Study Guide

Arcadia Truth

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Arcadia asks some big questions about truth: does it even exist? What gives us grounds for thinking something is true? Is reason the right way to go about seeking truth, or is it better to trust your gut instinct? Arcadia's double storyline, alternating between modern-day researchers and characters in the historical period they're trying to discover the truth about, allows us to see where and how the contemporary truth-seeking process disintegrates – and it's not always where you'd expect. In Arcadia, the "plain and simple truth" is rarely plain and never simple.

Questions About Truth

  1. How do the characters make judgment calls as to whether something's true or not? What kinds of rules do they use for determining truth?
  2. Does literary truth differ from scientific truth in the play? How? What do these two approaches to truth have in common? What might it mean for a poem to be "true"?
  3. How do the nineteenth-century characters' attitudes towards truth compare to those of the modern-day characters?

Chew on This

Hannah's hunch that Septimus is the hermit appears to be true, while Bernard's stubborn conviction that Byron shot Chater is false. The play uses this contrast to suggest that valuing logic in general makes a person's guesses more likely to be correct.

Through focusing on proving that Bernard's theory about Byron is wrong rather than on proving that any theory is right, Arcadia suggests that the process of seeking for truth is really about looking for falsehood.

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