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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Tom Stoppard

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To purchase Arcadia

Title: Arcadia
Author: Tom Stoppard
Genre: Drama
Written: 1993
Length: 97 pages
Availability: Arcadia - US
(also in: Tom Stoppard Plays: Five - US)
Arcadia - UK
(also in: Tom Stoppard Plays: Five - UK)
Arcadia - Canada
(also in Tom Stoppard: Plays 5 - Canada)
Arcadia - France
Arkadien - Deutschland
Arcadia - Italia

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Our Assessment:

A+ : a virtuoso performance, as entertaining on the page as on the stage

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Antioch Review A Spring/1996 David Guaspari
Daily Mail . 14/4/1993 Jack Tinker
Daily Telegraph . 26/5/1994 Charles Spencer
Entertainment Weekly . 17/3/2011 Melissa Rose Bernardo
Evening Standard . 14/4/1993 Nicholas de Jongh
Evening Standard A 5/6/2009 Henry Hitchings
Financial Times . 22/5/2009 Simon Schama
Financial Times . 5/6/2009 Sarah Hemming
The Guardian . 14/4/1993 Michael Billington
The Guardian B 24/8/2000 Michael Billington
The Guardian A+ 23/10/2002 Lyn Gardner
The Guardian A 5/6/2009 Michael Billington
The Hudson Review . Summer/1995 Richard Hornby
The Independent . 15/4/1993 Paul Taylor
The Independent . 24/9/2004 Robert Gore-Langton
The Independent A- 5/6/2009 Michael Coveney
The Nation A- 1/5/1995 Tim Appelo
The New Republic B 17/7/1995 Robert Brustein
New York . 17/3/2011 Scott Brown
The NY Rev. of Books A 8/6/1995 Anne Barton
The NY Times A+ 31/3/1995 Vincent Canby
The NY Times A+ 10/6/2009 Matt Wolf
The NY Times . 18/3/2011 Ben Brantley
The New Yorker C 28/3/2011 Hilton Als
The Observer . 18/4/1993 Michael Coveney
The Observer . 7/6/2009 Emma John
San Francisco Chronicle . 20/10/1995 Steven Winn
Scientific American A 7/1997 Tim Beardsley
The Spectator A- 24/4/1993 Sheridan Morley
The Spectator . 10/6/2009 Lloyd Evans
Sunday Times . 7/6/2009 Sam Leith
The Telegraph . 20/6/2008 Mark Brown
The Telegraph . 6/6/2009 Charles Spencer
Time . 19/7/1993 William A. Henry III
Time A+ 10/4/1995 Brad Leithauser
The Times . 14/4/1993 Benedict Nightingale
TLS . 23/4/1993 Marilyn Butler
USA Today A 21/3/2011 Elysa Gardner
Virginia Q. Rev. A Fall/1995 Joseph Hynes
Wall Street Journal . 29/5/2009 Terry Teachout
Wall Street Journal . 18/3/2011 Terry Teachout
The Washington Post B+ 20/12/1996 Lloyd Rose
The Washington Post . 19/3/2004 Celia Wren
The Washington Post . 15/5/2009 Peter Marks

  Review Consensus:

  All admire Stoppard's erudition, wordplay, and clever and intricate plotting, but most voice concern about there being too much intellectual preening on Stoppard's part. Many had (or claim to have had) difficulties understanding aspects of the play.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is that rare thing, a toothsome entertainment that also thrills us with a dozen strange thoughts before bedtime. (...) The play is -- if this synopsis leaves any doubt -- curious, sophisticated and killingly funny." - Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

  • "Arcadia unfolds in that wonderland of mirth. But just utter the name of a minor character -- Plautus the tortoise -- and the Roman playwright sidles in dressed as Lewis Carroll, carrying a bundle of wistful grief beneath the chuckling. Like no one else writing today, Stoppard knows how to make us smile and how to wipe it off our chops." - Simon Schama, Financial Times

