Arcadia delves into the nature of truth through math, philosophy, love, literature (Lord Byron), and art with two compelling sets of characters in the 19th and 20th centuries.
1809: 13-year-old Thomasina and her teacher Septimus are sitting in the schoolroom. Thomasina tells Septimus that his equations are only for commonplace manufactured forms. Thomasina wants to create the kind of equations that make nature, such as an equation to make a flower rather than a circle, cone, or square.
1993: Hannah is reading from Thomasina’s portfolio. The pages are filled with iterated equations (the solution of one equation is the input for the next equation). Valentine, a graduate student in math, is surprised that Thomasina would be doing this because iteration has only been practiced since the 1970s.
This scene served to remind me of my 2009 weekend visit to Barcelona and seeing some Gaudí.
We greatly appreciated the exhibit that deconstructed the nature shapes Gaudí used:
Especially fond of mosaics and dark blue, this reptile at Park Guell was a favorite of mine:
These are not quite the equations for flowers that Stoppard’s character Thomasina wanted, but this math art, made by a trained economist I know, would have pleased her, I think:
pronounced “oiler” I learned
A few Arcadia quotes:
Thomasina, age 13, to her tutor in Act 1 Scene 1:
“When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads
itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my
astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come
together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to
turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?”
“If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your
mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were
really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the
future; and although nobody can be so cleaver to do it, the formula must
exist just as if one could.”
Thomasina: Septimus, what is carnal embrace?
Septimus: Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef.
Thomasina: I hope you are ashamed.
Septimus: I, my lady?
Thomasina: If you do not teach me the true meaning of things, who will?
Septimus: Ah. Yes, I am ashamed. Carnal embrace is sexual congress, which is the insertion of the male genital organ into the female genital organ for purposes of procreation and pleasure. Fermat’s last theorem, by contrast, asserts that when x, y, and z are whole numbers each raised to the power of n, the sum of the first two can never equal the third when n is greater than 2.
(Pause) Thomasina: Eurghhh!
Septimus: Nevertheless, that is the theorem.
Thomasina: It is disgusting and incomprehensible. Now when I am grown to practise it myself I shall never do so without thinking of you.
Act 2 Scene 7:
Thomasina: No marks?! Did you not like my rabbit equation?
Septimus: I saw no resemblance to a rabbit.
Thomasina: It eats its own progeny.
Septimus: (Pause) I did not see that.
20th century scholar Hannah in Act 2:
“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”