Throughout the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard there is a distinct difference between the characters who have a science background and those who do not. One of the recurring themes is that those characters and actions of those characters which are against science often lead to conflict and disaster. Even those characters that are of logical thinking for the most part are prone to disaster when they let go of this rational thinking and give in to their irrational side.
Bernard is a main character who is not a scientist and has basically no scientific background. From the moment he is introduced, he is portrayed as eccentric and odd. Here Bernard is described for the first time: ?Bernard, the visitor, wears a suit and tie. His tendency is to dress flamboyantly but he has damped it down for the occasion, slightly. A peacock-coloured display handkerchief boils over is his breast pocket.? (73) The term flamboyant refers to his ornate and rather bold outfit and personality. He is dressed differently than most other characters and behaves much different as well. He is as well one of the most irrational characters of the play.
Bernard and his constant need to be successful and famous lead him to disaster. Throughout the play he acts with little regard to the truth. He rarely looks to proof when coming up with ideas and theories. He feels that if there is the slightest proof that he is correct then he is able to tell everyone it is the truth. He completely disregards the logical way of thinking that theories can be proven wrong. He never takes the time to see if his theories can be proven wrong. Here Hannah shows her dismay with Bernard’s irrational behavior:
?You haven’t established it was fought. You haven’t established it was Byron. For God’s sake, Bernard, you haven’t established Byron was even there.? (50)
Hannah tries to tell Bernard that he hasn’t discovered enough evidence to publish his theory. Bernard although believes she is incorrect. He feels that all you need is your own instincts to lead you to the truth. Bernard displays this here:
?By which I mean belief in yourself. Gut instinct. The part of you which doesn’t reason. The certainty for which there is no back-reference.? (50)
Bernard is responding the quote by Hannah above. Here Bernard is exemplifying perfectly his idea about how his theories are founded. He uses the words ?gut instinct? and ?certainty for which there is not back? which shows how he doesn’t need hard evidence to prove things. He feels his own personal view is enough to make something real. He has no concept of the regular, logical format of backing up theories with evidence. Instead he relies on nothing but himself. And no matter how irrational his ideas are his feeling is that if your gut tells you it’s the truth then you should go with it. He also refers to his way of thinking as ?the part of you which doesn’t reason? showing how irrational he really is. He’s admitting that sometimes no reasoning is needed in proving something. To most this seems completely foreign and quite illogical. Bernard, although, finds this to be the normal way of thinking.
Later in the play Bernard is shown once again to be completely irrational. After Bernard makes his argument that Mr. Chater was killed in a duel with Lord Byron and this was the reason Byron left. Hannah reacts to this theory by saying, ?Bernard, I don’t know why I’m bothering-you’re arrogant, greedy, and reckless. You’ve gone from a glint in your eye to a sure thing in a hop, skip, and a jump.? (59) Hannah reveals her disapproval of Bernard’s attitude and aggressive approach to everything. His attitude is described as ? arrogant and reckless,? proving how little regard for logic he has. She also says, ?You’ve left out everything which doesn’t fit.? (59) Hannah describes how Bernard has chosen only information which has helped his case and left all other out. She is saying that Bernard ignores the information which disproves his theory and only focuses on that which does prove it. This is completely unscientific and illogical if you want to have limited doubt in your theory. Also in this scene Valentine shares his opinion, ?Actually, Bernard, as a scientist, your theory is incomplete.? (59) Valentine, the main character who has a large scientific background, also states that Bernard does not have enough evidence to proceed in publishing his theory. Valentine tries to tell Bernard that although he does have some evidence that he does not have nearly enough to proceed in publishing.
Despite the advice of others Bernard decides to precede with this theory and publish it no matter now much evidence might be out there to prove it wrong. This decision proves to be a big mistake. It is proven wrong just days after it is published. Not only was he proven wrong but it was proven wrong by science as well. It was discovered that Chater did not die in a dual but of a monkey bit in Martinique. Bernard’s haste to be famous caused him to make a mistake which could not be erased. His purposeful carelessness and irrational behavior cost him his credibility forever.
Thomasina is another character that shows the dangers of becoming irrational and illogical. Thomasina is 13 years old when the play begins. She is a brilliant young woman especially in the field of mathematics and science. Most of her time is spent working on different problems and theories with her tutor Septimus Hodge. For the most part she is purely scientific with little knowledge of the irrational world. She bases her thoughts and ideas on logical and plausible evidence. She is constantly using logic and other techniques to prove various solutions to theories. She never concludes anything without an explanation. She wasn’t interested in love and didn’t want to study anything that didn’t pertain to mathematics. Septimus asks Thomasina why she hates Cleopatra and her response is, ?Everything is turned to love with her. New love, absent love, lost love-I never knew a heroine that makes such noodles of our sex.? (38) Here Thomasina proves how she dislikes those which deal too much with love and emotion. She feels there is more satisfaction in mathematics and science.
Towards the end of the play and especially in the last scene Thomasina gives in to her romantic and irrational side. In the last scene Thomasina and Septimus are talking about her theory of how the world is doomed and then they begin to waltz. This shows the mixture of science and pleasure and at the same time rational and irrational thinking. In the beginning they are rationally talking about Thomasina’s theory but by the end they are acting impulsively waltzing and even kissing. This scene we know precedes her death. We learned earlier that she died that night before her seventeenth birthday in a fire. In this scene we get an idea of why the fire started. Thomasina truly gives herself up to irrational behavior. Her self-control is lost and lets herself become the opposite of what she was determined in the beginning to be. This scene give an idea of why an explanation why never found on her theory. ? Take your essay, I have given it an alpha in blind faith. Be careful with the flame.? (96) This suggests that the essay, which could possibly have contained her explanation, was the cause of the fire which took her life. When Thomasina became reckless with her emotions she was doomed. For the most part, Thomasina has always been logical and once she became irrational it turned into a disaster that could never be reversed. Science was the root of the disaster as well. Her essay, which was filled with her scientific explanation, was what in the end what caused her death. It can be suggested that because she deviated from her usual rational behavior that the tragedy occurred.
In the play Arcadia there is a distinct split between those characters that act rationally and those who do not. For the most part this split can be seen on the basis of scientific background of each character. Those characters with little science knowledge act more irrationally and those with science background act rationally. It even showed how those characters that usually act rationally can those that rationality with the lose of science.