Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

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The author of Arcadia, Tom Stoppard, uses a lot of irony and incorporates a web of relationships and coincidences into his plays that can get a bit confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the things that he makes reference to. In the play, on page thirteen, Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother, compares Mr. Noakes’ landscape style to that of Ann Radcliffe’s and Horace Walpole’s imagery, both of which were Gothic novelists of the eighteenth century. The author’s purpose in including this bit is interesting, especially if you are familiar with the novels he refers to. Here’s some help:

This novel was first published in 1764. The plot takes place in Italy in the Twelfth century. The main characters of the book include: Manfred, the illegitimate Prince of Otranto; Hippolita, Manfred’s wife; Matilda, 18, Manfred’s daughter; Conrad, 15, Manfred’s son – “the darling of his father”; Isabella, Conrad’s fiance; Father Jerome, a priest; Theodore, a young peasant and the actual Prince of Otranto; and the Knight of the Gigantic Saber, Isabella’s father.

Manfred, the illegal prince of Otranto, arranged a marriage between his young son, Conrad, and the daughter of the Marquis of Vicanza, Isabella. The people of the town attributed the marriage of Conrad at such a young age to Manfred’s fear of an ancient prophecy. The prophecy stated that the Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.

On the day of the wedding, a large helmet appeared in the courtyard of the castle. When the family and all the guests saw the helmet, they noticed Conrad, crushed, underneath it. Theodore noticed that the helmet looked like the one on the statue of Prince Alfonso the Good. Another peasant rushed to the chapel to compare the two helmets. When he returned he told the crowd that the helmet was missing from Prince Alfonso’s head. Manfred accused Theodore of being a magician and murdering the heir to Otranto.

When evening came Manfred told Isabella of his plans to divorce Hippolita and marry her in hopes that he might have a male heir. Having been told all this, Isabella ran away through the underground tunnels of the castle. In no time she was lost, but she found Theodore in the tunnels and he helped her find her way out to a nearby church. Manfred searched for the missing Isabella and instead found Theodore in the underground passage.

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