HIS ARMS AND THE MAN-THE WAY I THOUGHT THE SETTING OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF THIS PLAY--

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Many days before, when I was in A Muslim family I heard this play of George Bernard Shaw . The play was again repeated to me in my professional life when I struck myself herein to analyze --"Raina’s remarks-‘Oh! The Chocolate Cream Soldier’--"...
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Submitted: February 16, 2014

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Submitted: February 16, 2014

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“And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!”

After some reluctance, Raina also accepts him saying that she is accepting him as her ‘chocolate cream soldier’ and not as a rich businessman. Bluntschli looks at his watch and becomes business like. He instructs Petkoff to be ready to deal with the infantry of the Timok division. He requests Sergius not to get married until he comes back. He promises to be back at five in the evening of Tuesday night. Then, with a military bow to the ladies, he goes out.

Sergius [enigmatically]: The world is not such an innocent place as we used to think,Petkoff.

The play is the best of Shaw’s plays from the point of view of stage craft. Shaw has shown excellent brilliance in contriving the stage situations. The actions take place in a garden and two rooms only. We feel the tension that Raina feels. All the situations are well controlled. The plot is simple and actors are alive. Although audiences are kept tense but all the bitter truths have been sugar coated and the ion is removed with laughter. The Puritarian setting of the play also goes a long way to make it popular.

The title of the play, Arms and the Man, as Shaw himself acknowledges in the Preface to Plays Pleasant, is taken from “the first line of Dryden’s Virgil.” The Aeneid, the famous epic of the Latin poet Virgil, begins with the Latin phrase ‘Arma virumque cano’. In his translation of The Aeneid, Dryden skillfully renders this phrase into English, ‘Arms and the Man I sing’. Dryden’s line is one of the most heroic lines in heroic poetry.

“Raina enters and exclaims, “Oh! The chocolate cream soldier!” ‘

To make the situation worse, Bluntschli comes back to return the coat. Catherine tries to send him away secretly, but her husband and Sergius see him and, as he is known to them, they receive him cordially. They make him stay, for they need his help in the dispersal the troops. Meanwhile Raina noticed her ‘hero’ flirting with her maid. Louka excites jealous in Sergius by telling him that Raina is in love with the Swiss who took refuge in her bedroom and whom she is sure to many if he returns as she had overheard their conversation.

Raina: “…Oh,I see now exactly what you think of me ! You were not surprised to hear me lie. To you it was something I probably did every hour.”…

War is over, and Major Petkoff and Sergius return home. After the first raptures of re-union, the soldiers settle down. Sergius starts flirting with Louka, the maid-servant.  One day, he speaks of a Swiss officer of the Serbian Army who told the romantic story of his being sheltered and saved by a young Bulgarian lady into whose bedroom he had entered. Raina and her mother are shocked and worried.

Again Bluntschli’s friend tells the story to the father of the same young lady whose house is the only private house with windows and who does not suspect his own daughter at all. Of all the days in the year Bluntschli comes to return the coat on the 6th of March, 1886, and is seen by Petkoff remains unaware, rather he is fooled by his wife and daughter.

“A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,

Loitered about that vacancy; a bird

Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:”

Bluntschli is Shaw’s idea of a soldier. He marches and fights like the real man with his stomach. Other things being equal, he prefers life to death. Long fighting leaves his nerves on edge. He is uncontrollably sleepy after being awake for two nights.  He eats cream chocolates when they are offered to him. Such an idea of a soldier was revolting to Raina, as it was to Shaw’s first audiences, but it will be recognized as the reality by all who have been soldiers. Everyone knows that the ideal soldier of poetry and fiction is mere saw-dust and that, if he existed, he would be the laughing stock of the Army.

There are not many diversions and the plot is simple, the play is divided in three acts only. In the First Act, we have a melodramatic setting. There is the army—adoring heroine fully absorbed in the romantic thought of war and love, with a midnight entry of a fugitive in her bedroom. Directly or indirectly we are introduced to all major characters of the play in an ‘atmosphere of military drama’. Shaw is ever disengaged, composed, deliberate, good humoured - all these qualities are reflected in his style.

One will look in vain for the softer graces of sentiment, for the tendered play of fancy. His style is characterized by a hard glitter of wit, the Bandying of argument, the close reasoning. And his style is very well adapted for the propagation of his ideas. His aim is always to drive the point home. He has well succeeded in it. In Act-II, Shaw attacks romantic illusions of war and love, thus takes the theme of the play in hand. Two strands of plot now become clearly separate- the ‘Bluntschli-Raina Episode’. The romantic illusions about love have been shattered mercilessly here, where two events mix, the plot becomes complicated but the action advances considerably. The Third Act has no suspense. The climax comes and illusions about war are also shattered and right pairs of lovers have been made. So there is simplicity and clarity in the plot and the play is not presenting a bundle of complications. Shaw, with his frank and free style, his mixture of humour and wit and his unconventional characters, has been able to catch the attention of the audience and has been a successful playwright to maintain his popularity and hold it as well.

“I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish

With themselves, remorseful after deeds done;”

Shaw’s plays are always argumentative and full of ideas. As in Major Barbara he is discussing poverty, so in Arms and the Man, he is discussing and arguing about the real nature of love and war. Both are esteemed by people in the wrong light but both are very different from what we think they ought to be. This technique of using ideas adds meaning to his plays and makes them more useful. Arms and the Man displays Shaw’s favourite device of inversion of conventional situations regarding the relation of men and women. Contrary to the established conventions, Catherine is the ‘’boss’’ in the Petkoff establishment, not her husband. Nicola pays reverences to her. Bluntschli says, “The officers send for their wives to keep discipline.” Louka is the force and energy in her romance with Sergius. She takes the initiative although he wanted flirtation; she sees to it that it becomes something more serious.

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monostrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.”

Bluntschli then gives her his introduction that he is a Swiss serving Serbian Army as a professional. He shocks her by his attitude to war. He tells her that war is a folly and that soldiers are fools and about himself he says that he would prefer carrying chocolates with him to cartridges. He says that soldiers are not heroes but ordinary men who like food and value life above everything else. Raina asks him to describe the great cavalry charge that brought the Bulgarians victory. He vividly pictures the Quixotic bravado of the leader of the attack and denounces the whole thing as unprofessional and suicidal. Raina’s dream castle collapses, a sort of realistic reaction starts in her and she beginsto see the Swiss in a new light. She is so much fascinated by him that she conceals her photograph in the pocket of the coat with an inscription, “Raina, to her chocolate cream soldier.”

