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Themes

Barring a time machine, how do we know about the past? One big way is through texts – reading what people wrote about themselves and other people. But, as anyone who's kept a diary (or read someone else's) knows, people are not always the most accurate record-keepers, even when they're trying to be. And then there's the fact that paper has an unfortunate tendency to get destroyed or otherwise go missing. By bringing to life both a group of scholars and the period they're researching, Arcadia examines how we piece together the past from its writings – and where that process can break down.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. What kind of knowledge can we get from literature or other writing, according to the play? What can't we know?
  2. In what ways is writing unreliable as a clue to what actually happened?
  3. Though the characters spend a lot of time talking about Lord Byron, he never appears on stage. How might the play be different if we actually got to meet Byron?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By portraying researchers who misunderstand the historical documents they're pursuing, Arcadia suggests that historical knowledge is always deeply problematic.

While Bernard promotes literary study as bringing about "self-knowledge" (2.5), his own lack of self-knowledge undermines his arguments emphasizing literature over science.

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