George Barnard Shaw takes the title for this play from the opening line of Virgil??™s epic poem the ???Aeneid??? which begins ???Of arms and the man I sing.??? Virgil glorified the war and the heroic feats of Aeneas on the battle field. However, Shaw??™s purpose in this play is to attack the romantic notion of war by presenting a more realistic depiction of war, devoid of the idea that such death and destruction speaks to nobility. Still, Arms and the Man is not an anti war drama, but rather a satirical assault on those who would glorify the horrors of war. Shaw develops an ironic contrast between two central characters. The play begins with accounts of the glorious exploits of Major Sergius Saranoff, a young handsome Bulgarian officer, in a daring cavalry raid, which turned the war in favour of the Bulgarians over the Serbs. In contrast, Captain Bluntschli, a professional soldier from Switzerland, acts like a coward. He climbs up to a balcony to escape capture, he threatens a woman with a gun and he carries chocolates rather than cartridges because he claims that the sweets are more useful on the battlefield. Arms and the Man By George Bernard Shaw Play Summary Character List: Captain Bluntschli A professional soldier from Switzerland who is serving in the Serbian army. He is thirty-four years old, and he is totally realistic about the stupidity of war. Raina Petkoff The romantic idealist of twenty-three who views war in terms of noble and heroic deeds. Sergius Saranoff The extremely handsome young Bulgarian officer who leads an attack against the Serbs which was an overwhelming success. Major Petkoff The inept, fifty-year-old father of Raina; he is wealthy by Bulgarian standards, but he is also unread, uncouth, and incompetent. Catherine Petkoff Rainas mother; she looks like and acts like a peasant, but she wears fashionable dressing gowns and tea gowns all the time in an effort to appear to be a Viennese lady. Louka The Petkoffs female servant; she is young and physically attractive, and she uses her appearance for ambitious preferment. Nicola A realistic, middle-aged servant who is very practical.
The play begins in the bedroom of Raina Petkoff in a Bulgarian town in 1885, during the SerboBulgarian War. As the play opens, Catherine Petkoff and her daughter, Raina, have just heard that the Bulgarians have scored a tremendous victory in a cavalry charge led by Rainas fiance,
Major Sergius Saranoff, who is in the same regiment as Rainas father, Major Paul Petkoff. Raina is so impressed with the noble deeds of her fiance that she fears that she might never be able to live up to his nobility. At this very moment, the maid, Louka, rushes in with the news that the Serbs are being chased through the streets and that it is necessary to lock up the house and all of the windows. Raina promises to do so later, and Louka leaves. But as Raina is reading in bed, shots are heard, there is a noise at the balcony window, and a bedraggled enemy soldier with a gun appears and threatens to kill her if she makes a sound. After the soldier and Raina exchange some words, Louka calls from outside the door; she says that several soldiers want to search the house and investigate a report that an enemy Serbian soldier was seen climbing her balcony. When Raina hears the news, she turns to the soldier. He says that he is prepared to die, but he certainly plans to kill a few Bulgarian soldiers in her bedroom before he dies. Thus, Raina impetuously decides to hide him. The soldiers investigate, find no one, and leave. Raina then calls the man out from hiding; she nervously and absentmindedly sits on his gun, but she learns that it is not loaded; the soldier carries no cartridges. He explains that instead of carrying bullets, he always carries chocolates into battle. Furthermore, he is not an enemy; he is a Swiss, a professional soldier hired by Serbia. Raina gives him the last of her chocolate creams, which he devours, maintaining that she has indeed saved his life. Now that the Bulgarian soldiers are gone, Raina wants the “chocolate cream soldier” (as she calls him) to climb back down the drainpipe, but he refuses to; whereas he could climb up, he hasnt the strength to climb down. When Raina goes after her mother to help, the “chocolate cream soldier” crawls into Rainas bed and falls instantly asleep. In fact, when they re-enter, he is sleeping so soundly that they cannot awaken him. Act II begins four months later in the garden of Major Petkoffs house. The middle-aged servant Nicola is lecturing Louka on the importance of having proper respect for the upper class, but Louka has too independent a soul to ever be a “proper” servant. She has higher plans for herself than to marry someone like Nicola, who, she insists, has the “soul of a