 “Let those who go home tell the same story of you:

Of action with a common purpose, action

None the fruitful if neither you nor we

Know, until the judgement after death,

What is the fruit of action.”

Literature reflects the life. The mirror that an artist holds up to the world is the mirror of his own personality. In theory, drama does not permit a writer to represent his life but in practice, writers do make their personalities felt. He makes his presence felt through the utterances of his various characters, in their personalities and makes the reality felt by the audiences also. Shaw makes fun of the Army by his term ‘chocolate cream soldier’. At a time when chocolate did not secure the approval of the Army dieticians as a battleworthy concentrated food, he made a soldier get the nickname ‘chocolate- cream soldier’ by gobbling chocolate creams enthusiastically. The term ‘the chocolate cream soldier’ is quite amusing, while Shaw’s purpose is serious so, it’s doubtful whether it would have been a suitable title for Shaw’s play. Shaw exposes in this play the falsity of the order that denies the man bound by the romantic bonds of arms. He builds his play not on the fun, given by a particular soldier, but on the true relation between man and his arms. Hence,” Arms and the Man “and not ‘the chocolate-cream soldier’ seems to be an appropriate title.

Louka [wistfully]: “I wish I could believe a man could be as unlike a woman as that. I wonder are you really a brave man?”

Louka enters the room and informs them that all the windows are to be closed and shutters made fast, because there will be shooting in the street as the Serbs are being chased by Bulgarian Army. She closes the windows and fastens the shutters and then she and Catherine leave. Raina is left alone in her bedroom. She gives a kiss of approval to her hero’s portrait and starts reading before going to sleep.

Shaw’s real intention in the play is to unmask love and war. He wants to tell the world that war is not a chivalrous sport. Sergius, who n is responsible of romanticism of war, becomes wiser through the experience of war. Through his disillusionment, Shaw is conveying the great truth about the unheroism of successful fighting. Shaw’s mouthpiece, Bluntschli, cares more for chocolates than for bullets and says the first duty of every soldier, being a human being, is to save his own life. 

Bluntschli enters her life quite dramatically; he is a fugitive who is pursued by Bulgarians soldiers, climbs up the water pipe to the balcony of her room. At first Raina is compelled to receive him, but later, when the pursurers come seeking him, she pities him and saves him. This is the beginning of her attraction for him.

Catherine: “You will marry Louka! Sergius you are obliged to marry Raina.

Sergius (adamantly folding his arms). Nothing can oblige me.”

Chocolates symbolize food, the necessity of life, bullets symbolize the arms, the romance of life, food sustains life is more precious than the glory of war. In the same way, Shaw denounces love and marriage.  For him ‘higher love’ is nothing but list. Raina and Sergius both are lost in such romance but ultimately they are disillusioned. Sergius gets ready to marry a housemaid who has no special understanding and Raina accepts Bluntschli, the unheroic but practical man. The two marriages might seem improbable but they do symbolize the realities of life. Shaw proves through them marriage is the procreation of generation, which is more important than the romance.  So the conflict between romanticism and realism, which was the main target of his psychological treatment of the play, ends with the victory of realism.

“I would not be Sisyphus,

there were things that I should learn to break.”

On the morning the 6th March, 1886, Sergius sees Louka, it seems for the first time. There is no indication in the play that she was not in the family when Sergius left for the battlefield. If she was in service with the Petkoffs even then, there is no reason why Sergius had not fallen in love with her earlier. On the day of the action of Act II, Sergius is least disposed to pay attention to Louka is busy making love to his fiancé whom he has met after a period of four months. When Raina goes to fetch her hat he wants her to return at once because time hangs heavy upon him in her absence. After she has gone we are told that his face is “radiant with the loftiest exaltation” rising out of romantic love. It is difficult to reconcile with his behavior a minute afterwards. Again, we are told Raina is at this time spying upon him but she does not understand what the matter is. There is no reason why Raina should not have spied from the beginning to the end when once her suspicion, and then her jealousy have been aroused. Instead she goes in to fetch the hat and does not follow Sergius and Louka to the stable yard.  Further, one day is too short a time for all the events to happen without appearing to be improbable.

Raina [bitterly]: “Major Saranoff has changed his mind. And when I wrote that on the photograph, I did not know Captain Bluntschli was married.

Bluntschli [startled into vehement protest]: I’m not married.”

In this farcical comedy, the dialogue keeps pace with situations. Right from the time Bluntschli comes on the scene, the conversation becomes alive. When Raina asks him, “I suppose, now you have found me out, you despise me” he answers with a sparkle of wit “I’m your infatuated admirer”. All the dialogues are spicy and lively with wit and humour.It is obvious why the play has gained a continuous success till today, but after World War-II its popularity increased still more. The soldiers who came back from war justified Shaw’s view on war. The peculiar charm of Arms and the Man is that it is professing to be anti romantic, but it is gaily romantic besides being rich in wit and character.

Catherine:”He certainly ought to be promoted when he marries Raina. Besides, the country should insist on having atleast one native general.’”

It is one of Shaw’s earlier plays, and it does not totally break away from the old tradition. The main plot is divided in three main Acts and each Act has got separate scenes and with each scene the characters change. In the First Act all the characters have been introduced and in the Second Act the plot rises to a climax with many intrigues. In the last Act each thread has been knitted to its separate and proper place and the conclusion is drawn.

Raina [succumbing with a shy smile]: To my chocolate cream soldier.

Critics have often criticized Shaw for making his characters his mouthpieces. But of, in reality even if Shaw is presenting his ideas through his character he is not murdering their individuality; rather he has not made his characters classical heroes “all perfect”. They have the weaknesses of their own and that is why they are humans and are real, Bluntschli being the most attractive of them. He is a fine figure, comic in his talk and behavior with an infectious exuberance. Sergius excites laughter with his pompous pretensions while Raina enchants. The adventures of Major Petkoff invoke sheer fun; all these are excellent acting parts are extremely effective on stage.

