How is Thomasina presented by Stoppard in "Arcadia"

Topics: Human Nature

In “Arcadia”, Tom Stoppard uses many different techniques and methods to affect our opinion of Thomasina, one of the main characters in the play. Many of these techniques are successful, as by the end of the play the majority of the audience will have formed a strong opinion of Thomasina. The opening few lines that she speaks in the play are all questions; immediately this gives a good first impression as the audience can see that Thomasina is not afraid to be inquisitive.

She asks, “Septimus, what is carnal embrace? We can then see that she is not satisfied with the answer she is given, leading her to ask, “Is that all? ” This gives the impression that she is very clever and not afraid to ask questions of her elders. In the first scene, this creates a favourable opinion as the audience can sense that Thomasina will be an interesting character to have in the play. We are also given the slight idea by Stoppard that Thomasina does not ask the questions entirely in innocence, and has perhaps simply asked them to make Septimus nervous.

This again makes the audience feel that she is very intelligent. It also creates ambiguity around the character for the audience as they are curious to Thomasina’s true personality. The audience is clearly shown Thomasina’s intelligence throughout the play; she constructs her arguments as well (sometimes better) as any adults around her or those that we see in the future. When asked what she knows of carnal embrace (having brought the subject up to deflect attention from Septimus), she replies: “Everything, thanks to Septimus.

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In my opinion, Mr Noakes’s scheme for the garden is perfect. It is a Salvator! ” This method of deflection of attention onto her by Thomasina is extremely clever, as she senses the trouble Septimus has got himself into and quickly takes control of the situation. By saying more than one point that she can be questioned on, (both “Everything, thanks to Septimus”, and “It is a Salvator! “), she gives Septimus time to think of an explanation. This is because the audience can then see that the adults in the scene are trying to follow Thomasina’s diversion of the conversation.

Both Lady Croom and Mr Noakes become confused, highlighting Thomasina’s clear intelligence over them to the audience. Her intelligence and knowledge also makes the audience feel inferior to Thomasina, as there are points in the play when it is hard for us to understand exactly what she means. The audience also warms to Thomasina more because of this, as she has helped Septimus out. Also, as it the line almost lands Septimus in a lot of trouble, the audience begins to wonder about her motives – again, this creates curiosity around the character and we find her more interesting.

Although for much of the play the audience could feel inferior to Thomasina, there are also times in the play when the audience is made to feel other emotions towards her, which make us feel superior. In the opening scene, Lady Croom asks Thomasina “How old are you this morning? ” This line from Lady Croom demonstrates to the audience that she clearly does not spend any time with her daughter, so little that she does not even know her age. She also asks her age again later on in the play. This discovery makes the audience feel sorry for Thomasina, as we are led to believe she has had little affection shown towards her in her life.

Members of the audience are most likely to be sympathetic with her as opposed to looking down on her because of it – this is because we begin to understand how she might be feeling. When Thomasina and Septimus are talking of Cleopatra, the audience also finds out that Thomasina is very sceptical about love in general. She says: “It only needs a Roman general to drop anchor outside the window and away goes the Emperor like a christening mug into a pawn shop”. This line appears to be said with a bitter tone of voice.

As the line in general is based on the concept of love, this makes the audience feel quite sad, as Thomasina is so young and would perhaps feel that someone as young as she is should not be so bitter. It also gives the impression again that she has not seen a lot of love, both around her and towards her in her life. This would have been common in rich families in the 19th century, with many wealthy mothers having too many social engagements to permanently take care of any children. The audience also feels sorry for her when Septimus cons her into translating a very difficult piece of Latin.

We see her struggle with the translations, and end up with something that does not flow very well. As this is the first time in the play when we see her intellectually struggling with something, it is one of the first real moments when we do not feel inferior. In this way she becomes more of a natural character to the audience as it is more child-like. However, upon being shown in the play that she has been tricked by Septimus, the audience immediately feels sorry for her. This is a clever method by Stoppard to make the audience pity Thomasina, and perhaps relate to her more.

