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if you decide to copy my essay instead of doing your own writing, more fool you

Module Three

An early review of Arcadia claimed that "Stoppard presents the breakdown of Newtonian order - and all that is left is chaos." To what extent do you agree with this view of the play?

It is claimed that "Stoppard presents the breakdown of Newtonian order..." within the play. This is to some extent true. Septimus presents us with a very orderly view of the world with his image of 'the march': 'there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it'. Earlier, he has assured Thomasina that order will come out of disorder, and then disorder again follows—taking her excellent rice-pudding analogy 'until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable'. His ideas are essentially classical, even if this dissolution of orderly rice pudding and jam into uniform pinkness does represent the eventual cooling into uniformity of the entire universe!

But Septimus is wrong about 'the march'. As the play demonstrates, information does get lost. We may celebrate the surviving manuscripts of the ancient past, but we will never recover what was lost in the burned library of Alexandria. Similarly, Bernard will never know what was in the Byron letter that Septimus incinerated unseen—and it is rather crucial information! [Good details] Hannah is also misled by information from the past, believing the hermit portrayed in the garden book to be an actual portrait, because she lacks the information that Thomasina drew him there in jest. [Very neatly integrated] If the 'Newtonian order' passed all the information along, presumably correct conclusions could be drawn, but in fact there is decay along the way.

However, it would not be true to say that only chaos remains. [Balance of discussion] From the pieces of information that remain, a fair picture can be put together. Hannah is able to confound Bernard's theory by her discovery that Chater the poet and Chater the botanist are the same man. Valentine is able to understand what Thomasina was trying to do—and in fact, he can extract more from her work than she was able to do herself, because he has the tools which she lacked. [A bit more text] [but refs are clear]

There are several images through the play which illustrate very effectively the Second Law of Thermodynamics—essentially that heat is lost. Thomasina's rice-pudding analogy shows that certain things only work one way, and she applies her understanding to the 'engine' Mr Noakes has pumping away in the garden. Valentine explains the heat loss to Hannah by pointing out that her tea gets cold.

But although there is a loss of energy, there is a gain in understanding. A different kind of medium, but knowledge of entropy in fact results in a greater orderliness in our understanding of the universe! [Needs to be closer to the text]

In other aspects, there may be a break-down of 'Newtonian order', but it is not entirely true to say that chaos is all that remains. Newtonian order is thematically linked with the classical: Sidley Park's gardens have moved from the formal, human-imposed orderliness of the eighteenth century, through the artificial natural scenery of Capability Brown to the wild, picturesque romanticism of Mr Noakes' design. Yet there is still order, because the picturesque has been imposed, it has not occurred as a result of natural decay. [needs to develop] [not really, it's ok] Hannah deplores this as 'the decline from thinking to feeling', and explicitly links this latest design with chaos: "A mind in chaos suspected of genius." [develop more] Nonetheless, the design was created deliberately—even if Lady Croom is unimpressed by the actualisation!

It has been suggested that this play represents an attempt by Stoppard to harmonise two sides of his own nature, the 'classical' and the 'romantic'. It seems to me that 'Arcadia' presents convincingly the view that both are necessary. [Balanced argument] Thomasina, initially, is all for the 'classical' in that she yearns for reason and understanding, and scornfully rejects the emotions (her dismissal of Cleopatra as 'the Egyptian noodle' is wonderful [and does what?][!]). Yet her mathematical understanding is intuitive rather than rationalised because she does not have the mathematics to express it. And later, she falls in love with Septimus and is more than happy to embrace the 'romantic' side of her personality.

Hannah is similarly 'classical' in her insistence on facts and proof. Her stout denial of Bernard's beloved theories about Byron is ultimately proved correct—although both she and the audience get a bit of a surprise when Valentine casually confirms the poet's presence at Sidley Hall. However, like Thomasina, Hannah's mind leaps to an intuitive conclusion [excellently well put] —she understands that Septimus was the hermit. And her insistence on the side of reason is confirmed as important when she receives from Gus the proof she needs, in the portrait of Septimus with Plautus.

Bernard, by contrast, neglects the 'classical' or rational, side, because he is so enamoured of his theory and so eager for fame that he lacks Hannah's patient insistence on proof—and so he is humbled.

