- Arcadia (play)
name = Arcadia
genre = Comedy/Drama
setting = a Derbyshire country estate; 1809 and the present
premiere = 1993
orig_lang = English
subject = a corresponding group try to unravel the events of 1809 180 years later - with spectacularly wrong results
ibdb_id = 1663
"Arcadia" is a 1993 play by
Tom Stoppardconcerning the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge.
"Arcadia" is set in Sidley Park, an English
country house, in the years 1809–1812 and 1989, juxtaposing the activities of two modern scholars and the house's current residents with the lives of those who lived there 180 years earlier.
In 1809, Thomasina Coverly, the daughter of the house, is a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics well ahead of her time. She studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge, a friend of
Lord Byron, who is an unseen guest in the house. In 1989, a writer and an academic converge on the house: Hannah Jarvis, the writer, is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; Bernard Nightingale, a professor of literature, is investigating a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron. As their investigations unfold, helped by Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in 1809 is gradually revealed.
The play's set features a large table, which is used by the characters in both 1809 and 1989. Props are not removed when the play switches time period, so that the books, coffee mugs, quill pens, portfolios, and laptop computers of 1809 and 1989 appear alongside each other in a blurring of past and present.
"Arcadia" explores the nature of evidence and truth in the context of modern ideas about
history, mathematicsand physics. It shows how the clues left by the past are interpreted by scholars. The play refers to a wide array of subjects, including mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, computer algorithms, fractals, population dynamics, chaos theoryvs. determinism(especially in the context of love and death), classics, landscape design, romanticismvs. classicism, English literature(particularly poetry), Byron, 18th century periodicals, modern academia, and even South Pacific botany. These are the concrete topics of conversation; the more abstract philosophical resonances veer off into epistemology, nihilism, the origins of lust, and madness.
The title refers to the pastoral ideal of Arcadia and to the "
memento mori" spoken by Death: " Et in Arcadia ego", roughly translatable as "I too am in Arcadia", but the true meaning is enigmatic and the subject of much academic discourse. [cite book | last=Cohen | first=J.M. | authorlink=J. M. Cohen | coauthors=Cohen, M.J. | title=The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations | publisher=Penguin Books | year=1960 | location=Harmondsworth, England | isbn= ] [cite book | last=Panofsky | first=Erwin | authorlink=Erwin Panofsky | coauthors=quoted in Knowles, Elizabeth (Ed.) | title=The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations:Arcadia | publisher=Oxford University Press | year=2004 | isbn= ] The character of Septimus offers the translation "Even in Arcadia, there am I".
Some ideas in the play recall
Goethe's 1809 novella " Elective Affinities".
"Arcadia" first opened at the
Royal National Theatrein Londonon April 13, 1993, and has played at many theatres since. It impressed the critics: The " Daily Telegraph"'s critic wrote "I have never left a new play more convinced that I'd just witnessed a masterpiece." It won the 1993 Olivier Awardfor Best Play and the 1995 New York Drama Critics' CircleAward.
The original 1993 production was directed by
Trevor Nunnand featured Rufus Sewellas Septimus Hodge, Felicity Kendal(Stoppard's then lover) as Hannah Jarvis, Bill Nighyas Bernard Nightingale, Emma Fieldingas Thomasina Coverly, Alan Mitchellas Jellaby, Derek Hutchinsonas Ezra Chater, Sidney Livingstonas Richard Noakes, Harriet Walteras Lady Croom, Graham Sinclairas Captain Brice, Harriet Harrisonas Chloe Coverly, Timothy Matthewsas Augustus Coverly and Gus Coverly, and Samuel Westas Valentine Coverly.
The first New York production opened in March 1995 at the
Vivian Beaumont Theatre. It was again directed by Trevor Nunn, but the entire cast changed. It starred Billy Crudupas Septimus, Blair Brownas Hannah, Victor Garberas Bernard, Robert Sean Leonardas Valentine, and Jennifer Dundasas Thomasina. This production was the Broadway debut of Paul Giamatti, who played Ezra Chater. The other actors were Lisa Banes(Lady Croom), Richard Clarke (Jellaby), John Griffin (Gus/Augustus), Peter Maloney (Noakes), David Manis (Captain Brice, RN), and Haviland Morris(Chloe). This production was nominated for the 1995 Tony Awardfor Best Play, but lost to Terrence McNally's " Love! Valour! Compassion!". Jennifer Dundas and Lisa Banes had already played daughter and mother once before, in "The Hotel New Hampshire". Vincent Canbyof the " New York Times" described the play as "Tom Stoppard's richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio and, new for him, emotion." [cite news |first=Vincent |last=Canby |authorlink=Vincent Canby |title=THEATER REVIEW: ARCADIA; Stoppard's Comedy Of 1809 And Now |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE3D8143CF932A05750C0A963958260&scp=1 |work= The New York Times|date=1995-03-31 |accessdate=2008-04-03 ]
"Arcadia" was voted onto the shortlist for the
Royal Institutionaward for "the best science book ever written". The winner, awarded on 19 October 2006, was "The Periodic Table" by Primo Levi. [cite news | url = http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1927916,00.html | title = Levi's memoir beats Darwin to win science book title | publisher = The Guardian| date = 2006-10-21| first = James | last = Randerson | accessdate = 2007-02-17 ]
Awards and nominations
* 1994 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play; Nominations
* 1995 Drama Desk Award for Best Play
* 1995 Tony Award for Best Play
* [http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/stoppt/arcadia.htm#links A list of Arcadia-related articles and other links]
* [http://math.bu.edu/DYSYS/arcadia/ Chaos, Fractals, and Arcadia] , written by Robert L. Devaney from
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.