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The role of the second law of thermodynamics in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

The role of the second law of thermodynamics in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

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A critical dissection of Stoppard's Arcadia, analysing the role of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics in the events of the play and in the staging of the play itself.
A critical dissection of Stoppard's Arcadia, analysing the role of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics in the events of the play and in the staging of the play itself.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Broad Curriculum EnglishEssay Two
What role does the second law of thermodynamics play in
 Arcadia? Dr Alice Jorgensen
In physics, maths and the natural sciences, the first law of thermodynamics is simple, concise andeffective. It states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can simply be transformed from one forminto another. The second law, however, is less tangible and more ambiguous. It is an expression of theuniversal law of increasing entropy, or disorder, which states that the entropy of an isolated system which isnot in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium. Simply put,order descends into chaos, what is warm becomes cool, what is high becomes low.In
the second law of thermodynamics is an artery that nourishes the heart of the play,appearing in various guises and playing various roles. It serves as the pivot point for the contrast between theolder Enlightenment ideals of order and determinism and the newer Romantic ideals of chaos and disorder,which it also represents. As a plot device, Thomasina's discovery of the second law of thermodynamicsserves to highlight her genius, and subsequently drives the events of the present day, as Hannah, the feministscholar, pushes Valentine into truly investigating Thomasina's scribblings. It is also a prominent theme – theloss of historical information, the wearing out of objects, death and decay, and the strange closed system of Sidley Park. The temporal consequences of the second law are inevitable and we take them for granted, butdue to the time-switching nature of the play, these consequences are made prominent to highlight thedifference between past and present. As imagery, it is also present – the candles burned, the burning of Byron's letter, the stirring of the rice pudding. Entropy as a postmodern concept is also present. This essaywill attempt to discuss the role of the second law of thermodynamics in the above points, and in
ingeneral.The clearly-delineated contrast between Enlightenment and Romanticism thinking in the play is akey literary theme. Along with chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics represents Romanticism in
. The contrast between Romanticism and Enlightenment depends on the presence of the second lawof thermodynamics, which, as both a plot element and a theme, supersedes the older, classical, enlightened Newtonian mechanics, ushers them out and ushers in the chaotic ideals of the Romantic.
The remodelling of the gardens, which are converted from a typically English, Enlightenment style to a brooding, gothicRomantic style, and the divide in opinion between the Coverleys and their guests [both past and present]highlight that the two ideals are more than just historical phases, they are also fundamentally different modesof operation.In the past, Noakes is an agent of disorder and the second law's increasing entropy, and moves Lady Croomto exclaim "[he] ... is to a garden what a bull is to a china shop" as he digs up the garden to make it look “natural”. He is abetted by Thomasina, who approves of his plans for the garden, and herself rails against the perfect classical geometry which Septimus is teaching her, complaining that “...armed thus, God could onlymake a cabinet”. She argues that classical geometry does not represent mountains or leaves, and seeks her own Romantic geometry of natural forms. Her realisation that his steam pump will not pay back on its input
is the crystallising moment of her genius, and the steam pump itself is the agent of Romanticism in thegardens, by aiding the transformation.Bernard's and Hannah's diametrically opposed approaches to academia and life also illustrate this contrast between Romantic and Enlightenment thinking. Hannah is ordered and rational, and believes in taking amethodical, almost scientific approach, as exemplified when she discusses Bernard's theory
It can't prove to be true, it can only not prove to be false yet.In contrast, Bernard is a Romantic, and believes in intuition and feeling
By which I mean a visceral belief in yourself. [...] The part of you that doesn't reason.As the past progresses, the gardens are transformed to a Romantic style, and Newton's mechanics arechallenged by Carnot's discoveries in Paris. Yet, even in the present day, both Romanticism and classicismexist simultaneously. As Valentine acknowledges, “The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is.” Thus, by representing Romanticism, the second law of thermodynamics is plays a prominent role in
“Even in Arcadia, there am I [Death]".Arcadia, as represented by the manor and its gardens in Sidley Park, must also suffer death, as deathis inevitable by the laws of the universe. Living beings must increase the entropy of their surroundings toreduce their own and increase their order [1], until they die, which is the ultimate attainment of equilibriumwith surroundings. The second law of thermodynamics acts in
to cause things and ideas to loseenergy to their surroundings, wear out and die, and in doing this, fuels the events of the story. Thomasinadescribes how she is surrounded by death at Sidley Park:
I have grown up in the sound of guns like the child of a siege
A calendar of slaughter. “Even in Arcadia, there am I!”Thomasina herself dies in a fire on the eve of her 17
birthday.The wear and tear of matter is another example of the second law at work in
, and is in many casesovertly intentional on Stoppard's behalf. The stage directions stipulate that old objects may be present in the present day, albeit in a worn condition, as a visual representation of the motif of the second law in the play.Candles and historical records are burned, releasing their heat to the surroundings and increasing its entropy,as well as causing a loss of important information, which fuels the comedy of the present day. But the deathof ideals once held dear to many is also an important theme. Bernard's rant against the progress of science

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