Byron's own poem, quoted by Hannah, demonstrates how the romantic intuitive leap can arrive at truth just as well as painstaking classical fact-finding. [Independent response]

The final scene of the play, in which two pairs of characters waltz together, shows the reconciliation of these opposite sides. Even waltzing, a thoroughly romantic occupation, requires classically ordered steps. [Sense of dramatic technique]

It appears, therefore, that the Newtonian order is not entirely broken down. In addition, it is not altogether fair to suggest that 'all' that is left is chaos, if by that the critic means chaos to be an altogether bad thing. Valentine positively rejoices [up to a point!] in the challenges of a world in which "almost everything you thought you knew is wrong". The breakdown of previously understood order may be necessary if we are to reach new, better conclusions. Stoppard does this within the play, constantly forcing the audience to revise our ideas of the truth—for example, we are at first convinced that Bernard is utterly wrong because we have no expectation that Byron was ever at Sidley Park. It turns out, however, that despite the apparent lack of documentary proof, he was indeed there. Then again, the ominous shot appears to tell the audience that a duel has taken place, but as it turns out, Byron and the Chaters have left precipitately and there has been no duel at all, only the fatality of a rabbit for Thomasina's supper. Poor Bernard.

Chaos, then, is not altogether a bad thing. However, it does not seem reasonable to suggest that a playwright so perfectly in control of the nuances of his material can leave only chaos after the over-turning of order. Orderliness emerges from chaos, information may be lost but truth can be gleaned from what remains, and what the author really demonstrates is a reconciliation between the different facets of the human experience.

[Sophisticated exploration of critics claim that could go much further with dramatic technique. Confident and well developed analysis.]

[Still, this is very succinctly expressed, ranges so confidently...]


Explain the ways the poems in this anthology reflect the Victorians' fascination with the Middle Ages. In your answer, you should either refer to two or three poems in detail or range more widely through the selection.

Of the three poets represented in this anthology, Tennyson is the one who shows the greatest fascination with the Middle Ages. The Browning poems are mostly set a little more recently, with the Renaissance proving particularly fertile ground for Browning's style to flourish; and Elizabeth Barrett explicitly rejects the poetry which celebrates the past. In her wonderful poem 'Aurora Leigh', she declares that

"Their [poets'] sole work is to represent the age,
Their age, not Charlemagne's—this live, throbbing age..." [illuminating quotation]
Her comment on the use of "togas and the picturesque" is almost certainly a dig at Tennyson. [Very neat]

For Tennyson certainly enjoyed setting his poetry in a rather misty, mythic medieval world, and wrote some very beautiful verses thereby. [Confident expression]

'The Lady of Shalott' is among my favourites of his poems. There is so much opportunity within the poem for gorgeous, typically Tennysonian description. The verses on Sir Lancelot are magnificent, with the "gemmy bridle" and "blazon'd baldric", and the picture presented by:

"All in the blue unclouded weather [quite a long quotation —could
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather, unpackage it and ??? in more depth]
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together..."
is splendid. [Why?] The actual story of the poem is extremely slight, but as it is largely an exercise in beautiful descriptive language this is not important. [Ok - but show how he does it...]

The poem is interpreted by many critics as an insight into the artist's mind, as he is divided from reality by the mirror of his imagination, and must not look too closely at what is real for fear of his own destruction. If this is the case, it is a very un-modern (and to me, unappealing) view of the artist. However, it does seem a plausible interpretation of Tennyson, who generally puts a veil between his own feelings and his poetry. (Even the grief portrayed in 'In Memoriam' is filtered, both through time and through the poet's desire to universalise the experience of loss.) [Assertion] [Relevance?] [Not really getting to Victorian attitudes]

Tennyson's "Morte d'Arthur" is also a demonstration of his fascination with times gone by. Again, the situation provides the poet with considerable scope for exercising his poetic skill. The description of Excalibur in the moonlight presents a gorgeous, rich picture; elsewhere the poet's exact observance of natural details comes to the fore:

"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag."
Here the poet differentiates the sounds exactly, just as in 'The Lady of Shalott" he speaks of 'bearded barley' and aspens which 'quiver'. [Could be linked more closely to question]

The poet has amplified details of the Malory text from which the story is derived, giving Sir Bedivere reasons for his decision not to obey the king's orders, and giving the king a more extended emotional reaction to his situation. However, there is no deep psychological penetration into the minds of the characters. In fact, there is no serious attempt by the poet to represent these people as coming from an essentially different world to his own. What Tennyson has drawn are men from his own era, with swords—perhaps not surprising, since he dedicated the whole poem "The Idylls of the King" to his sovereign and her consort, and compared them both explicitly to King Arthur. [Nice bit of context - but text?]

