Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Some critics have suggested that the dazzling intellectual display inStoppard’s plays comes at the expense of genuine emotional engagement.We are amused, intrigued, even educated but we do not feel any realsympathy for his characters. How far do you find this true of Arcadia?
The first thing we notice about this play is its intellectualbrilliance. The characters are amusing and we are interested in howthey relate to each other. As the play goes on, however, we do notfind it easy to care about most of Stoppard’s characters. In order toassess whether the critics are making a fair judgement of the play, itis necessary to explore in more depth how a writer creates sympathyfor his characters and to analyse the extent to which Stoppard hasdone this in Arcadia.
When the audience is emotionally involved with characters they reactin a particular way. The audience would feel for the characters,caring what happens to them during the course of the play. Also theaudience would identify with each main character and understand theirmotives and reactions during the play.
In Arcadia Thomasina makes us feel sympathetic because she is innocentand vulnerable. Thomasina, during the play’s opening conversation,says to Septimus, ‘if you do not teach me the true meaning of things,who will?’ This makes her seem innocent because she does not knowabout sex and the world and also it makes her seem as if she is alonein the world. The audience feels compassionate towards her as aresult. Thomasina gains our sympathy because innocent and exposedindividuals make us feel protective. However, none of the othercharacters seem to need looking after and therefore we do not feelsorry for …
…lever use of shifting time frameswhich interact and overlap. The past and the present do not remainseparate but seem to connect, which is one of the possibilities raisedby chaos theory.
In conclusion I agree with the critics who suggest that Stoppard’splays are more remarkable for their ‘dazzling, intellectual display’rather than ‘any genuine emotional’ involvement. The audience’spleasure derives from having their minds teased, execised andstimulated. They are likely to leave the theatre discussing ideasrather than feelings. However, without the characters’ individualitythe play would not be able to convey these ideas effectively to theaudience, so I do not think that the intellectual display is achievedat the expense of genuine emotional involvement. Instead, it gives theideas their rightful place in the play: as the most important element.