which challenges physics. There is initial order between the scenes, until the last scene in which the two periods are shown simultaneously. The play itself is driven by this law, it acts like a “body in heat”.
Another metaphorical thread in Arcadia can be seen through Valentine’s ambiguous discourse while investigating chaos theory. This theory is a branch of mathematics focused on the behaviour of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. In his discourse, Valentine points out how theories only describe the “very big and the very small” (Scene 4). As far as I am concerned, Valentine is hinting that human situations, even the fate of the characters of the play, are also related to Mathematics and theorems. He is implicitly saying that even the most insignificant things can have great impact.
Similarly, Chloe manages to connect Science to ordinary human situations in Scene 7. Here, she expresses that people may fancy people they are not supposed to fancy, so this breaks Newton’s law. Newton’s laws and the laws of gravity supported the idea that the universe functioned like a clock, and everything that happened in The Earth or in The Solar System could be predicted and explained. Newton’s explanation of the universe adheres to determinism, which can be briefly described as the belief that all events, including thought, are caused by previous circumstances and that people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens. However, Stoppard manages to confront Newton’s theory through Chloe’s ideas, and connect physics to human feelings.
Finally, the last metaphorical thread of interest here refers to the relationship between plotting and iteration and the structure of the play. In mathematics, the action of plotting is a translation of written symbols into visual representation: once plotted, an equation becomes a graph. When Thomasina announces that she will “plot this leaf and deduce its equation” in Scene 3, she reverses this process. The way I see it, this concept is related to the way Stoppard wrote the play, alternating between two narratives, going back and forth in a non-linear manner. On the one hand, Arcadia’s plot tackles ideas like disorder or chaotic behaviour. On the other, these ideas provide us with patterns through which we can interpret the play. Iteration in mathematics refers to the process of iterating a function i.e. applying a function repeatedly, using the output from one iteration as the input to the next. This matter is explored by Valentine and Hannah, and I believe the ambiguity regarding this subject relies upon the fact that Arcadia has a series of recurring topics mostly revolving around sex, literature, science, and gardening. Not only are the characters firmly linked to Science, but so is the underlying structure of the narrative.
Although Science is used to explore ordinary matters like stirring a cup of coffee, it is also used to pose the most profound questions humans can ask themselves. The characters are constantly wondering about extinction and the fate of humanity. An example of this is when Valentine explains to Hannah that the world is doomed (Scene 5). Here we can see how Stoppard’s use of Science is double-edged. It is used to describe the most mundane situations, but it is also the trigger of extremely profound questions.
Stoppard’s play does not portrait scientific concepts as something secondary. It does not encourage a reductive and vague application of science and mathematics, but it gives theorems and scientific laws the leading role. This can be seen throughout the entire play, but it is particularly reflected in one of Hannah’s lines. In Scene 7, she states that “it’s wanting to know that makes us matter”. As far as I am concerned, this statement implies that curiosity and critical thinking gives meaning to our lives, and it justifies the characters’ hunger for knowledge, reinforcing the importance of Science once again. Taking everything into account, Science and Mathematics are the foundations of Arcadia. They are present from the first scene until the last, dictating the fate of the characters, structuring the narrative, and taking part of the characters’ everyday life. What is more, not only does Stoppard follow scientific laws, but he also defies them: Chloe’s ideas abrogate Newton’s laws.
Jha, A. (1/12/2013) What is the second law of Thermodynamics? [Blog] The Guardian. Retreived from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/01/what-is-the-second-law-of-thermodynamics
Chaos theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory