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MHS Library | Arcadia (Tom Stoppard)


Characters of 1809

Thomasina Coverly:

Thomasina Coverly, shown in the play at ages 13 and 16, is a bright, questioning, budding scientist who discovers that, unlike Newtonian equations, there are equations that only run one-way (the Second Law of Thermodynamics). Although everyone around her, particularly her tutor, Septimus, and her mother, try to safekeep her innocent naïveté, she is much more insightful than they realize. With a sense of humor and calmness regarding her discovery that the world is "doomed," she eventually falls in love with her tutor Septimus.

Stoppard based the character on Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace), daughter of Lord Byron. Ada was an English mathematician who conceptualised how Charles Babbage's Analytical engine could be used. 

Septimus Hodge:

Thomasina's tutor and the academic colleague and friend of Lord Byron (an unseen but important character in the play). While teaching Thomasina he works on his own research, and has affairs with the older women of the house. When she is older, he begins to fall in love with her, and after her death it is implied that he becomes the "hermit of Sidley Park", filling pages with equations and trying to disprove Thomasina's conclusion of doom.

Septimus is clever (insulting Ezra Chater's poetry without him knowing it and sleeping with his wife without repercussion) and book-smart (keeping up with Thomasina intellectually)—and knows it. His self-assurance borders on the arrogant. In a bittersweet moment, he teaches Thomasina to waltz and kisses her, but turns down the invitation to her room.


The Crooms' stereotypical butler at Sidley Park. He is a middle-aged busybody. His chief functions are to spread gossip and deliver letters. 

Ezra Chater:

is an unsuccessful 31 year old poet staying at Sidley Park. He wrote The Couch of Eros , which Septimus travestied in a review. His wife's affairs lead him to suspect Septimus as having slept with his wife, and challenge Septimus to a duel. Later, he dies of a monkey bite in Martinique (after he has travelled there with his wife and Captain Brice).



Tom Stoppard

Stoppard at a reception in Russia (2007)

Photo source: Wikipedia


Tom Stoppard was born Tom Strausser in Zlin, Czechoslovakia (now Gottwaldov in the Czech Republic). His father, a doctor for the Bata shoe company, immigrated to Singapore in 1939. When the Japanese invaded that country, Dr. Strausser was killed, but his wife and two sons were evacuated to India. In 1945 Martha Strausser married British major Kenneth Stoppard, and her sons took his name.

Stoppard was educated at a multilingual boarding school in Darjeeling, then immigrated with his mother and brother to England, where he attended schools in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. In the 1950s he was a reporter for Bristol'sWestern Daily Press and the Bristol Evening World, for which he also wrote drama reviews. In the early 1960s he reviewed plays for the short-lived magazine Sceneunder the pseudonym William Boot. He has been married twice—to Josie Ingle, a nurse (1965–72), and to the doctor and television personality Miriam Moore-Robinson (1972–1992). He has four sons.

Stoppard is an intensely intellectual playwright. His belief that "truth is a matter of perspective" may well be the product of a youth spent in many parts of the world. The London premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1967 catapulted him to fame at age 29. (The play had been performed the year before at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.) Stoppard's production was hailed as "the most brilliant debut by a young playwright since John Arden's." Though his work has changed as it has evolved over nearly four decades, all his characteristic hallmarks as a dramatist are evident in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.He writes plays of ideas that are witty, parodic, and allusive, erudite but playful, artfully constructed, and full of brilliant flights of fancy. According to the scholar Thomas Whitaker, Stoppard has the "ability to shape intellectual debate into a dazzling three-ring circus."

(Source: Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Second Edition - from Bloom's Literary Reference Database)

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Arcadia (1993)

Some critics laud Arcadia as Stoppard's finest play, in which an intellectual storyline is populated with believable, developed characters with heart. These characters are able to comment on the intersection and finer points of scientific principles, the history of garden design, and the chaotic nature of sexual attraction.

The play opens on a stately English house situated at the edge of a garden in the year 1809. Sitting at a table, tutor Septimus Hodge and his pre-teen pupil, Thomasina Coverly, attend to their studies. She suddenly asks him what "carnal embrace" means and he responds that it is "the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef." Her inquiry stemmed from overhearing that Mrs. Chater, wife of the poet Ezra Chater, was caught in "carnal embrace" with someone (not her husband) in the gazebo. Septimus explains briefly what "carnal embrace" means, but leaves out that he was the one caught with Mrs. Chater.

The question sparks a conversation between teacher and pupil about sex and love, free will and self-determination, science and belief. Thomasina observes that jam, when stirred in rice pudding, can only be stirred so the jam becomes increasingly pink. Afterward, the jam can't be "unstirred" from the pudding; it is a one-way process only.

Read more on the Bloom's Literary Reference Database

The arrow of time

Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences (apart from certain rare interactions in particle physics; see below) that requires a particular direction for time, sometimes called an arrow of time. As one goes "forward" in time, the second law of thermodynamics says, the entropy of an isolated system will increase. Hence, from one perspective, entropy measurement is a way of distinguishing the past from the future. However in thermodynamic systems that are not closed, entropy can decrease with time: many systems, including living systems, reduce local entropy at the expense of an environmental increase, resulting in a net increase in entropy. Examples of such systems and phenomena include the formation of certain crystals, the workings of a refrigerator and living organisms. (Source: Wikipedia)