In the opening of Arcadia we are introduced to two characters. The two
characters are Thomasina Coverly; a pupil in her early teens and
Septimus Hodge; her tutor in his early twenties. In this scene we
understand the intelligence of Thomasina and the wit of Septimus.The
interaction of the two characters displays Tom Stoppards clever use of
language and also gives the audience an excellent introduction to the
sort of humour they will be open to during the play.
Scene is set and we are given a description of the house. We
understand two time frames are taking place; the past and the present.
He refers to objects and that they would be ‘collectable’ pieces
nowadays. This indicates to the director and the reader there are two
different perspectives. He introduces an eccentric detail of the
tortoise acting as a paperweight, which symbolises time, an important
theme in the play.
The setting shows us tutor and pupil. This invites the audience to
make assumptions about the type of relationship they are likely to
have. We may expect a formality in the way that they speak to each
other; however Thomasina and Septimus contradict the audiences’
expectations as soon as they speak.
The plays opening words come from Thomasina.She asks Septimus the
meaning of ‘carnal embrace’. In reply Septimus tells Thomasina ‘carnal
embrace is the practice of throwing ones arms around a side of beef ’.
This creates a humorous situation of dramatic irony because the
audience knows that carnal embrace means sexual intercourse whereas
Thomasina does not. Through these opening exchanges we also notice Tom
Stoppard’s ability to play with words. The Latin for ‘carnal’ is
‘carnis’and ‘carnis’ means meat and human flesh in English. This
creates a ridiculous image for sake of humour.
Much of the humour comes from sexual innuendo and the contrast between
Septimus’s elegant, educated language and the crude subject matter.