Friday, May 18, 2007

"The Attraction Newton Forgot"

Yes, I am still excited about this. More exactly, I had an idea about it and I want to work it out somewhere other than the margin of my copy, since that is nowhere near enough space. (And no, that isn't supposed to be a joke, although given the play it might as well be.)

SPOILERS AHEAD. Don't read if you care. It's not a play where the surprise ending is important, but I don't know, maybe you don't want to hear my crackpot theories before seeing it yourself.

In Court's brochure they say that one of the main themes of the play is "The attraction Newton forgot" - basically, that Newtonian mechanics is deterministic and the thing that messes everything up is, to put it as Thomasina does, "The action of bodies in heat." Basically:
Chloe: The universe is deterministic all right, just like Newton said, I mean it's trying to be, but the only thing going wrong is people fancying people who aren't supposed to be in that part of the plan.

Valentine: Ah. The attraction that Newton left out. All the way back to the apple in the garden.
Now, there are a lot of oddities in this. First of all, Thomasina also could be talking about the second law of thermodynamics, which does break Newton's paradigm in that it is not reversible - and it in fact tells why so many things in life are not reversible (another theme of the play). But in Stoppard's way, he's making a parallel between the second law of thermodynamics and carnal embrace or love or crushes or lust or whatever it is that "the attraction that Newton left out" really is at base, and it's been picking at my brain.

Partly because half of the play has a bit of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-esque determinism to it, because it chronicles the goings on in a house at the beginning of the nineteenth century, while the rest of the play takes place roughly present-day, and is the story of scholars trying to find out what happened. Certain things are known in advance - for example, one of the characters goes crazy. One of the characters dies. But we never see any of this. And, truth be told, the ending of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern always bothered me, because it seems like there must be some way to DO SOMETHING, and that half the reason R&G are doomed to their fate is (besides the fact that it's Hamlet so everyone is bound to die) the fact that they never actually do anything until it is too late.

The thing is, I never put the goings on about sex/the second law of thermodynamics and the goings on about predetermination together until tonight, and given the end of the last scene, it makes SO MUCH SENSE. All of a sudden it's like "The grim ending with death and madness doesn't need to take place, you can just waltz instead!" because, well, that's what the ending IS.

And I might be crazy, but I'm going to stick to my guns.

At the end of the play, we "know" two things about the future of Thomasina and Septimus: Thomasina dies in a fire in her bedroom the night before her seventeenth birthday, and Septimus subsequently goes crazy and lives as a hermit in the hermitage in the garden (with his turtle, Plautus). However, the last scene for these two characters takes place on the night before Thomasina's seventeenth birthday, and Thomasina is not in her room ready to be burnt alive - she is downstairs with Septimus, waltzing. The very last lines from these characters are:

Septimus: Take your essay, I have given it an alpha in blind faith. Be careful with the flame.
Thomasina: I will wait for you to come.
Septimus: I cannot.
Thomasina: You may.
Septimus: I may not.
Thomasina: You must.
Septimus: I will not.
Thomasina: Then I will not go. Once more, for my birthday.
And the very last direction of the play is: "Septimus and Thomasina continue to dance, fluently." IF Thomasina isn't in her room, the predetermined fire doesn't happen, she doesn't die, and Newton's laws and predestination be damned - all because of the schoolgirlish crush on her tutor. (Or her love for him, depending on how much of a sap you are). Which is really what the quotes at the beginning of the post are about, right?

And in my opinion, this last one sums it up nicely:

Septimus: When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone on an empty shore.
Thomasina: Then we will dance. Is this a waltz?

The second law of thermodynamics comes down to a waltz.


Alison said...

I actually had this same thought, which I also put down to being a total sap. In the production I saw tonight, Hannah blows out Thomasina's candle as she exits...which suggested to me that the directer may have been thinking on the same lines. Great minds!

ProtoPros said...

All of this would make so much sense if not for the future scenes... Taking into consideration the future scenes we have to accept that Thomasina's death has in fact already occurred. The very inevitably of her death even ties together nicely with ideals of 'et in Arcadia ergo'.