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Arcadia: A Play in Two Acts Paperback – Import, 1993
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In the 19th century, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, is working with her tutor, Septimus Hodge; there are books and Hodge’s tortoise. In the modern time, Hannah Jarvis, an author, is working on a book about the history of the gardens – or, more precisely, about the hermit-genius who lived in the 19th century gardens like a “garden ornament” or “pottery gnome”. She is joined by, among others, Valentine, a son of the house, and his tortoise.
In each time period, people come and go and dramas unfold. But the room and table remain constant. As the play proceeds, everything from both time periods remains on the table. The table and its contents are period neutral, and, by the end of the play, the table has become quite cluttered with objects.
There are striking parallels between the two time periods. Early on, questioning her tutor whether God is a Newtonian, Thomasina asks “[a]m I the first person to have thought of this?” (p. 9). In the modern time, Chloe asks her brother “Valentine, do you think I’m the first person to think of this?” (p. 77).
There is humor. Valentine explains to Hannah how her tea is getting cold – by itself. “Your tea will end up at room temperature. What’s happening to your tea is happening to everything everywhere….It’ll take a while but we’re all going to end up at room temperature.” (p. 82).
The modern day dramas involve the 19th century dramas – an attempt to sort out the past with meager historical evidence. There is poetry and duels; parks and a hermitage; heat exchange and Lord Byron.
And, there is Entropy. As the play progresses, so does the chaos. Toward the end of the play, the distinct time periods begin to bleed into one another. They proceed at the same time and intertwine. Chaos ensues.
The result is a fascinating, intellectual drama. Arcadia is a great read, and I hope one day to see it performed.
This is an extremely funny play, starting with Thomasina's opening line, "Septimus, what is carnal embrace?". At the same time, it also teaches us about science, math, and literature. It moves seamlessly between the two time periods, and gives all the information we need to understand the various topics in entertaining ways. It is a joy to read.