Bernard Shaw has used the stage as a pulpit to communicate to the public, directly or indirectly, and whatever he said, heroes entertainingly. And that is why the interest of people in his plays has never abated, but has only grown with the passage of years. His farcical comedy Arms and the Man has attracted all classes of people. The play has always been extraordinarily effective in the theatre and there are many reasons for its popularity.

Again, when she senses the figure of Bluntschli in her room, she is described as “crounching on the bed” which once again suggests her timidity and lack of courage, but Raina’s conversation with Blutschli doesnot reveal any timidity in her inspite of the pistol in his hand. We even hear her asking Bluntschli boldly how he knows that she is afraid to die. Here she is not the same Raina that she was a few minutes earlier. She has been to behave inconsistently by Shaw; just to make the dialogue crisp and interesting Shaw has ignored the reality of the character.

Sergius: “Dearest, all my deeds have been yours. You inspired me. I have gone through the war like a knight in a tournament with his lady looking down at him.”

Shaw has written discussion dramas. There are two kinds of discussions mainly, the discussion of problems for their inherent interest. In such dramas we have nothing more important than the discussion itself. For example Don Juan in hell. Secondly, the discussion as an emanation of conflict between persons. Shaw is a known expert in writing verbal duels in which acerbity and interest derivenot from the question discussed, but from situation and character. The villain in his plays is civilization, regarding some special problem framed for the occasion, constitutes the drama.

Sergius: “Allow me to see, is there any mark? (He moves up the bracelet and examines the bruise caused by his tight grasp. She stands still, not staring at him, liking it but not displaying it). Ffff!Is there any pain?”

The very first act takes place in Raina’s bed-chamber, and it brings before one’s mind’s eye all the articles of her room, the window curtains, the  Turkish Ottoman, the counterpane and hangings of the  wall, the painted wooden shrine,  the little carpet and all the oriental textual fabrics, the wash stand consisting of an enamelled  iron basin with a pail beneath it in a painted metal frame, the dressing-table, covered with  a cloth of many colours, with an expensive toilet mirror on it, the chest of drawers, also covered with  a variegated cloth. Through an open window with a little balcony, a peak of the Balkans is seen, as if it were quite close at hand, and as it is night it appears wonderfully white and beautiful in the starlit snow. Through this vivid picture Shaw has given us an understanding of Raina’s character. She is intensively conscious of the romantic beauty of the atmosphere and of the fact that her own youth and beauty are part of it. These facts we cannot gather only from dialogues, these are marked by the spectator or with Shaw’s description to the reader also they become significant.

We may take Arms and the Man as a compromise between a well made play and a thesis play. Although there is not much action in the play but the compromise has been made by a good development of character and proper use of dialogues.  The opening of the play is very dramatic; at first Raina is enjoying the night and is happy over the victory of her lover but all of a sudden scene changes, shots are heard and a Swiss soldier, unknown to her, enters her room.  Then, again audiences are relieved from the tension with the entrance of a stupid Russian officer and still the scene is further vitalized with the dialogue between Raina and the fugitive. He tells her that the cavalry officer of Bulgarian Army, who is her lover, also, is a humbug, perhaps even a pretender and a coward. And somewhere in her heart the girl agrees with him. Her mother too participates in the intrigue and lends the fugitive her husband’s coat (in which Raina hides her snap also with an inscription for the soldier) to make his escape easy.

“I’d study those red and blue mountain

Ranges as on a map that offered escape,

The veins and arteries the roads

I could travel to freedom when I grew.”

Again, when Bluntschli picks up the dressing gown of Raina as the best weapon for his protection, he throws his pistol on the divan and hides behind the curtain that was later on another circumstance was noticed even by a maid. It is nothing but a mock-search serving the purpose of the dramatist to prove something indifferent who must keep also the military man, Bluntschli alive if the play has to go on till the Third Act.

Raina is a girl with a romantic disposition and is influenced by the operas she has watched. Sergius too is a Bulgarian Byron. Raina and Sergius both suffer from psychological criss-crossing. Raina and Serrgius say something, think something else and yet something else; so they are always indecisive. There is no consistency between their intention and action. Shaw fought against show and hypocrisy. Though stark, his realism is healthy. Through Arms and the Man he has depicted the healthy realism and the unaffected realistic view of life.  This view is embodied in Bluntschli who is a personification of realism of Shaw. Romantic Raina, after meeting him, begins to see everything in a new light. She discovers that what he says is true. He removes her illusionary ideas and false romantic conceptions of war and love and thus makes her realize her real self. Louka and Nicola are in the same line. In his own life, which is certainly better, because it is based on reality, as contrasted with that of Sergius, he shows the hollowness of the pomp and pageantry of war. Then again Sergius, with his higher love himself stands exposed, baited as he is by Captain Bluntschli. The aim of Shaw in writing the play is just the reverse to that of Virgil in writing his epic, Aenid.

Shaw in Arms and the Man has declared that war is dangerous and its consequences are bitter. People, who have witnessed the horrors of the two world wars, can well appreciate the anti-war cries of Shaw. Shaw asserts the supremacy not of a war hero, but that of a real human being. Every man is a human being and wants to live long as possible. This is what Bluntschli says.

After analyzing the title of the play, we come to the conclusion that the play is intended to show the weakness in warfare, according for “Arms” and to provide an example of a “Man” who understands fighting and yet gives it up because he considers it more important to become a normal man attending to his natural business. This is what both Bluntschli and Sergius feel about. They know how to fight, yet they are not in favour of warfare.

Virgil’s phrase, as understood from Dryden’s translation, praises ‘the soldier and the weapons of war’. It is a heroic expression that brings to the mind the sparkle of arms, and glory of the warrior. But of, Shaw has given a different picture in his play. Instead of glorifying war and heroism like Virgil, he exposes the romantic glamour attached with war and the profession of a soldier. Though the opening of the play creates an atmosphere of war and heroism but the end strips it of all its romantic glamour. Shaw shows chivalry of love and chivalry of war to be fake. Raina, as the play develops, goes through a process of disillusionment; all her romantic ideals are shattered and she sees what war, after all, is and how false and insincere ‘higher love’ proves to be. Captain Bluntschli opens her eyes to the truth about these concepts.