  • "Art and science, man and nature, predictability and unpredictability, romanticism and classicism, intellect and passion: Stoppard lines up supposed opposites and shows how they collide and overlap. The audience, given the privilege of cheating time, is able to piece together patterns in a way the characters cannot achieve. We see the reach of intellectual endeavour curtailed by the time or place of birth, but we also see the baton passed on. This is immensely poignant, as is the one constant in both periods: the unfathomable factor of sudden, unexpected love." - Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

  • "The play is a fantastically ingenious construct, but it lacks a strong internal dynamic, and Wood's production, explanatory rather than emotional, makes you aware of the lack of narrative propulsion." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Enchanting is not the word that would immediately spring to mind when describing a play that deals with fractal geometry, iterated algorithms, chaos theory and the second law of thermodynamics, but it is a perfect fit for Tom Stoppard's astonishing 1993 play, which is as beautiful as it is brilliant. This is one Stoppard drama that you don't have to be Einstein to understand -- you can feel it as well as think it. (...) Breathtaking, exhilarating and deeply satisfying." - Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

  • "Tom Stoppard's 1993 play gets richer with each viewing (...) What makes the play both moving and intriguing is that one group of characters seeks to plot the future while the other tries to reconstruct the past." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "The play is often very funny, but the easy superiority of the structural gags would pall if, alongside this comic demonstration of the past's irrecoverability, Stoppard didn't also give you a wistful sense that the back- and-forth motion is art's attempt to belie the bleak conclusion to which Thomasina's science eventually leads: that all equations are not reversible as in the 'timeless' Newtonian universe and that time moves in only one direction. So when the past and present merge in the dream-like final sequence, it feels like the temporal counterpart to the play's artful blurring of a whole set of distinctions and antitheses." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "If you want a seriously brainy whodunit, look no further than Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. (...) There's a lot of more upmarket explanation of chaos theory -- but for me Stoppard does this less well than Jeff Goldblum managed in Jurassic Park. The play is perhaps best when it puts down the blackboard chalk, so to speak." - Robert Gore-Langton, The Independent

  • "I've never resolved whether Stoppard is too clever for me or just too clever for himself, but it's nothing but joy to let his propositions roll around the theatre. Every line has a charge and a new meaning, every scene a question. (...) I still can't decide what the play wants to be about: but an evening that gives such pure uncomplicated pleasure on so many complicated matters is a rarity and a cause for general rejoicing." - Michael Coveney, The Independent

  • "Arcadia's plots may leave the play with more characters than it can comfortably handle, but the main ones describe an elegant arabesque worthy of Mandelbrot himself." - Tim Appelo, The Nation

  • "Arcadia is a highly literate, ingenious and intelligent theatrical entertainment, probably Stoppard's most accomplished play. But while one must respect the playwright's wit and erudition, it strikes me as the work of a brilliant impersonator rather than a dramatist with his own authentic voice. The play smells more of the lamp than of the musk of human experience." - Robert Brustein, The New Republic

  • "In it, suspense, sexual tension and an almost geological patience are all one: As the humans on stage scurry about with their little seductions and discoveries, the great tectonic mass of the playís foundational intellect sits back and watches it all unfold. (...) Sex hangs over Arcadia like a fine English fog, and personally, Iíd have preferred it even thicker. Nothing sets off Stoppardís crystalline intellect like a nice, rude intrusion of carnality and folly." - Scott Brown, New York

  • "There's no doubt about it. Arcadia is Tom Stoppard's richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio and, new for him, emotion. It's like a dream of levitation: you're instantaneously aloft, soaring, banking, doing loop-the-loops and then, when you think you're about to plummet to earth, swooping to a gentle touchdown of not easily described sweetness and sorrow." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times

  • "(L)ike the realization of a dream deferred in which everything we hope for from the theater is in one three-hour experience exhilaratingly made flesh." - Matt Wolf, The New York Times

