Arcadia - Themes and motifs

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The main themes of this play are: emotions versus intellect, the mistery of sex and the path to knowledge.


In Arcadia we have two types of knowledge: the knowledge of love and academic knowledge. These two types of knowledge are in constant conflict throughout the text. It is only the proposition of marriage, the intellectual justification for sex, which allows a resolution between the two forces. Love contradicts with the intellect from the beginning of the play. Thomasina interrupts Septimus during her lesson by asking what carnal knowledge is. Thomasina also remarks on the conflict between emotion and intellect in her history lesson. Her question is prompted by Septimus himself who was found having sex with Mrs. Chater in the gazebo the day before. Thomasina describes Cleopatra as making "noodles of our sex" because Cleopatra was weakened by love. Thomasina heralds Queen Elizabeth who would not have been tempted by love to give away land or power.

The great Hannah Jarvis is, unswayed by romantic passions. She believes, as does Thomasina, that romantic inclinations would destroy or distract her from her work. Hannah refuses warmth or emotion: she refuses a kiss, denies Bernard's propositions, laughs at Valentine's proposal, and brushes off Gus's flirtation. Hannah represents the coldness towards emotion but she gives in to feeling at the end of the play, where being forced in a dance, she is also forced to believe in the fact that emotion and intellect are inseperable.Hannah is unlike Thomasina, who unconsciously understands this, driven forcefully by the mystery of both.


Most of the play revolves around sex and affairs. First in the gazebo with Septimus and Mrs. Chater, and lastly when Septimus embraces and kisses Thomasina in earnest, finally indulging in the mystery of his attraction and love. Septimus will not go to Thomasina's room, although she asks him, but he is restrained for a reason that remains unknown. Septimus realizes the ultimately unfulfilling nature of academic progress but will only tragically experience the fulfilling nature of love for a brief moment in a waltz and kiss with Thomasina. In the same manner, Hannah Jarvis submits to a dance with Gus. She, like Septimus, has solved her mystery and now looks to Gus for fulfillment and new mysteries.


Septimus’ task as Thomasinas’ teacher is to enlighten her in all intellectual ways he can. Firstly with mathematics, in history with the lesson about Cleopatra, literature with Lord Byron and painting. Septimus tells Thomasina she should not be upset at the loss of the library of Alexandria because such discoveries will be had again, in another time and possibly in another language, highlighting the fact that some of the plays survived and she should be thankful for that rather than cry over the lost ones. This story is ironic to the fate of Thomasina's own discoveries that aren't unearthed until 1993 by Valentine. Thomasina's discoveries are made again: chaos theory and thermodynamics are formal concepts by the time her primer is found and analyzed, all starting when Thomasina tries to prove to Septimus she can calculate the aria of a leaf. Arcadia works as a description of humanity's own progression of knowledge. While Thomasina and Septimus make new discoveries, Hannah and Valentine pursue in finding their own discoveries. The work of Thomasina and Septimus is lost but later found again by Hannah and Bernard.

Arcadia suggest that most knowledge doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things...but that in itself isn't enough reason not be interested in the world.


Some of the motifs are: fire, sex and mathematics


Fire takes on multiple meanings in the play, but it most strongly symbolizes death and the eventual and inevitable end of the human species. Like Thomasina's diagram of heat exchange, as exemplified by Mr. Noakes's steam engine, all will eventually end. As the law of

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