servant.” Major Petkoff arrives home from the war, and his wife Catherine greets him with two bits of information: she suggests that Bulgaria should have annexed Serbia, and she tells him that she has had an electric bell installed in the library. Major Sergius Saranoff, Rainas fiance and leader of the successful cavalry charge, arrives, and in the course of discussing the end of the war, he and Major Petkoff recount the now-famous story of how a Swiss soldier escaped by climbing up a balcony and into the bedroom of a noble Bulgarian woman. The women are shocked that such a crude story would be told in front of them. When the Petkoffs go into the house, Raina and Sergius discuss their love for one another, and Raina romantically declares that the two of them have found a “higher love.” When Raina goes to get her hat so that they can go for a walk, Louka comes in, and Sergius asks if she knows how tiring it is to be involved with a “higher love.” Then he immediately tries to embrace the attractive maid. Since he is being so blatantly familiar, Louka declares that Miss Raina is no better than she; Raina, she says, has been having an affair while Sergius was away,
but she refuses to tell Sergius who Rainas lover is, even though Sergius accidently bruises Loukas arm while trying to wrest a confession from her. When he apologizes, Louka insists that he kiss her arm, but Sergius refuses and, at that moment, Raina re-enters. Sergius is then called away, and Catherine enters. The two ladies discuss how incensed they both are that Sergius related the tale about the escaping soldier. Raina, however, doesnt care if Sergius hears about it; she is tired of his stiff propriety. At that moment, Louka announces the presence of a Swiss officer with a carpetbag, calling for the lady of the house. His name is Captain Bluntschli. Instantly, they both know he is the “chocolate cream soldier” who is returning the Majors old coat that they disguised him in. As they make rapid, desperate plans to send him away, Major Petkoff hails Bluntschli and greets him warmly as the person who aided them in the final negotiations of the war; the old Major insists that Bluntschli must their houseguest until he has to return to Switzerland. Act III begins shortly after lunch and takes place in the library. Captain Bluntschli is attending to a large amount of confusing paperwork in a very efficient manner, while Sergius and Major Petkoff merely observe. Major Petkoff complains about a favorite old coat being lost, but at that moment Catherine rings the new library bell, sends Nicola after the coat, and astounds the Major by thus retrieving his lost coat. When Raina and Bluntschli are left alone, she compliments him on his looking so handsome now that he is washed and brushed. Then she assumes a high and noble tone and chides him concerning certain stories which he has told and the fact that she has had to lie for him. Bluntschli laughs at her “noble attitude” and says that he is pleased with her demeanor. Raina is amused; she says that Bluntschli is the first person to ever see through her pretensions, but she is perplexed that he didnt feel into the pockets of the old coat which she lent him; she had placed a photo of herself there with the inscription “To my Chocolate Cream Soldier.” At this moment, a telegram is brought to Bluntschli relating the death of his father and the necessity of his coming home immediately to make arrangements for the six hotels that he has inherited. As Raina and Bluntschli leave the room, Louka comes in wearing her sleeve in a ridiculous fashion so that her bruise will be obvious. Sergius enters and asks if he can cure it now with a kiss. Louka questions his true bravery; she wonders if he has the courage to marry a woman who is socially beneath him, even if he loved the woman. Sergius asserts that he would, but he is now engaged to a girl so noble that all such talk is absurd. Louka then lets him know that Bluntschli is his rival and that Raina will marry the Swiss soldier. Sergius is incensed. He sees Bluntschli and immediately challenges him to a duel; then he retracts when Raina comes in and accuses him of making love to Louka merely to spy on her and Bluntschli. As they are arguing, Bluntschli asks for Louka, who has been eavesdropping at the door. She is brought in, Sergius apologizes to her, kisses her hand, and thus they become engaged. Bluntschli asks permission to become a suitor for Rainas hand, and when he lists all of the possessions which he has (200 horses, 9600 pairs of sheets, ten thousand knives and forks, etc.), permission for the marriage is granted, and Bluntschli says that he will return in two weeks to marry Raina. Succumbing with pleasure, Raina gives a loving smile to her “chocolate cream soldier.”