The power struggle between Septimus and Thomasina is ongoing throughout the play, and the audience can see that there has been no real winner in it so far. Thomasina calls Septimus a “Cheat! ” several times in quick succession, and she is incredibly angry with him. This fact that she is so visibly upset makes it clear to the audience that she is disappointed – disappointed that Septimus would result to such low methods to get the power back. We then feel sorry for Thomasina, as Septimus is probably the person that the audience sees her closest to in the play, having seen that she receives little attention from her family.

It is also the first time that we have seen her quite so vulnerable – and one of the few times in the entire play that she shows such strong emotion towards anyone. Many children in those times would have had tutors, but it probably would have been rare for the relationship between them to be so close. As she reacts so fiercely to Septimus’ actions, in a way it undermines her previous speech on the downfalls of love – the outburst of emotion perhaps gives the audience the impression that she was indeed putting on a front in earlier scenes.

Again, this makes the audience feel sympathy towards Thomasina as it helps us to realise how lonely she is. The relationship between Thomasina and Septimus is in complete contrast to the one between Bernard and Chloe – Thomasina and Septimus have many intellectual conversations and seem to enjoy each other’s company. There also seems to be more respect between them. Having two pairs of people in the different time periods shows the differences in the times – i. e. that there was much more formality and politeness in the earlier times.

The conversation is also more contrasted, mainly in that Bernard and Chloe talk more about their personal lives with each other than Septimus and Thomasina do. I think that this shows that people in modern times are much less reserved than they used to be, and are more prepared to talk about feelings etc. It also illustrates that perhaps it was not usual to discuss personal lives at all – let alone with people that are not family members. This might seem to the audience today as a strange occurrence, and might be perceived as very private behaviour, when in actual fact it was very common and all conversation was very reserved.

Thomasina as a character is also used by Stoppard to create a lot of the humour in the play, both indirectly and directly. A large source of the humour is her conversation and argument with Septimus. She argues with Septimus over natural equations, leading to the line “Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet”. This produces humour in the scene, and the audience is again impressed that she can understand this concept fully enough to makes jokes on the subject. The humour comes from the fact that she has managed to undermine her tutor’s argument with one simple witty line.

Quite a large proportion of the humour comes from Thomasina’s intelligence and wit. During the play, there is much technical conversation about maths and science, both from the older characters and the modern ones. The humour that comes from Thomasina’s intelligence helps to lighten the tone of various scenes in the play. For example, in an early scene, Thomasina and Septimus are discussing free will. The language that is used in the technical conversation could feasibly make it hard for the majority of the audience to follow – therefore making the tone of the scene serious. However, Thomasina then announces “Oh!

I see now! The answer is perfectly obvious! ” As the conversation has previously been so puzzling, the way she decides she knows the answer is humorous to the audience. Added to this, the facial expression of Septimus would be quite shocked that Thomasina knows the answer, again bringing humour to the scene. In this way, Stoppard ensures that the audience likes Thomasina as a character and a person – for comedy value if nothing else. The witty lines she brings to the play also ensures any audiences do not see her as a boring character – they give the character of Thomasina more depth.

A main technique of presenting Thomasina to the audience is by using the other characters in the play, from the old and modern scenes. A part of this is by having the character of Chloe in the modern time, who is both a contrasting and a similar character to Thomasina. Chloe is a much more aggressive, modern style character who uses far less informal language than Thomasina does during the play. She also seems less innocent than Thomasina. For example, Chloe says, “If you don’t want him, I’ll have him. Is he married? This is a suggestive thing to say – a direct contrast to Thomasina’s opening line “What is carnal embrace? ” Having this contrast with the more direct Chloe makes Thomasina seem much more naive, which again gives the audience the feeling of superiority.