“Be through my lips to unawken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

Arms and the Man is having two themes-love and war- closely knitted with a single yarn with great skill. Shaw has shown how the romance of war leads to the romance of love. ‘Arms and the Man’ portrays this having ruthlessly thrown among the idealisms. With a joy akin to that of Moliere, Shaw turns on the absurd impulses in men and women to lie and pose; and in Arms and the Man he subjects every lie to ludicrous exposure. He wanted to make fun of popular romantic false ideas regarding love and marriage. Shaw believed in marriage as a necessary and desirable institution.

There is a subtle suggestion that arms is perhaps referring to the embraces of lovers, thus giving a double meaning to the title.  The story is dealing with both, love and war.  Raina’s love for Sergius is based on her romantic notions of love which are soon shattered by a practical professional soldier-Bluntschli. He appeals to Raina so much that she develops a liking for him and ultimately the play terminates in their engagement. Again, Louka entraps Sergius, who is bethroned to Raina and at the end; -both are engaged to become husband and wife. Moreover war is there at the back of love-on the stage it’s love which people see most of the time. War only prepares a background for love theme. So, we may say that the title has a double meaning.

But of, he was of opinion that the romantic halo generally given to it led ultimately to disillusionment and unhappiness. This is the point of view that he projects through the love-theme in the play. When Sergius turns from the mistress to the maid without any apparent loss of intensity or sincerity in passion and when Raina abandons the copy-book here for her ‘chocolate-cream soldier’, Shaw succeeds in breaking the myth of romance that surrounds love and marriage in the popular imagination.

Major Petkoff: “Luckily he is no more our enemy. (In a worried tone) I think you have come here as a friend, not for striking deal on horses or prisoners.”

Shaw’s Arms and the Man evolve out of the background of war and deals with the man-in-arms. It’s purpose is to ridicule the ‘fictitious morals’ of war and to show up the interior of the man bound by the romantic bonds of arms. Shaw proves that war is run by pathetic chivalry, cheap egoism, and pompous inefficiency and that a soldier is, in reality, more interested in chocolates (symbolizing food) than in cartridges (symbolizing arms).

Shaw is the giant master of human psychology. This statement is absolutely true. He probes deep into the various aspects of human psychology which he presents through his characters. In Arms and the Man he has successfully delineated the psychological conflict between romanticism and realism and two sets of characters depicting these two ways of life.

The Man (feigns as if highly impressed) “A Major! Oh, God such a high position. It is hard to think!”

At the beginning of the play, we meet Raina Petkoff living in a world of which Sergius Saranoff is the central figure. She considers herself in love with him. She has gathered her ideas of that passion from Byron and Pushkin,and  from operas she  witnessed during her visits to the cities. She believes that what holds her and her Sergius together is “higher love” and that it will lead them into a married life of never-ending happiness. Her ideas about Sergius receive a rude awakening when she listens to the matter-of-fact, frank and lively Bluntschli, but even then she persists in believing that her lover is a hero of romance. When he is back from the war she receives him with warmth and calls him her hero and her king, confident that they have realized “higher love”. 

Sergius too, is in love, and finds the higher reaches of that passion realized in his romance with Raina.  When he returns, after a rapturous show of joy, he is ready to make love to the maid as soon as his “queen’s” back is turned. Then he openly, and with some conviction, chooses Louka as his life partner. All his empty pretensions fade away, and he is ready to find sober and sure happiness in Louka’s company. Raina maintains very lofty and romantic ideals, based on the romantic concepts of war and love. She glorifies war and sentimentalises love, but she has her own dreams or misgivings. She doubts Sergius, but the moment she hears the news of the triumphant cavalry charge led by him, all her doubts dispel and when she talks to Bluntschli, she forms an entirely different opinion about Sergius. She keeps on changing her mind.

A few minutes later, her vision founders, when she sees Sergius shamelessly making love to Louka, her maid.  The apostle of higher love falls down from the pedestal where her imagination had placed him. Hence she is unmoved, when he decides to marry Louka. She herself is ready to find happiness with Bluntschli.

When Shaw makes Sergius marry Louka and Raina consents to become Bluntschli’s wife, he enforces his notion that marriage is not the combination of high-flown desires and romantic passion, but a contract which is a means of bringing into being a better generation. As in Major Barbara, Barbara, ‘mother of creation’ selects Cusins as her life partner to produce a better generation, not because of ‘Idealistic love’. In Arms and the Man the “heroic” soldier is dumb before the professional military expert, so the bubble of the “higher love”, as proclaimed by Sergius and Raina, is pricked by the real thing, introduced by those masters of reality, Bluntschli and Louka. Yet Louka has her glamorous moods, rebuked by one even nearer the disillusioned heart of things.  “You have the soul of a servant, Nicola.”- “Yes, that’s the secret of success in service.

Intellectually, the play is a setting in opposition to the clear, actual, apparently cynical view of things as they are, voiced by Nicola and presently elaborated by Bluntschli, against the racial way taken by Sergius and Raina of making believe that the facts of life are romantically different. Even Raina’s parents, who pride themselves much on their wealth and honour, are at least convinced of the worth of Bluntschli as their son-in-law by his most unromantic enumeration of his possessions-many horses, so many carriages, so many pairs of sheets and blankets, etc. the very triumph of the character is the antithesis between the conventional standard of life and the real motive in human life.

Then, by the end of the First Act, Raina has been shown to be stripped of her romanticism regarding war and heroism of Sergius, but in the Second Act when she neets Sergius she behaves as though no change has occurred in her. She continues to pretend in front of Sergius.

Bluntschli: “Never mind whether it’s heroism or baseness.  Nicola’s the ablest man Ive met in Bulgaria. I’ll make him manager of a hotel if he can speak French and German.”

Then Serbian artillery discovers of its not having proper ammunition; at the last moment which is hard to believe. Bluntschli carries chocolates in his cartridge box instead of bullets and ammunition, at the time when he should be worried about his safety he can think of chocolate creams seems improbable. Then again in the cold weather in which one would like to wear a coat or sit near the fire, Bluntschli had not even once put his hands in his coat’s pocket to discover Raina’s photograph.

