Classicism vs. Romanticism
Classic, Romantic...it's all just old stuff, right? Well, not for the inhabitants of Sidley Park in 1809. The switchover from 1700s to 1800s saw a knock-down battle between two ways of thinking about art, nature, and everything else. In one corner, those favoring Classicism went out swinging for reason, logic, symmetry, order, and science. Facing off with them were the new-fangled Romantics, who championed emotion, passion, irregularity, disorder, and sex. Needless to say, the Romantics thought the Classicists were stuffy old bores, while the Classicists turned up their noses at the wild Romantics' desire to let it all hang out.
Arcadia takes on this debate in both its centuries: the various feuds between Thomasina and Septimus, Lady Croom and Mr. Noakes, Hannah and Valentine, and Bernard and everyone else all more or less boil down to some version of this opposition, and strong arguments are made for both sides. Arcadia's translation of the old Classicism vs. Romanticism showdown into present-day terms suggests that both impulses are still relevant to how we think about the world, and the play's examination of the more chaotic, disorderly elements of science makes us wonder if the two sides are so different after all.