About Arms and the Man: One of Shaws aims in this play is to discredit the romantic heroics of war; he wanted to present a realistic account of war and to remove all pretensions of nobility from war. It is not, however, an anti-war play; instead, it is a satire on those attitudes which would glorify war. To create this satire, Shaw chose as his title the opening lines of Virgils Aeneid, the Roman epic which glorifies war and the heroic feats of man in war, and which begins, “Of arms and the man I sing. . . .” When the play opens, we hear about the glorious exploits which were performed by Major Sergius Saranoff during his daring and magnificent cavalry raid, an event that turned the war against the Serbs toward victory for the Bulgarians. He thus becomes Raina Petkoffs ideal hero; yet the more that we learn about this raid, the more we realize that it was a futile, ridiculous gesture, one that bordered on an utter suicidal escapade. In contrast, Captain Bluntschlis actions in Rainas bedroom strike us, at first, as being the actions of a coward. (Bluntschli is a Swiss, a professional soldier fighting for the Serbs.) He climbs up a water pipe and onto a balcony to escape capture, he threatens a defenseless woman with his gun, he allows her to hide him behind the curtains, and then he reveals that he carries chocolates rather than cartridges in his cartridge box because chocolates are more practical on the battlefield. Yet, as the play progresses, Bluntschlis unheroic actions become reasonable when we see that he survives, whereas had the war continued, Sergius absurd heroic exploits would soon have left him dead. Throughout the play, Shaw arranged his material so as to satirize the glories associated with war and to ultimately suggest that aristocratic pretensions have no place in todays wars, which are won by using business-like efficiency, such as the practical matters of which Bluntschli is a master. For example, Bluntschli is able to deal with the business of dispensing an army to another town with ease, while this was a feat that left the aristocrats (Majors Petkoff and Saranoff) completely baffled. This early play by Shaw, therefore, cuts through the noble ideals of war and the “higher love” that Raina and Sergius claim to share; Arms and the Man presents a world where the practical man who lives with no illusions and no poetic views about either love or war is shown to be the superior creature. # Occident formal + literary : the western areas of the world ; especially : Europe and America # Paltry: very small or too small in amount # ot?·to?·mans : a low piece of furniture that has a soft top and that you can put your feet on when you are sitting : a soft footstool # ea?·sel: a frame for supporting an artists painting # Hinged: attached # man?·tles : A cloak, a loose piece of clothing without sleeves that was worn over other clothes # Reverie: a daydream
The play opens at night in a ladys bedchamber in a small Bulgarian town in 1885, the year of the Serbo-Bulgarian war. The room is decorated in the worst possible taste, a taste reflected in the mistress (Catherine Petkoffs) desire to seem as cultured and as Viennese as possible. But the room is furnished with only cheap bits of Viennese things; the other pieces of furniture come from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, reflecting the long occupation by the Turks of the Balkan peninsula. On the balcony, standing and staring at the romantic beauty of the night, “intensely conscious that her own youth and beauty are a part of it,” is young Raina Petkoff. Just inside, conspicuously visible, is a box of chocolate creams, which will play an important part later in this act and which will ultimately become a symbol of the type of war which Shaw will satirize. Rainas mother, Catherine Petkoff, is a woman who could easily pass for a splendid specimen of the wife of a mountain fanner, but is determined to be a Viennese lady. As the play begins, Catherine is excited over the news that the Bulgarian forces have just won a splendid battle at Slivnitza against the Serbians, and the “hero of the hour, the idol of the regiment” who led them to victory is Rainas fiance, Sergius Saranoff. She describes how Sergius boldly led a cavalry charge into the midst of the Serbs, scattering them in all directions. Raina wonders if such a popular hero will care any longer for her little affections, but she is nonetheless delighted about the news. She wonders if heroes such as Sergius esteem such heroic ideas because they have read too much Byron and Pushkin. Real life, as she knows, is quite different. They are interrupted by the entry of Louka, a handsome and proud peasant girl, who announces that the Serbs have been routed and have scattered throughout the town and that some of the fugitives have been chased into the neighborhood. Thus, the doors must be secured since there might be fighting and shooting in the street below. Raina is annoyed that the fugitives must be killed, but she is immediately corrected ??” in war, everyone can be killed. Catherine goes below to fasten up the doors, and Louka shows Raina how to fasten the shutters if there is any shooting and then leaves to help bolt the rest of the house. Left alone, Raina picks up her fiances