The romantic view of war, which has sought to dispel, is based on the idealistic notion that men fight because they are heroes, and that the running of the greatest risk brings the brightest glory. It is such a bloated notion that Raina Petkoff has about her Sergius. She believes that the world is a happy place where heroes partake in such adventures and their heroines feel the glory.  Then suddenly reality dawns upon her in the form of the weary, dirt-stained Swiss soldier. His very appearance and his notions about a soldier’s duty alarm yet impress her as nearer truth than her own high-flown notions.

Raina (To Louka). “Do not fasten the shutters. I can do it on hearing any disturbing noise.”

The title which has been taken from Virgil carries its own significance. Chesterton calls it a “mounting and ascending phrase”, conveying the idea that man is more than his weapons. It cannot be said that Shaw seeks to express through his play a total antipathy towards war, as is seen in Tolstoy and other modern humanitarians and pacifists.  Shaw is more concerned with abolishing romantic ideas war; he wants to denude it of such an attractive garb. We are apt to appreciate Shaw’s outlook when we realize how war has survived as a method of settling human disputes, because it has also been looked upon as an opportunity for the display of all that is best in man.

When she meets the stark realist, Bluntschli, her romantic notions start getting cold at once. When Sergius comes back from the war, her old romantic mood revives. It seems she cannot think anything herself. She thinks what she is made to think by others and works under their influence. When her contact with Bluntschli is renewed and Sergius proves inconsistent in love; she leaves Sergius to ‘his kind’ and marries the ‘chocolate cream soldier’, Bluntschli.  This is a process of Metamorphosis from Romanticism to Realism.

Shaw has shown the war in the light of the common sense- a matter of business and superior forces, devoid of romance and heroism, except for featherbrained fools like Sergius. The genuine glamour of war is that felt by the man who stays at home and makes a fortune out of it, and a rhapsodic exponent of this position is given to us in Andrew Undershaft.

The crowning point of the disillusionment is in Sergius himself. He returns from the war a sadder, but wiser man. He has been disillusioned, and as he puts it, the cavalry charge was the cradle and the grave of his military reputation.  He has sent in his resignation, and is not going to withdraw it. Raina remained unconscious of this effect of disillusionment in her fiancé for a long time. It is interesting to note that, Bluntschli’s story of the cavalry charge has partly shaken.  Raina’s faith in her romantic idealism about war, Sergius seems to be quite sobered by his experience. He has come to realize that soldiering is “The coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm way when you are weak.” The wisest maxim of war is never to fight any enemy on equal terms. He realizes that the hotel keeper’s son with all his knowledge of horses came better equipped for the army than for himself.  Through the disillusionment of Sergius, Shaw succeeds in dispelling the common notions of the heroics of war.

Raina: “Our relationship constitutes a very beautiful and sublime part of my life. I think you can understand my feelings.”

The chief vitality of the plays of Bernard Shaw lies in their invariably didactic intent and tone. His plays present ideas and project the author’s attitude towards it.  when this play was first presented on the  London stage , Shaw was accused of making fun of the Army, because in those days  the Army , even though it had lost some  of its importance as a weapon of national defence,had still some glamour about it. Kipling was singing the praise of the “officer and the gentleman.” The lasting appeal of this “pleasant” comedy can be traced to the fact that in a word more bitterly conscious of the miseries of war than the Europe of the 1890’s, it gives food for thought on a subject of immediate and urgent importance.

Shaw himself once said, “I write plays with the deliberate object of converting the nation to my opinions,” hence we see him tackling, in his plays, a large variety of themes, bringing them, and adding to the wisdom and gaiety of the world. There are few things in human life, from eating to love making, on which Shaw has not something both sensible and witty to say. Arms and the Man is not an exception to it. The greatest shock to Raina’s romantic ideals comes when Bluntschli describes Sergius’s cavalry charge. He derides him most devastatingly. He ridicules him, likening him to Don Quixote against the windmill and says that he looked like a foolish drum-major, who should have been court-martialled for his folly.

Bluntschli knows out and out the reality and futility of war, and as such “save your skin” is the policy which he follows most unhesitatingly; he declares that all the soldiers are afraid to die, and that soldiers are born fools. Shaw has criticized the days when “the officer and the gentleman” was a respected figure in English society and when Kipling had glorified the noble art of fighting. It was into such any atmosphere that Shaw, with his characteristic ruthlessness, introduced Bluntschli. Through this Swiss officer, Shaw presented soldiers pretty much as soldiers appeared to themselves and to one another.

The Swiss soldier attributes the Bulgarian victory to sheer ignorance of the art of war. First, he criticizes the cavalry charge, which decided the day. It is unprofessional –a rash act and quite unthinkable. Raina wants to hear the details of the cavalry charge, but of Bluntschli a realist, makes fun of Raina’s her” a handsome fellow, shouting his war-cry, and fighting like Don Quixote at the windmill.” Later, it was learnt that the Serbs had the wrong ammunition sent the portrait of hero, and tells him that she is bethroned to him. He apologises to her.  Yet he insists on calling him Don Quixote and laughs. Then he gives out the truth that perhaps the gentleman got wind of the enemies being without the right cartridge and ran no risk in charging so rashly. Raina is annoyed to see that her hero is figured out as a pretender and coward .Thus Shaw has treated both the themes (Love and War) unconventionally in his play Arms and the Man. He has successfully managed to keep them knitted with the same yarn by treating both in the same manner. Both Love and War had been highly romanticized by the Victorians and pre-Victorians, bit Shaw has brought the reality of the two on earth and has proved that having ideals about them bring nothing except disillusionment. Chesterton has rightly remarked that “The world does not encourage a quiet rational lover, simply because a perfectly rational lover would never get married. The world does not encourage a perfectly rational army, because a perfectly rational army would run away.”Now all these coincidences provide the backbone to the play and are obviously contrived by the dramatist to serve his purpose. Coincidences do happen in our real life also but they seldom happen in such a close succession as in Arms and the Man.

“I observe a famine at sea- I observe the sailors casting lots

who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;”

Shaw has written this play with the object of exposing the idle romantic notions held by people regarding war and love. He had created Bluntschli to serve as his spokesman and to express his realistic and commonsense points of view to put through his satire on romantic idealism about war and love.  And Bluntschli admirably serves the purpose-we hear him give outspoken expression to the dramatist’s favourite ideas and opinions. Shaw generally represents the person who derides convention and walks the path chalked out by his own individuality as right and sensible. Here it is Bluntschli who opposes traditional notions and bluntly expresses the practical point of view of all romantic and fanciful illusions. Bluntschli is a typical Shavian hero.

