Arcadia Study Guide

Welcome to Skidmore!

    As you know, you and your fellow incoming first-year students are being asked to read Arcadia , a comedy by acclaimed British playwright Tom Stoppard. This exciting work will serve as a centerpiece for your orientation activities. In addition to discussion groups during your first week on campus, you will be seeing a production of the play in November followed by additional discussions in your Liberal Studies I classes.

    We chose this reading because of the wonderful intellectual richness of the material. It deals with a remarkably wide variety of topics including:
    Most importantly, however, the play raises important questions about love, the need to search for knowledge, the nature of genius, and the differing ways of knowing and understanding the world. Since Liberal Studies I: The Human Experience is centrally concerned with understanding our different ways of knowing, Arcadia seems a perfect choice for us.

    You may find the play a bit challenging. Indeed, you may not even feel comfortable with reading a play at all. Relax! You'll have plenty of help in understanding the play during the semester. We have begun by preparing this study guide. Although it does not attempt to explain the play, it does provide some helpful and interesting background material. Consider it an introduction to some of Skidmore's faculty and their own responses to the play from the perspective of their own disciplines. The glossary should help you with cultural allusions and words with which you might not be familiar.

    We hope to use the play as a means to help you to understand the nature of study and knowledge. You may find yourself confused by the play, but intrigued with one or more of the questions it raises. Terrific! The search for knowledge begins with curiosity.

    Arcadia was first performed in London's Royal National Theatre in 1993 where it won many awards and received universal critical acclaim. According to the New York Times review of the Broadway premiere in 1995, Arcadia is "Tom Stoppard's richest, most ravishing comedy: a play of wit, intellect, brio and emotion. It's like a dream of levitation: you're instantaneously aloft, soaring, banking, doing loop-the-loops and then, when you think you're about to plummet to earth, swooping to a gentle touchdown of not easily described sweetness and sorrow."


Lary Opitz, Associate Professor of Theatre