Women in Arcadia Essay
Women in Arcadia
Explore the ways Stoppard presents the characters of Thomasina and Hannah in ‘Arcadia’. Compare the ways Wilde presents the main female protagonist in ‘The importance of being Earnest’ with the way Stoppard presents the women in ‘Arcadia’. How far do you agree that Stoppard’s presentation is more effective? Stoppard uses the characters of Hannah and Thomasina to convey the principal theme; the shift from enlightenment to romanticism . The valiant characters of Thomasina and Hannah are depicted as being ambitious, intuitive and act as the vehicle from where Stoppard is allowed to express his views regarding women in the Victorian era.
Stoppard believes that women were undervalued in a society from where they achieved so much, and by depicting the likes of Thomasina and Hannah as independent, headstrong women, he is demanding the rethink of the archetypal view of Victorian women in the modern era. Hannah Jarvis, in Arcadia encapsulates the enlightenment era; with her emphasis on logical reasoning to reinforce proposed theories and the confrontations between Hannah and Bernard portray the vast differences between the periods of enlightenment and romanticism.
Hannah believes in the ideology of romance being a ‘romantic sham’ and challenging Bernard (who firmly embodies the era) as being ‘reckless’ and completely tarnishing his proposed theory as being ‘bollocks’. Hannah further conveys the more pragmatic concept of the enlightenment period in her dress sense – ‘she wears nothing frivolous’, compared to the ‘flamboyant’ Bernard who Hannah believes is entrapped in the ignorance and false portrayals of romance.
Hannah believes in ‘geometry’, ‘reason’ and ‘intellect’ and therefore is represented as a Newtonian in the play; her idyllic world is deterministic (similarly to that of Newtons) both simultaneously logical and ordered. The relationship between Newton and Hannah is further represented in the fact that ‘Newtons equations go both forward and backwards’ and as Thomasina explained ‘they do not care which way’. The fact that Hannah is a palindromic name, significantly places Hannah in the firm clutches of Newtonian classism. Parallel to Hannah’s investigations is the reoccurring metaphor of the transformation of the garden and hermitage.
The alteration of the Sidley Park garden from the ‘ordered’ and uniformed, to the ‘disordered’ and ‘unrefined’, represents Hannah’s skepticism regarding romanticism. ‘constructing their fake wilderness….. built a fake hermitage’ – the fact that the Hannah views the renovations of the garden as a ‘wilderness’ suggests that Hannah believes romance is unpredictable and therefore dangerous because it clouds logical judgement which is able to move the world forward. Its almost as if she sees romanticism as a inhibitor for the success of academia.
Therefore, Hannah retains the belief that both the hermitage and the garden symbolize ‘the decline from thinking to feeling’; this further reinforcing the idea of the conversion from classical order to romantic chaos. Thomasina, like Hannah, is also used to convey the conversion from enlightenment to romanticism. Thomasina at the age of thirteen exhibits an intellect that is well beyond her age, even her time. At the age of thirteen she is familiar with ‘the second law in thermodynamics’ and has ascended from being her tutors ‘sparring partner’ to ultimately surpassing him with intellectual superiority.
According to her mother, Thomasina has understanding that ‘exceeds anything that we can offer’ and the fact that Lady Croom explains that Thomasina must marry before she becomes ‘over educated’ suggests that Stoppard portrays Thomasina as the reformer who defies the patriarchal role that women played in Victorian society. Thomasina’s proposed solutions are initially dismissed by ‘she speaks from innocence not experience’ and ‘this time you have overreached yourself ‘ – these quotations used by Stoppard represents the ignorance of the modern era regarding the role of women in Victorian society.
The fact that these opinions relating to her thesis are transformed towards the end of the play, with her new concepts being given ‘an Alpha in blind faith’ suggests that Stoppard’s aim through the fall of Thomasina was too convey a message to the audience, relating to the fact that women played a vital role in maintaing ideas that ultimately shape our world today. By the combination of a group of academics and the period they’re researching, Arcadia examines how we piece together the past from its writings and where that process can break down. All of the visible action is situated in the same room in an English country house.
By the action taking place in the same place, Stoppard highlights the similarities between the two plots, and the two eras in which they take place and also suggests that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The final waltz between Hannah and Gus suggests that even the most enlightened of us (thus being Hannah) are liable to romantic tendencies. The end of the play brings all of these themes together, showing that although things may appear to contradict—romanticism and enlightenment, intuition and logic, thought and feeling — they can exist, paradoxically, in the same time and space.
