Study Guide

Arcadia Time

By Tom Stoppard

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Arcadia links time to entropy – the idea that everything in the universe is getting more and more randomly distributed, until it's all total disorder (think about a bag of cookies in your backpack slowly getting crushed to crumbs – or what would happen to your room if you never cleaned it). No matter what we do to create order, in the long run it's doomed to be destroyed – so why do anything at all? Arcadia's surprisingly cheerful struggle to answer this question may even make you want to go home and do some tidying.

Questions About Time

  1. If you gave Hannah a time machine, do you think she would go back to 1809 to find out what really happened? Would Bernard? Why or why not?
  2. What effect does the alternation between historical periods have on how we make sense of Arcadia's story? How would the play be different if it were just set in the present day or in the past?
  3. Based on what we see of the nineteenth century in the play, do you agree or disagree with Bernard's statement that "time was different" then (2.5)? In what sense could time be different?

Chew on This

By showing the passage of time producing more and more disorder, Arcadia counters the narrative of continuous scientific progress.

Valentine says that "there's an order things can't happen in" (2.7), but the play's jumping between different historical periods suggests that order is more flexible when it comes to storytelling. Juxtaposing these different models of time suggests that order is an interpretation imposed on events rather than inherent in the events themselves.

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