Bernard Shaw is a playwright who writes to sell his ideas, and like most propagandists, he is a little impatient to make his point. The effectiveness, with which Bluntschli conveys Shaw’s ideas on war, is remarkable indeed. His categorization of soldiers into young and old is very succinct. The immature young ones are rash and enthusiastic, whereas the old experienced ones are skeptical and reluctant; the former carry ammunition, while latter prefer grub on the battlefield.  Here Shaw is overdoing a little, but deliberately so in order to hold up to ridicule the whole business of fighting. Bluntschli shocks Raina by eating like a child.

He showed that soldiers were afraid; that they would carry with them to the field chocolates rather than bullets; that, other things being equal, they preferred life to death; and that they were bound to be sleepy after fighting for three days on end. We are told that what caused great indignation in 1890’s against the play was the confectionery, the way in which  a soldier was shown gobbling up cream chocolates which were then the ammunition for armour rather than arms .

Another God whom Shaw has attacked fiercely here is the romantic lover, the bold hero enveloped with a poetic halo in the popular imagination. It was a part of Shaw’s deliberate crusade against all empty Victorian idols. Here, he not only reveals their hollowness of romantic love, but presents a matter-of –fact practical attitude towards marriage. Nothing could express it as forcibly as Sergius’s preference for the maid and Raina’s for the unromantic hotelkeeper’s son. 

Shaw was a professed social reformer, and satire was the weapon he used to convert the nation to his own point of view. In play after play, he lashes out at the social evils prevalent in the society. In Arms and the Man he has satirized the romantic ideals of love and war, soldering and social snobbery.

Raina, in particular lives in a dreamland. She talks of the ‘higher love’ which nothing can defile. Sergius, more than fully, reciprocates is his “queen” and he has gone through the war like a knight in a tournament with his lady looking at him. And yet all their love is superficial. It is more of a show than a reality. Hot on the heels of his professinghigher love for Raina, Sergius’s gaze is caught by the poor but attractive maid, Louka. It comes as a shock to the readers to find this apostle of higher love, most unceremoniously, making advances to Louka. He confesses before Louka that ‘higher love’ is a very “fatiguing” thing. She makes a thorough idiot of him, making him dance to her tunes and all his declarations of “higher love” for Raina prove to be deceptive.

The love between Raina and Sergius is generated by external charm and by the family and position of the beloved. Such a love is based on old fashioned notions of romance and chivalry and is bred by the readings of poetry of Byron and Pushkin and visits to the opera. Shaw has delineated the psychological changes in a very correct manner. His psychology moves from sentimentalism to realism. This is in fact, the key to his dramatic psychology. Thus we see that in Arms and the Man Shaw exposes the fallacy of the romantic conception of war and love, thereby scandalizing the comfortably compromised Victorian public.  He also lets us see the absurdity of class-consciousness. He does overstate the case but only in order that we may be provoked to thinking about the problem from the rational point of view.

The most impressive and engaging character in Arms and the Man is Bluntschli, who makes a dramatic enter into it, who dominates it throughout and who carrries it to a happy ending. He is the most important character, not because he is theatrical as well as the real hero of the play, but because through him Shaw expresses his own ideas and opinions-he is his mouthpiece, his spokesman. He is created to show to the reader that in the world of today in which people’s ideas and ideals, viewpoints and attitudes, of life in general and to war in particular, are mostly confused, there are some persons like Bluntschli who can keep the balance, who can view and think without prejudice, even in the midst of thousands of conventions. 

Raina (grasping her arm). “Do not mamma: the wretched darling is totally exhausted. Allow him to sleep.”

Bluntschli is introduced to us as a fugitive running away from his pursuers, and trying to save himself by climbing up a drainpipe and entering a young lady’s chamber.  Shaw has not presented a hero devoid of all faults and defects. Instead, he has portrayed a man who has remarkable qualities of head and heart but also has the weakness of human beings.

In Victorian society, marriage was supposed to be the sacred act between two people of same status with higher spiritual values but when Raina marries Bluntschli and Sergius with Louka, Shaw proved that marriage is a licentious evil and is done for economic gains, eg. Louka and Raina both see the economic gains, e.g. Louka and Raina both see the economic gains in selecting their partners so marriage too is a target of satire in Arms and the Man. At times Bluntschli might appear to be rude and rough but he is polite and civilized, when Raina offers him her hand, he looks dubiously at his own and says, “Better not touch my hand, dear young lady, I must have a wash first.” Inspite of this, when Raina offers her hand as a token of safety, he kisses it with hands behind his back. Not only this, when the Russian officers, brought in by Raina’s mother, are about to enter Raina’s room, Bluntschli prepares himself to fight and gives Raina her cloak. He could easily have kept it, thereby preventing Raina from opening the door, but his civilized upbringing doesnot allow this. It may, however, be added here that Bluntschli knows full well that even if Raina doesnot open the door he is not safe because then Russians will break the door and kill him. Again when all is safe and clear, he asks Raina to inform her mother of his presence, because, says he, “I hid better not stay here secretly any longer than is necessary.”

Bluntschli [promptly]: “… I came sneaking back here to have another look at the young lady when any other man of my age would have sent the coat back-“

In the play, Shaw describes him as ‘’a man of about 35…he is of a middling stature and undistinguished appearance with strong neck and shoulders, roundish obstinate looking head covered with short crisp bronze curls, clear quick eyes and good brows and mouth; hopelessly prosaic nose like that of a young minded baby, trim soldier like carriage and energetic manner, and with all his, wits about him…”

A hint of his shrewdness is dropped by Major Sergius in the Second Act of the play while mentioning the exchange of prisoners. He humbugged Major Petkoff and Sergius into giving him fifty able bodied men for two hundred worn-out chargers. They were not even eatable. His apparent listlessness covers his sense of humour and shrewdness. He has deep insight into human character and is a prudent soldier. He knows perfectly well that nine soldiers out of ten are born fools, but he himself does not belong to that category. When Raina tries to hide him from Bulgarians, he tells her that she can do so if she keeps her head because he knows perfectly well that nine soldiers out of ten are born fools.  The Russian officer comes in; he just looks in the balcony and goes out thanking Raina. He doesnot care to search the room or look behind the curtain. Bluntschli’s judgment turns out to be correct and the Russian officer is proved to be a fool.