Stoppard, by concluding the play in the middle of the death of Thomasina forces us to think about the storytelling order. Defining a clear beginning, middle, and end to a story helps us to make sense out of chaos, but even so, the play reminds us that beginnings and endings can be just as arbitrary as the steps of a waltz. Thomasina embodies both aspects of romanticism and enlightenment; as well as having these new ‘radical‘ ideas, Thomasina is also interested in the art of sex and love. At the age of 13, she is inquisitive and is almost obsessed with wanting to know more about ‘Carnal embrace’.
The inquisitive nature of Thomasina enforces the point that she is curious but also willing to learn; although not always understanding, she is never afraid to ask, to challenge. Through this, Stoppard successfully portrays Thomasina as being an adventurous and courageous women in 19th century England. The idea of heat (and the second law of thermodynamics) is thus represented through the actions of the characters. They burn bridges in relationships, they burn letters, candles burn, and in the end, it is revealed that Thomasina will burn to death. Through this Stoppard explains that the finality of things is always present.
The language in Arcadia switches between 19th century colloquialisms and modern language. ‘fuck off Bernard’ and ‘you’d have to be there you silly bitch’ compared to the 19th century of “cannot be defended with a platoon of musketry” Stoppard uses both historical and modern speech patterns and lexicons in keeping with his characterizations. This is a stylized dialogue used to convey “look and feel” according to the views of the modern audience. This gives Arcadia a certain degree of authenticity due to the fact that Stoppard expresses both the past and the present accurately without any false assumptions.
Compared to the female protagonists in Arcadia, Cecily and Gwendolyn In the Importance of being Earnest are represented as naive romantics in the play. An example being the love letters written between Cecily and Algernon; in these extracts Cecily is portrayed as being immature and naive, however this was a typical path followed by Victorian women who believed marriage to be of the utmost importance in life. ‘it would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least once.
But I forgave you before the week was out’. The representation of Gwendolyn as the typical patriarchal Victorian women is further enforced by her having the ‘girlish dream’ of marrying a man by the name of Earnest (who she has never met). The name Earnest ‘inspires absolute confidence’ in Gwendolyn and the fact that she explains ‘even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you’ suggests that Gwendolyn’s “ideal” of loving the “name of Earnest” is not based on anything logical or rational; instead, her love of the name ‘Ernest’ is aesthetic.
This in comparison to the protagonist Hannah who’s completely opposed to anything sentimental or romantic. Hannah’s confrontations with both Bernard and Chloe highlight the straightforward personality of Hannah and her ideal of the ‘romantic sham’. The rivalry between Hannah and Bernard or Hannah and Chloe is parallel to that of Gwendolyn and Cecily. Wilde uses a satirical tone and mocking language when characters are arguing about the important topics such as marriage and love, but then adopts a trivial tone while talking about trivial issues such as cake and tea.
This was a way by which Wilde secretly mocked his audience and challenged their misguided priorities in Victorian society. ‘Cake and bread and butter? ’ ‘Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowdays. ’ The contrast between Hannah and Gwendolyn – enlightenment and romance – is further conveyed by the depictions of their image. Wilde portrays Gwendolyn as a women that prides herself and her counterparts on the way they look. “I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when there are other people present.
” Wilde portrays Gwendolyn as being vain; concerned about her appearance in the eyes of others. This further suggests that Gwendolyn wants men to look at her in a desirous way, as if she specifically needs male influences to validate her. This in contrast to Hannah who is classically reserved and ‘wears nothing frivolous. ’ I would agree with the statement that ‘Stoppard presents the female characters more effectively’ than Wilde, to a certain extent.
Stoppard’s female characters exhibit a greater degree of complexity and aptitude such as Thomasina’s embodiment from the shift from the somewhat dry ideals of the enlightenment to the emotional and more attached elements of romanticism. The fatal ending also gives us an insight to Stoppard views on the drastic limitations of romanticism. Hannah, who is surely Stoppard nearest representative in the play symbolizes all aspects of the enlightenment period. Wilde, contrastingly highlights the upper class stereotypes and characters by giving us a light hearted insight into Victorian society.
Gwendolyn represents a typical upper class women in the Victorian era who is educated to a certain extent but the idea of marriage and finding the ‘idyllic’ love is her main drive. Similarly like Thomasina’s depiction of Cleopatra, Gwendolyn allows love and sex to stand in the way of her education. Both Stoppard and Wilde use different writing techniques to convey their complex characters personalities; Hannah’s complex monologues are used by Stoppard to reflect the intellect and rational approach of enlightenment while Gwendolyn’s romantic dialogue tentatively mocks some of the attitude of the Victorian upper classes.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 6 July 2017
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