  • "Although many truly witty, intellectually detailed considerations of languages and landscapes and thermodynamics are developed, they wouldnít be much more than parlor games without the sensual, mutually appreciative energy that these performers exchange." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • "While Arcadia draws its veracity from historical facts, which the author manipulates in a variety of ways, they're as intellectually digestible as pork stuffing. And about as moving. (...) In Arcadia, where there is no emotional truth at stake because there are no true charaacters, it is the playwright himself who tries to transmit directly to the bemused spectator. (...) (W)hile desire runs rampant through Arcadia, there is no passion; people screw, but less to connect than to generate even more witty material." - Hilton Als, The New Yorker

  • "Arcadia has been heralded as some kind of rebirth for Stoppard. But he has never really gone away (.....) In Arcadia he doesn't change tack, but in a general sense, picks up from where he left off." - Michael Coveney, The Observer

  • "Tom Stoppard's most brilliant and brainy play (...) is a literary puzzle interweaving so many themes (not to mention love affairs) that it threatens to overwhelm the ordinary brain" - Emma John, The Observer

  • "For all its whirling erudition and shifting time frames, Arcadia requires first and foremost a bravura display of intelligent acting in a variety of interwoven temperaments and styles." - Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Arcadia deserves a tip of the hat from every rationalist who has fumed at Hollywood's two-dimensional scientific noncharacters, such as the chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, who stumbles through Jurassic Park. The verbal virtuosity in Arcadia rests on a respectful, even sympathetic, examination of the way modern science looks at the world." - Tim Beardsley, Scientific American

  • "Arcadia offers us the terrifying prospect of our most intelligent and referential dramatist finally vanishing up his own brilliance: it is in the end a play about everything and nothing, in which knowledge is all and caring is nil." - Sheridan Morley, The Spectator

  • "Stoppardís verbal frivolities are a delight. (...) If the West End is serious about serious plays then this visually stunning and hilariously funny show -- perhaps the wittiest drama written since Wilde was jailed -- should run and run." - Lloyd Evans, The Spectator

  • "Arcadia isnít exactly a chilly play, but itís one where the ideas are moving, rather than the people. Itís a doleful comedy about timeís arrow, whose consolatory note is, paradoxically, reprise. "You seem quite sentimental over geometry," Bernard charges Hannah. Arcadia shows you why being sentimental over geometry might not be as silly as it sounds." - Sam Leith, Sunday Times

  • "Richard Baron's production lacks real emotional or psychological resonance. The impression it leaves is of a play that is sparklingly clever, but quite bloodless." - Mark Brown, The Telegraph

  • "Comically and poignantly, Stoppard shows how easy it is for the present to misinterpret the past, even as the play depicts the way the past shapes our future. Beyond the jokes and the intellectual joie de vivre, Arcadia cuts deep." - Charles Spencer, The Telegraph

  • "(A) splendid intellectual farrago (.....) As usual in a Stoppard play, the true star is Stoppard, and he has never burned brighter or more kindly." - William A. Henry III, Time

  • "With Arcadia, (Stoppard) has fabricated a work as simple as a perfect cube and as complex as the physics of a breaking wave. Or make that the physics of the turbulent air in a room where many people are clapping." - Brad Leithauser, Time

  • "In revealing and celebrating the wanting in all of us, Arcadia offers as thrilling and fulfilling a theatergoing experience as you'll likely have this season." - Elysa Gardner, USA Today

  • "I know of few serious plays that are as funny as Arcadia, and even fewer funny plays that are as serious." - Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

  • "Only time will tell whether Arcadia is Mr. Stoppard's masterpiece, but it isn't premature to call it one of the key English-language plays of the postwar era, and even in a staging that is less than satisfactory, it makes a rich and affecting impression." - Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

  • "Stoppard's wit and erudition are as impressive as ever. (...) But his facility undermines him here. He does too much too well, and the result is that he does nothing wonderfully. For all its surface brilliance, Arcadia lacks passion and urgency." - Lloyd Rose, The Washington Post