An audience is more likely to relate to a character that they do not feel inferior to – so this is a clever method of Stoppard’s to push the audience into liking Thomasina. However, both characters are curious and inquisitive, asking the question “Do you think I’m the first person to think of this? I think that this illustrates that both Thomasina and Chloe have new ideas and are not afraid to be different. As Chloe is more of an outgoing character than Thomasina, this might make audiences subconsciously think of Thomasina as more entertaining also. The differences in time and tradition in the play become more apparent as the play continues – we see similarities and differences between various characters. The biggest obvious contrast is the behaviour of the characters, as in the earlier time they are much more polite to one another and use more formal language.

This is why Chloe has such a large effect on the perception of Thomasina – Chloe uses slang terms occasionally and swears, whereas Thomasina is very polite and it is clear to see a lot of emphasis was put on manners in that time. These differences help the audience to see Thomasina as more innocent compared to both Chloe’s time and the time in which they are watching they play. The audience also would like her more because of it – the language differences put Thomasina in a favourable light compared to many children her age today, also.

Audience reactions today would also be different than in previous times, for example a girl enjoying maths and science is not unusual today and would not be much of a shock, but in the time of Thomasina it would have been considered strange (shown by the reactions of Lady Croom). The reactions of characters in earlier time periods are contrasting in points in the play, and this creates interest for the current audience as we are curious to see why these opinions are so. Another character that has a large effect on how we see Thomasina is Septimus, her tutor.

The power struggle and arguments between them both have a large effect on how the audience views Thomasina. The relationship between them also has an effect on this. At the start of the play, they are sat down in a formal manner, introduced as tutor and pupil, and an audience might expect the relationship to be that way. However, there are many short, sharp exchanges between them in the play, such as this one: Thomasina: You did not like my discovery? Septimus: A fancy is not a discovery. Thomasina: A gibe is not a rebuttal.

This exchange shows off how sharp they both are, but it also illustrates how intelligent Thomasina must be to keep up and even surpass his arguments. Audiences therefore respect her for realising she is clever enough to argue with him. At stages during the play, we see how Thomasina tries to impress Septimus – and often tries to get his attention. For example, mid-way through the play she suddenly states, “Mama is in love with Lord Byron”. This would seem a shameless attempt to get Septimus to take interest in her, as he is engrossed in a book.

However, I do not think audiences would see it as a spoilt thing to do – many people would realise that Thomasina is just lonely as she has had little attention from her parents. Using Septimus as a friend to Thomasina is a clever technique by Stoppard to involve the audience and compel them to pity Thomasina. Within the earlier scenes in the play, Thomasina’s intellect and wit mean that the audience sees her as a very mature character, and perhaps do not see her acting as if she is a young teenager.

Therefore when she uses language that the audience might have expected her to use before the play began it seems as if she is being overly childish. At a few points during the play, we see Thomasina use word and phrases such as: “Eurghhh! ” “Oh, goody” and “Oh, phooey”. These lines in the play are such a contrast to her usual scientific terms that the audience sees them as very childish – perhaps endearing her further to the audience as it means that her language is, for once, inferior to that of an adult.

By presenting Thomasina as a mature person, Stoppard creates an image of her that the audience can like – both with the childish and the advanced language. Thomasina is also a contrasting type of person to the majority of modern teenagers; her language, hobbies, and manner are all of a very different style than they would be today. She is much more innocent than teenagers today are perceived, and this could also make her more endearing to modern-day audiences. The childish language she sometimes uses, such as “Pooh! again illustrates this, as it is very un-aggressive and innocent compared to much of the language used today.

As through the majority of the play the audience sees Thomasina as very intellectual and scientific, it is quite a dramatic change later on when she suddenly becomes more outgoing. In a later scene when Thomasina is older, she is fixated on learning to dance, and one of her speeches about it is: “I must waltz, Septimus! I will be despised if I do not waltz! It is the most fashionable and gayest and boldest invention conceivable – started in Germany! ”

This speech from Thomasina is extremely unlike her way of speaking – it is filled with superlatives (“gayest”, “boldest” etc) which it itself is not too unusual, unless it is combined with the fact she is talking about dancing and it becomes strange as previously she has not cared for that sort of thing. She also calls dancing an “invention” which is bizarre coming from Thomasina, who the audience knows is a scientific type of character and person. The audience is able to sense that she is trying to be different but are unsure of the reason – this is a clever technique of Stoppard’s to get the audience feeling more involved in the play.

