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A: Tom Stoppard Pf: 1993, London Pb: 1993 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Room in large country house in Derbyshire, 1809 and 1993 C: 8m, 4fLady Thomasina Coverly, a precocious 13-year-old, is being taught algebra by her tutor Septimus Hodge. Ezra Chater, an inferior poet, disturbs the lesson to challenge Septimus to a duel for seducing his wife, but is dissuaded by Septimus's flattery. Richard Noakes, a landscape gardener, is planning to turn the Capability Brown gardens at Sidley Park into a wild Gothic ‘landskip’, much to the dismay of Lady Croom and Captain Edward Brice. In the present day, the same room is now being used by the famous author Hannah Jarvis, who has come to research the early 19th-century custom of installing a hermit in the Gothic landscape. She meets Bernard Nightingale, who is visiting the house, believing that Chater was killed in a duel by Lord Byron. 1809: Septimus finally accepts Chater's challenge and will ask his friend Byron to act as second. 1993: Hannah discovers Thomasina's mathematics lesson book, which persuades her descendant Valentine Coverly, a mathematician, that Thomasina's thinking was a century ahead of its time. While Bernard is convinced of his theory about Byron, Hannah decides that the mad hermit was Septimus who devoted himself to working out Thomasina's mathematical discovery. 1809: Byron is discovered with Mrs Chater, and is sent from the house. Septimus wins over Lady Croom. 1993: the family dress up in Regency costume, and Valentine affirms the validity of Thomasina's equation. Just after learning that Thomasina was burnt to death the night before her 17th birthday, time shifts again, and Thomasina rushes in. Scenes from past and present run side by side: Bernard discovers that Byron did not kill Chater, Bernard and Chloe are found embracing, and Thomasina and Septimus dance their last dance together.

A: Tom Stoppard Pf: 1993, London Pb: 1993 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Room in large country house in Derbyshire, 1809 and 1993 C: 8m, 4f

Generally regarded as Stoppard's finest play, Arcadia bears many of his characteristics: witty Wildean dialogue (‘You must not be cleverer than your elders. It is not polite’); a spectacular use of the stage, the same room being seen almost 200 years apart until the two periods merge in the final scene; above all, a daringly playful and intriguing debate of ideas (it takes extraordinary skill to incorporate iterated algorithms and heat transference into an entertaining theatre-piece). Both periods stand before a new age: 18th-century enlightenment gives way to Gothic wildness; the end of the 20th century stands at the threshold of entirely new scientific insights: as Valentine says: ‘It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.’ Meanwhile, Hannah and Bernard try to establish truth, but have to acknowledge: ‘It can't prove to be true, it can only not prove to be false yet.’

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Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) British dramatist, born in Czechoslovakia