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Arcadia

thomasina sidley action piece

a play by Tom Stoppard, first performed and published in 1993. The action of this intricately plotted piece occurs in a mansion called Sidley Park in both the early nineteenth and late twentieth centuries, which allows the same room, often identically furnished, to be used for both periods. Half of the action concerns the Coverly family, in particular the adolescent Thomasina, an embryonic mathematical genius who stumbles on a Second Law of Thermodynamics, among other things. The other half is mainly concerned with the efforts of an academic, Bernard Nightingale, to prove that Byron not only visited the estate but was forced to flee Britain after killing a minor poet in a duel there. His thesis proves to be false, but its unravelling gives the piece much of its tension and, emphasizing as it does the unreliability of probability and the elusiveness of truth, some of its meaning. The overall theme, as befits a play occurring both during the Romantic period and at a time still assessing the implications of Chaos Theory, may be summed up as the breakdown of order: in physics and mathematics, in writing, in sexual mores, and, since Sidley Park is being replanned according to neo-Gothic principles, even in landscape gardening. The premature death of Thomasina, and the shattering effect she and her thinking have on her tutor Septimus, add a strongly emotional dimension to what is always a witty and intelligent comedy of ideas.

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