Because of this new side to her, the audience also become fonder of Thomasina as a character and a person, as she suddenly gains more dimensions as a character. It is a subtle technique by the playwright of adapting the main opinion the audience has of Thomasina – which is important as by this stage we are reaching the end of the play. It is also a complete contrast to her earlier speech about Cleopatra and love – which again shows the change in her personality in the play. One major factor of the play that greatly affects how the audience perceives Thomasina is the fact that the whole play is set in two different time periods.

With the more modern characters attempting to find out about Thomasina, the audience is indirectly told pieces of information about her and the entire household. When we are informed that Thomasina was entirely correct about the mathematical method that she was working on, and that “It hasn’t been around for much longer than, well, call it twenty years”, and that “it’s publishable” the audience realises that Thomasina really was a genius and could have been famous – as she had wished. This is ironic as in a way she was put down by Septimus for attempting the equations.

Audience reaction to this would be split; part of them would feel sad that Thomasina was right all along, but this fact could also be perceived as satisfying for the audience. Having the modern characters in the play enables the audience to find out additional information, and so feel closer to the characters and more involved in the later stages of the play. The two time periods also drastically affect how we see the ending of the play, and how we perceive Thomasina towards the end of it.

As we find out about Thomasina’s death indirectly through the modern characters, it builds up further sadness for the audience than it otherwise might have done. Valentine says “Oh… the girl who died in the fire! ” We are also told “she was dead before she had time to be famous”. As the characters in the modern day did not know Thomasina, they state that she has died very bluntly. Using the word “girl” shows to the audience that now she is just another person that lived a long time ago, i. e. emphasising that there is nothing special about her.

It is also a very casual word, showing that the modern characters do not really care about her death – and have no reason to. This shocks the audience as we did not expect this to happen, and gives the impression of one person being very insignificant in the overall scale of time. This creates even further pity for Thomasina in the final stages of the play, as the audience knows what will happen to her. It also saddens the audience somewhat as we felt close to Thomasina in the earlier stages of the play.

Telling us the outcome of the play before it reaches it is a subtle technique by Tom Stoppard of affecting the audience’s final opinion of Thomasina. The overall ending of the play creates a lot of emotion around and about Thomasina, as the audience already knows what is going to happen. Thomasina is adamant that Septimus will teach her how to waltz. It is the first time during the play that we see Thomasina do anything rebellious or remotely outgoing. The candle is specifically mentioned in the scene, Septimus warns her “Be careful with the flame”.

This increases the sadness for the audience as we know she dies in the fire, and is a clever technique of Stoppard’s to make the audience remember what will happen. However, in this scene we last see Thomasina happy as she has learnt to waltz as she wished. I think this scene is generated the way it is by Stoppard to ensure that the audience remembers Thomasina as a character with lots of depth. We also feel a lot of sadness for and towards her as we have seen Thomasina grow up. As she managed to fulfil her ambition to learn to waltz, however, it also has a slightly happy undertone as she would have died after doing something she wanted.

The change that Thomasina undergoes throughout the play ensures that the audience can relate to her much more than might have been though at the beginning of the play. I think Stoppard would have planned this change in her character from the start so that he could manipulate the audience into really becoming fond of the one of the main characters in the play. The success of the play, in part, will depend on how the audience views Thomasina, and this is why the techniques Stoppard uses to present her to the audience are so important.

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How is Thomasina presented by Stoppard in "Arcadia". (2017, Oct 19). Retrieved from

How is Thomasina presented by Stoppard in "Arcadia"
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