  • "If there were a speed limit on ideas, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia would have had its license permanently revoked. The focus of this scintillating comedy ricochets at breakneck speed from chaos theory to Byron's love life to landscape gardening, by way of iterated algorithms, the second law of thermodynamics, the population growth rates of goldfish and similar arcana -- and yet the British playwright delivers a play that's intensely poignant as well as frequently hilarious." - Celia Wren, The Washington Post

  • "So what you're served on this evening is a lavishly overflowing platter of the playwright's talents for finding connectivity in, well, everything: Newtonian physics, Byronic poetry, academic charlatanism, the designs of English gardens, the sexual awakening of a teenage girl, Fermat's theorems. Whether you know a single thing about Pierre de Fermat, a father of modern calculus, without first typing in his name on Wikipedia proves irrelevant. Stoppard is laying out these narrative landmarks in service of a larger purpose, of illuminating the poignant, illogical precision of human progress." - Peter Marks, The Washington Post

Please note and bear in mind that reviews of dramas generally refer to specific performances rather than to the written work itself. (Note also that complete review's reviews refer specifically to the written text.)

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Mr.Stoppard has written many fine and clever plays, but perhaps none is finer than this one. Switching back and forth between the present and the 19th century, he unfolds a marvelous story that addresses major questions of art, science, and history -- and how they intersect. The story itself is a poignant one, and an entertaining and amusing one as well, as Stoppard mixes elements again and again to reinforce his many points. The characters are rich and varied, and it all fits together perfectly. The science may seem heady, but it is really straightforward, and though it does take some effort to follow the many threads it is more than worthwhile.
       The play is set, in its entirety, in a single room, overlooking a garden, at an English estate, Sidley Park. Scenes alternate between the 20th century and the 19th, until they finally converge at the end. In one period -- 1809 to 1812 -- it is the residence of Lord and Lady Croom, young Lady Thomasina Coverly (a young teen) and her tutor, Septimus Hodge, among others. In the other -- the present -- an author, Hannah Jarvis, a scholar, Bernard Nightingale, and the scientist (and one of the children of the house) Valentine are the main figures. Objects -- letters, notebooks, furniture -- appear in both, bridging time. As does a tortoise.
       Brilliant but innocent young Thomasina is a mathematical prodigy, understanding and illustrating to her tutor the notion of entropy (everything tends towards disorder, i.e. decay) and fractal/chaos theory. As a girl, her talent goes largely unrecognized, though her tutor realizes that she is capable of remarkable things.
       Thomasina is also growing into womanhood, a source of tension that rises as the play proceeds. Septimus is a natural object for her affections, but he meanwhile is involved in another affair. Adding to the complexity an unseen Byron, who went to university with Septimus, visits Sidley Park.
       The confusion of who did what (and, in some cases, to whom) work to great comedic and dramatic effect. Much of the fun comes from the alternate scenes in the present, as these figures try to understand from the few clues left what exactly happened in the past. Bernard is trying to prove that Byron was involved in a duel with poet in residence Ezra Chater, explaining Byron's hitherto unexplained two-year absence from England. Hannah becomes obsessed with a mysterious hermit who lived on the property (and, to her great satisfaction, manages to prove Bernard mistaken).
       The puzzles solve themselves, and even Thomasina's accomplishments are uncovered and acknowledged. Stoppard ties up the threads in neat fashion, interweaving them in his complex, elegant fabric.
       The play works on many levels -- surprisingly, it is successful on each. Stoppard's understanding (and clear presentation) of questions of science, art, history, and even gardening serve him well, but it is the richly drawn characters (and their bright, sharp dialogue) that makes Arcadia superb drama.

       Very highly recommended indeed.

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Arcadia: Reviews: Tom Stoppard: Other works by Tom Stoppard under review: Works about Tom Stoppard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British dramatist Tom Stoppard, born in 1937, is author of such notable plays as Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

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© 1999-2011 the complete review

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