The play's title is abbreviated from its initial version: Et in Arcadia ego.[24] Arcadia refers to the pastoral ideal; the phrase literally translates, "and in Arcadia I". The tradition of placing a tomb in a pastoral idyll can be traced to Vergil's Eclogues, while the phrase first appears in Poussin's 1637 painting. Both the image and the motto are commonly considered a memento mori, with the phrase being spoken by Death: "I, too, am in Arcadia". But the enigmatic phrase remains a subject of much academic discussion.[25][26]

Lady Croom, enthusing about paintings of pretty landscapes, translates the phrase as "Here I am in Arcadia!" Thomasina drily comments, "Yes Mama, if you would have it so". Septimus notices; later, suspecting his pupil will appreciate the motto's true meaning, he offers the translation "Even in Arcadia, there am I". He is right – "Oh, phooey to Death!" she exclaims.[27] Although these brief exchanges are the only direct references in the play to its title, they presage the two main characters' fates: Thomasina's early death, and Septimus's voluntary exile from life.[24] Stoppard originally wanted to make this connection more explicit by using Et in Arcadia Ego for the title, but "box office sense prevailed".[24]

In a more obvious sense, the title also invokes the ideal of nature as an ordered paradise, while the estate's landscape steadily evolves into a more irregular form. This provides a recurring image of the different ways in which "true nature" can be understood, and a homely parallel to Thomasina's theoretical description of the natural world's structure and entropic decline using mathematics.[24]

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