In Tom Stoppard's brilliant play, Arcadia , there are numerous
references to Enlightenment and Romanticism, two historical periods that
touched many aspects of 18th and 19th century society. In regards to the
play, Stoppard uses the two periods to deepen his plot, convey important
themes, and add character. The following are references and allusions to
the periods in the play. In addition, there are two separate pages for
more information on the Enlightenment and Romanticism.
1. Act I/scene 1/pg 11
Lady Croom: Your drawing is a very wonderful transformation. I would not have recognized my own garden but for your ingenious book--is it not? Here is the Park as it appears to us now, and here as it might be when Mr. Noakes has done with it. Where there is the familiar pastoral refinement of an Englishman' s garden, here is an eruption of gloomy forest and towering crag, of ruins where there was never a house, of water dashing against rocks where there was neither spring nor a stone I could not not throw the length of a cricket pitch. My hyacinth dell is become a haunt for hobgoblins, my Chinese bridge...
Brice: It is all irregular, Mr. Noakes.
Noakes: It is, sir. Irregularity is one of the chiefest principles of the picturesque style...
Lady Croom: But Sidley Park is already a picture, and a most amiable picture too. The
slopes are green and gentle. The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage. The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged--in short, it is nature as God intended...
This passage introduces several important aspects of the play. To begin with, Noakes wants to redesign the garden in the ''picturesque style''--a romantic style. That is why there is a ''gloomy forest'' and a ''towering crag.'' This represents the Romantic period's ''triumph'' over the Enlightenment, since Romanticism was a reaction against the rationality and objectivity of the Enlightenment. The garden was originally designed in the Enlightened tradition: the trees are companionably grouped at intervals; the rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged. Lady Croom, who explains these components, is basically embodying the Enlightenment--order and reason. Noakes, embodying Romanticism, wants to add emotion and ''irregularity'' to the garden.
Of course, Tom Stoppard has been accused of being solely an intellectual
and having no heart or emotion (Enlightened vs. Romantic). However, Arcadia,
more so than any of his plays, attempts to reconcile the two periods,
trying to convince the world that both reason and emotion are important
aspects of life, and that one should not detract from the other. This can
be seen throughout the play and will be discussed later.
2. Act I/scene 2/pgs 25-28
Hannah: The Sidley hermit.
Bernard: Who's he?
Hannah: He's my peg for the nervous breakdown of the Romantic Imagination. I'm doing landscape and literature 1750-1834...It's perfect, isn't it? A perfect symbol, I mean.
Bernard: Oh, yes. Of what?
Hannah: The whole Romantic sham, Bernard! It's what happened to the Enlightenment, isn't it? A century of intellectual rigor turned in on itself. A mind in chaos suspected of genius. In a setting of cheap thrills and false emotion...The history of the garden says it all, beautifully. There's an engraving of Sidley Park in 1720 that makes you want to weep. Paradise in the age of reason...The decline from thinking to feeling, you see.
The reason Hannah decides to write her book on the hermit of Sidley Park is to scrutinize Romanticism. Hannah, like Lady Croom, (and, in a certain way, Stoppard) prefers the Enlightenment to Romanticism, because it is logical and concrete. She discovered the hermit, an object of Thomasina's creation (both literally and figuratively), and believes it to be a romantic who has suffered a nervous breakdown, thus perfectly representing the excesses and irrationality, the ''cheap thrills and false emotion'' that she sees in Romanticism. She regards the Enlightenment as a time of great progress, but Romanticism taking all the progress away--in her mind, a ''decline from thinking to feeling.'' To an extent, this could be interpreted as Stoppard warning that the heart and mind need to be balanced instead of at war with each other.
3. Act II, scene 5, pgs 60-62
Bernard: Parameters! You can't stick Byron's head in your laptop! Genius isn't like your average grouse.
Valentine: Well, it's all trivial anyway.
Bernard: What is?
Bernard: I'm sorry--did you say trivial?
Valentine: The questions you're asking don't matter, you see. It's like arguing who got there first with the calculus. The English say Newton, the Germans say Leibnitz. But it doesn't matter . What matters is the calculus. Scientific progress. Knowledge.
Bernard: Really? Why? Why does scientific progress matter more than personalities?
Valentine: Is he serious? Do yourself a favor, you're on a loser.
Bernard: Oh, you're going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I'll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don't confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There's no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle's cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God's crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can't think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars--big bangs, black holes--who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves?
Chloe: Are you against penicillin, Bernard?
Bernard: Don't feed the animals...If knowledge isn't self-knowledge it isn't doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing 'When Father Painted the Parlor'? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. 'She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that's best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.' There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party. (With offensive politeness. ) What is it that you're doing with grouse, Valentine, I'd love to know? (Valentine stands up and it is suddenly apparent that he is shaking and close to tears .)
Valentine: (To Chloe) He's not against penicillin, and he knows I'm not against poetry. (To Bernard) I've given up on the grouse.
Hannah: You haven't, Valentine!
Valentine: (Leaving ) I can't do it.
Valentine: Too much noise. There's just too much bloody noise!
This discourse is one of the defining moments of Arcadia , as well as the most striking example of Enlightenment and Romanticism in the play. In dramatic fashion, Stoppard perfectly expresses the conflict of the two periods as well as his (and Valentine's) desire to reconcile them. Valentine gives his (in the tradition of Enlightened thought) opinion that progress and knowledge matter more than personalities. Bernard then viciously attacks Val, representing Romanticism's violent reaction against the Enlightenment. By portraying Bernard as raving and cruel in his attack on Val, Stoppard reveals his opinion that the Romantic objection to the Enlightenment was far too extreme, as well as commenting on the excesses of the movement. Val's hurt feelings are the damaged reputations of Enlightened thinkers, but his poignant statement that ''he's not against penicillin, and he knows I'm not against poetry...'' is Stoppard's sincere effort to help people realize that we must reconcile the two spirits, the two schools of thought. Science and math do not have to conflict with religion and art, and people can be both objective and subjective. Neither is wrong.
4. Act II/scene 7/pgs 74-76
Hannah: If Bernard can stay ahead of getting the rug pulled till he's dead, he'll be a success.
Valentine: Just like science...The ultimate fear is of posterity...and then there's the afterlife. An afterlife would be a mixed blessing. 'Ah--Bernard Nightingale, I don't believe you know Lord Byron.' It must be heaven up there.
Hannah: You can't believe in an afterlife, Valentine.
Valentine: Oh, you're going to disappoint me at last...Science and religion.
Hannah: No, no, been there, done that, boring.
Hannah: Is it the grouse?
Valentine: Oh, the grouse. The damned grouse.
Hannah: You mustn't give up.
Valentine: Why? Didn't you agree with Bernard?
Hannah: Oh, that. It's all trivial--your grouse, my hermit, Bernard's Byron. Comparing what we're looking for misses the point. It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. That's why you can't believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final..Oh!, but how beautiful!
These passages perfectly summarizes the essence of Stoppard's attitude towards Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hannah says, ''It's wanting to know that makes us matter.'' Precisely. It does not matter what we are interested in, but that we strive to know . Truth and wisdom, goals that all of humanity should strive to attain, are what matter most. The rest is trivial. We should stop arguing and start working together, not simply scientists and theologians, mathematicians and artists, but all people, from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs. Personalities and progress are essential to one another, and through this struggle for truth, we may find the infinite after all.
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