picture, raises it above her head like a priestess worshipping it, and calls the portrait her “souls hero.” As she prepares for bed, shots are suddenly heard in the distance and then some more shots are heard; these are much nearer. She scrambles out of bed, rapidly blows out the candles, and immediately darts back into bed. She hears more shots, and then she hears someone tampering with the shutters from outside; there is a glimmer of light, and then someone strikes a match and warns her not to try to run away. Raina is told to light a candle, and after she does so, she is able to see a man in a Serbians officers uniform; he is completely bespattered with mud and blood, and he warns her that if it becomes necessary, he will shoot her because if he is caught, he will be killed ??” and he has no intention of dying. When they hear a disturbance outside the house, the Serbian officer quickly snatches Rainas cloak that she is about to use to cover herself; ungentlemanlike, he keeps it, knowing that she wont want a group of army officers searching her room when she is clad in only a sheer nightgown. There is more noise downstairs, and Louka is heard at the door; she says that there is a search party downstairs, and if Raina doesnt let them in, they will break down the door. Suddenly the Serbian officer loses his courage; he tells Raina that he is done for. He will shoot the first man who breaks in and “it will not be nice.” Raina impulsively changes her mind and decides to hide him behind the curtains. Catherine, Louka, and a Russian officer dressed in a Bulgarian uniform enter, and after inspecting the balcony and hearing Raina testify that no one
came in, they leave. (Louka, however, notices something behind the curtain and sees the revolver lying on the ottoman; she says nothing, however.) Raina slams and locks the door after them. When the Serbian officer emerges and offers his thanks, he explains that he is not really a Serbian officer; he is a professional soldier, a Swiss citizen, in fact, and he now wishes that he had joined with the Bulgarians rather than with the Serbs. He asks to stay a minute to collect his thoughts, and Raina agrees, deciding to sit down also, but as she sits on the ottoman, she sits on the mans pistol, and she lets out a scream. Raina now realizes what it was that Louka was staring at, and she is surprised that the others didnt notice it. She is frightened of the gun, but the soldier tells her there is no need to be ??” it is not loaded: he keeps chocolates rather than bullets in his cartridge holder. In fact, he wishes he had some chocolates now. In mock scorn, Raina goes to the chest of drawers and returns with a half-eaten box of chocolates, the remainder of which he immediately devours. Raina is shocked to hear him say that only foolish young soldiers or else stupid ones like those in charge of the recent attack on the Serbs at Slivnitza carry bullets; wise and experienced soldiers carry chocolates. Then he offends her further (and still innocently, of course) by explaining how unprofessional the cavalry charge against the Serbians was, and if there had not been a stupid mistake on the part of the Serbs, the Bulgarians would have been massacred. Then the soldier says that the Bulgarian “hero,” the leader of the troops, acted “like an operatic tenor . . . shouting his war-cry and charging like Don Quixote at the windmills.” He says that the fellow was the laughingstock of everyone present: “Of all the fools let loose on a field of battle, that man must be the very maddest.” Only a stupid mistake carried the day for him. Raina then takes the portrait of Sergius and shows it to the officer, who agrees that this was indeed the person who was “charging the windmills and imagining he was doing the finest thing.” Angry at the derogatory remarks about her “heroic” betrothed, Raina orders the stranger to leave. But he balks; he says that whereas he could climb up the balcony, he simply cant face the descent. He is so exhausted that he tells her to simply give out the alarm ??” hes beaten. Raina tries to spark some courage in him, but realizes that he is more prudent than daring. Raina is at a loss; she simply doesnt know what to do with him: he cant be caught in the Petkoff house, the richest house in Bulgaria and the only one to have a library and an inside staircase. She then remembers an opera by Verdi, Ernani, in which a fugitive throws himself on the mercy of some aristocratic people; she thinks that perhaps this might be the solution because, according to the opera, the hospitality of a nobleman is sacred and inviolable. In response, the soldier tells her that his father is a hospitable man himself; in fact, he owns six hotels in Switzerland. Then falling asleep, he kisses her hand. Raina panics. She insists that he stay awake until she can fetch her mother, but before she can get out of the room, he has crawled into her bed and is asleep in such a trance that when Raina returns with her mother, they cannot shake him awake. His fatigue is so great that Raina tells her mother: “The poor darling is worn out. Let him sleep.” This comment arouses Catherines stern reproach, and the curtain falls on the first act. Analysis In reading a Shavian play, one should pay attention to Shaws staging directions at the beginning of the act. The stage directions here call for the scenery to convey the impression of cheap Viennese pretentious aristocracy incongruously combined with good, solid Bulgarian
