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Arcadia

Arcadia

by Tom Stoppard

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

You wouldn't know it from Arcadia, but Arcadia is a real place that still exists today – it's a region in Greece. But Arcadia has always had more impact on imagination than on politics. Arcadia's geographic separation from the rest of the world has made it a long-standing symbol of a rural paradise, where happy people herd sheep and fall in love, free from the Facebook drama of modern life (see "The Garden" in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more). So when the nineteenth-century Lady Croom refers to the pre-Noakes Sidley Park gardens as "Arcadia," she means that they seem untouched by time.

But Arcadia also has a dark side: the Latin phrase that Lady Croom quotes – "Here I am in Arcadia" – is more accurately translated by Septimus as "Even in Arcadia, there am I." Who is this "I"? Well, the phrase was made famous by a 1642 painting by Nicolas Poussin called "The Arcadian Shepherds," where it appears written on a tomb. The "I" in Arcadia is death, and the phrase is often quoted as a reminder that, even in the most beautiful, peaceful lands, people still die.

Which meanings of Arcadia are most at play in Arcadia? Even with death making house calls, is Arcadia still a nice place to live, or just a fool's paradise? And perhaps more importantly, is there anywhere better we can go?

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