Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade July 2001

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Throughout "˜Arcadia', Stoppard uses the motif of the garden to explore the differences between classical and Romantic characters, and the change from strict order into specially designed chaos that the garden goes through, is reflected both in Hannah, Bernard, Thomasina and Valentine, as well as the play as a whole. Indeed, the fact that Stoppard called his play "˜Arcadia', that is a garden idyll: paradise on earth, indicates how significant the garden is and how much it represents.

On a very basic level, the garden at Sidney Park is the setting for many small, yet often important events. The gazebo, in particular, is where several illicit affairs take place, between Septimus and Mrs Chater and of course between Lord Byron and Lady Croom. Most significantly, perhaps, after the gazebo is turned into a hermitage by Mr Noakes, Septimus lives out the rest of his life there, trying to prove Thomasina's theories.

This change from the gazebo to hermitage is only part of the transformation that take up much discussion of Act One of "˜Arcadia'. The change manifests itself in three main stages, and forms the basis of what Hannah is writing about, therefore forming one of the strongest links between past and present: Hannah "" "˜It's what happened to the Enlightenment, isn't it? A century of intellectual rigour turned in on itself. A mind in chaos suspected of genius.' The garden starts off as a perfect example of the classical style; a "˜paradise in the age of reason' of ordered straight line and geometrical forms. Then, the landscape gardener Capability Brown transforms it into a picturesque and fake "˜wilderness' designed to appear completely natural and "˜as God intended', while it is in fact completely artificial and stylised. This, however, is what Lady Croom seems to value: "˜The slopes are green and gentle. The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage"¦ contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged'.

Finally Mr Noakes, inspired by Salvador Rosa's paintings and by gothic novels, forms the garden into a carefully organized chaos, with "˜an eruption of gloomy forest and towering crag' and of "˜water dashing against rocks' and "˜a fallen obelisk overgrown with briars'.

Besides merely giving us examples of the Classical and Romantic styles, Stoppard uses the garden to point out the irony of making a completely "˜natural' scene, when in fact each stage is more artificial and man-made than the last. The Classical, ordered garden, is perhaps the most honest, as it at least makes no attempt to appear "˜as God intended', unlike the carefully planned placing of each craggy boulder or crumbling ruin in the Romantic stage.

The motif of the garden and its gradual transformation becomes more significant when seen in relation to the play's characters and some of their developments. Thomasina's insistence, for example, that Newton's laws of motion can explain life and the natural word, has a very classical, structured feel to it: "˜If you could stop every alarm atom in its positions 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'.

In direct contrast to Thomasina, Valentine has a much more Romantic temperament, in that he loves is tremendously enthusiastic about the idea of chaos, unpredictability and realising how little we can actually explain by science, relativity and quantum: "˜It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong'. Similarly, Bernard, acting as he does on gut instinct and intuition rather than solid facts, is also more of a Romantic. Even the way he is so obsessed with getting fame and riches that he has his whole future mapped out, really the artificial nature of the gothic garden.

Perhaps the most interesting link between the garden motif and character is that with Hannah, for she seems to go through a similar transformation. She begins the play as a committed classicist, talking of "˜sublime geometry' and being "˜quite sentimental' over it. The main theme of her book is even "˜The decline from Thinking to Feeling', implying strongly that she is sceptical and mistrusting of Bernard's own gut feelings.

By the last scene of the play however, dancing with Gus and being doubled in time by Septimus and Thomasina also dancing, Hannah seems to have descended into chaos and Romanticism, just as the gardens does.

Stoppard's skill, however, is in ensuring that the garden's transformation reflects not only the individual characters in his play, but on the entire piece. For one of the main themes of "˜Arcadia', the development of science and more importantly, scientific thinking, undergoes a similar transformation. Beginning with the early nineteenth century premise that Newton, relativity and quantum explain everything, the play continues to remind us that while these theories work for the atomically small and for the entire universe, everything in between is unpredictable, random and chaotic. Just as the Romantic garden appears disordered yet is planned and designed down to the last detail, so patterns emerge in real life. The ending of the play too, with its image of ashes thrown up into the air, dispersed yet intricately linked, contains patterns within the chaos of past and present intertwined.

In this way, the motif of the gardens extends throughout "˜Arcadia', into the characters, the themes and the very structure, and forming as it does a web of links between past and present, is highly significant.