commonplace items. Likewise, since Raina will ultimately be seen as a person who will often assume a pose for dramatic effect, the act opens with her being (in Shaws words) “intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it.” As we find out later, she even listens at doors and waits until the proper moment to make the most effective, dramatic entrance. As noted in the “Introduction” to these notes, the title of this play is ironic since it comes from the opening line of Virgils Aeneid (“Of arms and the man I sing. . . .”), an epic which glorifies war and the hero in battle. Shaw will use the idea of the hero (Sergius) in war (the SerboBulgarian war) in order to satirize not merely war itself, but the romantic glorification of war. In addition to this goal, he will also satirize romantic notions of valor and courage, affectation and pretense, and most important, misguided idealism. The dramatic shift that will occur in the play involves two romantic idealists (Raina and Sergius) who, rejecting their original positions instead of marrying each other, will each become engaged to a practical realist ??” Sergius to the practical and attractive servant, Louka, and Raina to the professional realist, Captain Bluntschli. Raina is seen, at first, as the romantic idealist, but she is also characterized as being a fleeting realist when she wonders if her idealism and Sergius idealism might be due simply to the fact that they have read so much poetry by Byron and other romantics. Likewise, Raina wants to glory in the noble idealism of the war, but she is also deeply troubled by its cruelty: “What glory is there in killing wretched fugitives” In this early comment, we have her rationale for her later hiding and, thus, her saving Bluntschlis life. Before meeting Bluntschli, Raina seems to want to live according to the romantic idealism to which she and Sergius aspire. She knows that he has, in effect, placed her on too high a pedestal, but she does want to make an effort to live “up to his high standards.” For example, after hearing of his heroic feats, she holds up his photo and “elevates it, like a priestess,” vowing never to be unworthy of him. This vow, however, as we soon see, will not last too long. Captain Bluntschlis arrival through the balcony doors is, in itself, a highly melodramatic and romantic stage entrance. In fact, almost everything about Act I is contrived ??” the ladys bedroom, the concealment of the fugitive behind a curtain, the threat of a bloody fight, the matter of chocolate creams, and, finally, the enemy soldier falling asleep in the ladys bed ??” all of this smacks of artificiality and is juxtaposed against Captain Bluntschlis realistic appraisal of war and his matter-of-fact assertion that, from a practical viewpoint, Sergius military charge was as foolish as Don Quixotes charge on the Windmills. And actually, while Raina ridicules Captain Bluntschli for his cowardice, for his hiding behind a womans curtains, for his inordinate fear (he has been under fire for three days and his nerves are “shot to pieces”), and for his extraordinary desire for chocolate creams, she is nevertheless attracted to him, and even though she pretends to be offended at his comments about Sergius, she is secretly happy that her fiance is not as perfect as we were earlier led to believe that he was. At the end of the act, Raina returns to her artificial pretensions as she tries to impress Bluntschli with her familys aristocratic aspirations, bragging that her father chose the only house in the city with an inside stairway, and a library, and, furthermore, Raina says, she attends the opera every year in Bucharest. Ironically, it is from romantic operas that Raina derives many of her romantic
ideals, and she uses one of Verdis romantic operas as her rationale for hiding this practical Swiss professional soldier. The final irony of the act is that the professional man of war is sleeping as soundly as a baby in Rainas bed, with her hovering over him, feeling protective about him. Explanation: Page 3(9): Can??™t you see it, Raina; our gallant splendid Bulgarians with their swords and eyes flashing, thundering down like an avalanche and scattering the wretched Servian dandies like chaff. (Catherine) Page 4(10): Well, it came into my head just as he was holding me in his arms and looking into my eyes, that perhaps we only had our heroic ideas because we are so fond of reading Byron and Pushkin, and because we were so delighted with the opera that season at Bucharest. (Raina) Page 4(10): Oh, to think that it was all true??”that Sergius is just as splendid and noble as he looks??”that the world is really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance! What happiness! what unspeakable fulfilment! (Raina) act its romance! What happiness! what unspeakable fulfilment! (Raina) Page 12(16): MAN. A narrow shave; but a miss is as good as a mile. Dear young lady, your servant until death. I wish for your sake I had joined the Bulgarian army instead of the Servian. I am not a native Servian.