Burning Out in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia

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Burning Out in Tom Stoppard’s ArcadiaHumanity has no intention of fading away, but rather has designed, by its nature, a flash before death, a burning out, if you will. Inherent in the human character is a desire to fight until the end, whether it be physically, or intellectually. In Arcadia, Septimus describes life as a processional march, telling Thomasina, “The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march” (Stoppard 38). But as we die, we don’t simply allow ourselves to pass into the distance. We push our muscles to the limit, breathing harder and harder until we fall. The people of this earth do not follow the uncomplicated universal pattern of slowly giving up hot for cold. Despite human understanding of this pattern, and the ultimate fate of ending up cold even after the flash, our “noise,” as Valentine calls it, love and sex and other various distractions, affects our life equation, and makes Thomasina’s death in a fire all too appropriate.

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As Hannah and Valentine discuss the mysteries of Sidely Park, Valentine argues that everything in the universe progresses from heat to cold. He illustrates, “It’s a one way street. Your tea will end up at room temperature…[it] is happening to everything everywhere. The sun and the stars…we’re all going to end up at room temperature” (Stoppard 78). Hannah, appearing to support Valentine’s statement, recites a section of Lord Byron’s “Darkness”:

I had a dream that was not all a dream

The bright sun was extinguished,

and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in

the moonless air… (Stoppard 79)Hannah, however, is refuting Valentine’s statement, not supporting it, as is evidenced by the rest of Byron’s poem, which goes on to say:…all hearts

Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light

And they did live by watch fires…

The habitations of all things which dwell

Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,

And men were gather’d round their blazing homes

To look once more into each other’s face…

Forests were set on fire – but hour by hour

They fell and faded – and the crackling trunks

Extinguished with a crash – and all was black… (Byron 31)

“Darkness” implies that as the universe gets colder, humanity, in an effort to stay alive, burns the earth for warmth.

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