Bluntschli has a wonderful sense of humour. He laughs at romanticism, but he does so in a very subtle manner. His talk with Raina and Sergius sparkles with touches of his humour. The way he tries to pronounce ‘Petkoff’ also shows his sense of humour. His caricaturing of Sergius as Don Quixote is another example of his humour. Infact, he attracts us by his liveliness and his exuberance. From the moment he enters the scene, the mood is transformed and we watch for the unexpected and the original in word and deed. His exuberance is irrepressible, and nothing can prevent his bubbling forth continuously.

He is not fickle-minded and unbalanced like Sergius who is completely a different man at different times. Though Raina worships Sergius like a priestess, Bluntcshli succeeds in winning her. He offers her his hand not as the King of Switzerland but merely as a ‘chocolate cream soldier’, but he is sincere..when he is alone with Raina in her bedroom he asks her to inform her mother of his presence; like a real man, he does not take the opportunity to flirt but Sergius does. He never lives like Sergius , in a fool’s paradise or in a dreamland. Moreover he never entertains high opinions about himself, he judges everything right at its face. He is a very practical and balanced man.

Bluntschli himself tells Raina, “I am a Swiss fighting merely as a professional soldier. I joined the Serbs because they came first on the road from Switzerland.” According to him, it is the duty of every soldiered to live as long as is possible instead of being killed in the battlefield even when there is a chance to escape. Not only this, he judges everything according to strict military rules. A cavalry charge for him is “like slinging a handful of peas against him, and then all the rest in a lump.” He does not speak in high terms about it and about Sergius.  He tells Raina. This account offends Raina. Bluntschli in despair tells her, “It’s no use dear lady; I can’t make-you see it from the professional point of view.” Moreover he takes war as mere art and the cavalry charge appears to him as something very unprofessional. He can also distinguish between the old soldiers and the young ones. This shows that he is really a very experienced soldier and knows all the tactics of war. Once more he gives an example of his experience. “You can always tell an old soldier by the inside of his holsters and cartridge boxes. The young ones carry pistols and cartridges; the old ones grub.”

Raina Petkoff is the heroine of the play as Bluntschli is the hero of the play. Hence both of them stand head and shoulders above other characters of the play. She has extraordinary physical charms; her intelligence is also extraordinary; her attitude towards life is quite abnormal- her whole make –up is attractive and beautiful.  Shaw presents her as typical of the upper middle class in its philistinism and ridiculous ineptitude. She is the type also of general humanity that clings, in spite of common sense, to romantic notions regarding life and things.

Catherine [severely]: “My daughter, sir, is accustomed to a first-rate stable.

Raina : Stop,mother, you are making me laughable.”

Sergius too maintains a kind of ‘higher love’ with Raina, but in reality, as a human being he cannot neglect his natural sex-instinct and starts flirting with Louka, a maid-servant although his sense of ‘higher love’ and romantic heroism abuse him consciously. At last he gets fed up with his Byronism and adopts a matter-of-fact attitude and marries Louka. Here again we find the conversation of Romanticism into Realism.

Bluntschli: “If you were twenty-three when you said those things to me this afternoon, I shall take them seriously.”

When we first meet Raina, we see that she is a brooding romantic girl contemplating the distant view of the Balkan hills, but she seems to possess a strong common sense; from the beginning there is a doubt in her mind whether the heroic ideals, which she cherishes in her heart, for her fiancé, are after all true. Her mother, who comes running in to infirm her of Sergius’s splendid cavalry charge which decided the day for the Bulgarians, dispels all her doubt. She blames, now, herself for entertaining the doubts. It appears that Raina’s romantic idealism is buttressed –up affair; it needs to be stimulated and reinforced.

 Raina lives in the realm of romantic idealism, far from the world of grim reality. She looks upon Sergius with a view of the knights of ancient days of chivalry come to life again. This view of hers has been created and pampered by the romantic dreams of life gathered from Byron, Pushkin, and from the several operas she has witnessed she takes his portrait in her hands and elevates it like a priestess. When she meets him after his return from the front, she most romantically calls him, ‘My hero, my king’, but it is a sceptic attitude...there is a good deal of doubt in it. She keeps on watching Sergius and he does betray her. So their ‘higher love’ turns to ashes.

Captain Bluntschli is a man of remarkable qualities; but he is not an ideal hero devoid of all faults. Rather he is a character very much true to life. He exhibits the sense of humour with brutal frankness’. He is in fact the mouthpiece of Shaw. The rare gift of irony enables him to see through all kinds of dealings. He is not led by blind love or unfaithful emotions. He is a true lover. In short, he is a cool and I, partial man, susceptible to the charms of beauty and youth. He is a shrewd judge of character. His sincerity of purpose is admirable and his sense of duty praiseworthy. In fact, he is the most loving and living character of the play.

Raina poses to be an idealist too. She idealises the world as “really a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act its romance.” In a solemn tone she tells Sergius,”I think we two have found the ‘higher love’.” she wants to make Bluntschli realise that her “relation to him (Sergius) is the only really beautiful and noble part” of her life. She often strikes a ‘noble attitude’, ‘speaks in a thrilling voice’ and looks like a great idealist. Her father wonders and admires her, her lover is kept spell-bound, but empty vessels make more noise..she cheats Sergius and Sergius betrays her, so two ‘apostles of higher love’, two idealists, prove what they are in reality. It is a hoax, an empty show.

Petkoff [with childish awe]:”Are you Emperor of Switzerland?

Bluntschli: My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I am a free citizen.”

Like her parents, Raina is a snob. She is proud of her family’s social status and riches.  Very proudly she tells Bluntschli that her father is a “Major”, that her family has a “library”, “the only one in Bulgaria” and that people of her position “wash their hands nearly everyday”. When Louka, says “My love was at stake”, she taunts as if it were ridiculous for a maid-servant to have a lover. And destiny snatches her own ‘King’ and puts him in the lap of the same maid servant.