In fact, Tennyson was very much the Victorian in this. The 'golden age' of King Arthur was supposedly a peak of England's history, and Tennyson was living in another such peak, days of splendour and empire, with Britain —in fact, England—predominant across the world. [OK, subtle, but text?] It is therefore not surprising that his pictures of the Victorian world bear more resemblance to a Burne-Jones painting than to gritty medievalism or any proto-Arthur of the Dark Ages. The poet was presenting his own world through the medium of legend. [This is an interesting point] [Yes! But...]

Similarly, 'The Lady of Shalott' presents a picture of Victorian womanhood—confined, with nothing of importance to do, frustrated, and waiting for a man to come along. However, as Tennyson seems to have been a perfect Victorian in his attitude to women—paying lip service to their equal value but in all practical senses placing them as accessories to the male—the fact that the Lady's attempt to leave her captive and passive state resulted in her death probably did not strike him as unreasonable. [Secure grasp of poem] [Yes, better]

So Tennyson's fascination with the Middle Ages was with an idealised and beautified version which could accord very well with the ideal world in which he lived. It is telling that his poem bears the title 'Idylls' rather than, say, wars, or adventures: in Tennyson's day, England was untroubled by war at home, as he conquests and conflicts took place at a distance. (Tennyson's poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' is a heroic glorification of something he plainly did not witness himself.) In the poem, events are set at a distance by time.

Robert Browning wrote in a very different style, bringing distant people close by the intensely personal nature of his presentation. [Good grasp of technique] The Duke of Ferrara, the dying Bishop, and Andrea del Sarto all seem like real people having a (rather one-sided) conversation with us. In general Browning did not concentrate as much as Tennyson on the medieval, but his poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" is set in this more-or-less mythical version of the Middle Ages.

Like Tennyson, [make connection clearer] Browning makes use of a great deal of detailed description to set his poem. However, the tone is utterly different, being dark, depressing, oppressive and afraid. There is a sense of action throughout [quote] —it is impossible to forget that this is a journey through a landscape, but overall, the landscape represents and reflects the psychological state of the narrating character. He describes how

"I shut my eyes, and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part."
There are brief moments of happy memory, but these soon turn sour and the narrator comes back to his unpleasant present and continues his hopeless quest. [develop this]

In this poem, the medieval setting is simply the necessary background for the character's feelings, and not a thing to be celebrated of itself. [neat] Browning is always at his best when he depicts character, which he does so well in many poems in this selection: here, unusually, the character is not so directly presented but is reflected by his own views on his surroundings. [More text needed] Browning is a more demanding poet than Tennyson, and requires the reader to make inferences and to participate in the poetry, whereas Tennyson sets out what he wishes to say.

Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that 'Childe Roland' represents any kind of fascination with the medieval world, as I believe it is not so much the setting as the kind of desperate journey which attracts the poet. It is Tennyson who best represents the Victorians' fascination with the Middle Ages, and he typically shows that the olden times were used, not to investigate the authentic Middle Ages or to depict men as they had been, but as an opportunity to display the light of Victorian empire, pride and self-satisfaction. Naturally a poet must represent his own age, and Tennyson splendidly represents the Victorian era even when he writes of knights and ladies. Browning was capable of a more detached view, from his vantage point in Italy, and perhaps he did not feel quite such a need to glorify his native country in the same way.

[AOS 1 - 3 controlled expression but needs to explore quotations and can leave things hanging in an incomplete way. AO51 Can explore some Victorian attitudes.] [in an original way]

[Yes, it needs more close analysis but the grasp of 'fascination with M-Ages is so good it's got to be B4]

Mark awarded: 117/120


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