Sergius: “The glimpses I have had of the seamy side of life during the last few months have made me cynical;but I  should not have brought my cynicism here:least of all into your presence, Raina.”

There is always a clash between Rain’s perception of reality and her romantic illusion. Sometimes she seems to be in despair whether she can be true to her romantic ideals, e.g. when Bluntschli tells her about Sergius and calls him a fool..which shows that, to keep her confidence she needs continuous pampering because the moment she gets the news of the splendid cavalry charge led by Sergius, her faith is revived.

Louka calls Raina a ‘liar” and a “cheat” and Bluntschli openly pointed out her lies and pretentions. Raina, however, deliberately deludes others. When she is caught by Bluntschli in her imposture, in the last Act of the play, she at first tries to register indignation, but finding Bluntschli unimpressed, she admits the truth about her “noble attitude” and “thrilling voice.” The way in which Raina readily transfers her affection from Sergius to Bluntschli is strange and may lead one to doubt reasonably the very depth of her devotion.

Raina is bold and intelligent. She does not get nervous when a stranger enters her room with a ready revolver. She had no idea that there was no cartridge in the revolver. She had no idea that there was no cartridge in the revolver. She does not get upset when the Russian officer comes to search her room, she did her job before the officer smartly and intelligently and makes a fool of him. She offers Bluntschki her hand twice for security. She even gives the old coat of her father to him while leaving because the weather was cold. Again very boldly she puts her photograph in the pocket of the coat and when her father wears it when it is brought back; cleverly she takes out the photograph. William Archer has accurately observed her as “a deliberate humbug, without a single genuine or even self-deluding emotion in her bloodless frame.” A dramatist must keep his action moving and his characters coming and going. Usually he tries to make their entrances and exits unobtrusive; they must leave the stage or enter on it naturally, not as though on an obvious cue.

Although Raina is a coquette, Shaw has not made her a fiendish figure. She feels for wretched fugitives and feelingly questions: “what glory is there in killing wretched fugitives?’ she saves Bluntschli at a great personal risk and she has no motive behind this act. Raina Petkoff, with a contradictory and complex character, enchants the readers of the play from beginning to end. As the plot develops, her personality also develops rapidly. She is not the “all perfect” Victorian heroine, rather with all her follies and illusions she appears to be more human and real.

Sergius: “I won the battle the wrong way when our worthy Russian generals were losing it the right way. In short,  I upset their plans, and wounded their self-esteem. Two Cossack colonels had their regiments routed on the most correct principles of scientific warfare. Two major generals got killed strictly according to military etiquette.  The two colonels are now major-generals, and I am still a simple major.”

Bluntschli’s personality affects not merely her notions about war, it breaks all her illusions of ‘higher love’ too. She feels attracted by the plain-spoken Swiss, with a gleam of mischief in his eyes and a practical attitude towards everything. When he comes back, his influence becomes stronger. He alone has the frank courage to tell her that when she strikes a noble attitude and speaks in a thrilling voice, he is led to admire her, but not to believe one word of what she says. Her protest against this is half-hearted, even though she manages to act as if she were shocked.

Her conception of ‘higher love’ collapse completely when she sees Sergius making advances to Louka and finds her hero really attracted towards a maid. All her rosy visions fade away, and she is ready to face life as it is. And when, finally she accepts the offer of marriage from Bluntschli, she is absolutely cured of all the delusions she has entertained about life.

“She runs to the dressing table, blows out the light there, and hurries back to bed in the dark…”

Shaw describes Sergius in Arms and the Man as “a tall, romantically handsome man, with the physical manhood, the high spirit, and the susceptible imagination of an untamed mountaineer chieftain. But of, his remarkable personal distinction is of a characteristically civilized type. The ridges of his eyebrows, curving with an interrogative twist round the projections at the outer corners; his jealousy observant eye; his nose, thin, keen and apprehensive in spite of the pugnacious high brigade and large nostril; his assertive chin, would not be out of place in a Parision salon, shewing that the clever imagination barbarian has an acute critical faculty which has been thrown into intense activity by the arrival of western civilization in the Balkans…” He is what may be called a Byronic hero and his personal appearance shows clearly that he is in love with Byronic romanticism.

Both are proud, beautiful and spirited, but of status wise, they belong to two different stations of life, Raina has learnt her behavior from the sophisticated society of Vienna and her ideas of life from operas but Louka came there as a simple country maid with unpolished habits and behavior, but she was tutored in the ways of civilized behavior by Nicola who has plans to marry her. Under his eyes she has learned to be neat and clean and behave daintily.

“Life is for one generation; a good name is forever”

The technical novelty of Arms and the Man lies in the extensive use of bathos or anti-climax. Both Raina and Sergius – romantic fools- talk of higher love keep boring the audiences for a long time. Sergius’s love for Louka is based on passion. Initially his aim is to flirt with her but manipulating Louka weaves a web around him. She makes him realize that a man must have a woman’s heart as well as convinced that he would do much better with her and openly accepts her. This is nothing but the conquest of passion and reality over romanticism. He tries to cheat both Raina and Louka but ultimately he surrenders before reality.

Raina’s outlook is one of satisfaction with her material lot, Louka is ambitious and ever anxious to improve her social position. Both are ruled by the illusions of life though their illusions are different. Raina has the romantic views of war and love, Louka has the romantic notions about the power of her defiance and revolutionary spirit, but her illusions do not make her sentimental like Raina. She has no idea about romantic love. She loves but her’s a plain, practical love with the sole aim of marriage.

Bluntschli [before he can speak]:”It’sno use. He never apologizes.

Louka: Not to you, his equal and his enemy. To me, his poor servant, he will not refuse to apologize.

Sergius[approvingly]: “you are right. [he bends his knee in his grandest manner] Forgive me.”

Sergius is a wild rebel-rebel both as a soldier and as a lover, though his revolt is made cruelly ridiculous by contrast with the matter-of-fact, plain Bluntschli. He has the courage to point out the hollow sham of war and tender his resignation from this mean business. For, whereas Bluntschli wisely caricatures the attractiveness of war, Sergius boldly denounces the very method with which


© Copyright 2018 Rituparna Ray Chaudhuri. All rights reserved.

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