“The world is not such an innocent place as we used to think, Petkoff.” (Act III, p. 67)
Introduction: The Subject matter of the Play1
The play begins in the bedroom of Raina Petkoff in a Bulgarian town in 1885, during the Serbo-Bulgarian 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 Raina’s fiancé, Major Sergius Saranoff, who is in the same regiment as Raina’s father, Major Paul Petkoff.
Raina is so impressed with the noble deeds of her fiancé 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 hasn’t the strength to climb down. When Raina goes after her mother to help, the “chocolate cream soldier” crawls into Raina’s 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 Petkoff’s 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, Raina’s fiancé 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 Raina’s lover is, even though Sergius accidently bruises Louka’s 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, doesn’t 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 Major’s 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 didn’t 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 Raina’s 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.”
Background of ‘Arms & the Man’
Arms and the Man is a comedy by George Bernard Shaw, whose title comes from the opening words of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin: Arma virumque cano (“Arms and the man I sing”). The play was first produced on April 21, 1894 at the Avenue Theatre, and published in 1898 as part of Shaw’s Plays Pleasant volume, which also included Candida, You Never Can Tell, and The Man of Destiny. The play was one of Shaw’s first commercial successes. He was called onto stage after the curtain, where he received enthusiastic applause.
However, amidst the cheers, one audience member booed. Shaw replied, in characteristic fashion, “My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we two against so many?” Arms and the Man is a humorous play which shows the futility of war and deals with the hypocrisies of human nature in a comedic fashion. Shaw first sketched out the play without an historical setting. His friend, Sidney Webb, came up with the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885 as the model scenario. Shaw did research in the British Museum Reading Room and chose Bulgaria as the setting. The character of Bluntschli may have been suggested by the life of Johann Kaspar Bluntschli, a Swiss professor of law. He chose the name “Arms and the Man” from the first line of Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid: “Of arms and the man [the hero Aeneas] I sing.”
Shaw’s title is ironic, for Virgil told the story of a hero, while Shaw’s play is about Bluntschi, the “chocolate-cream soldier.”2 The play mentions historical details of the Serbo-Bulgarian war, such as the Battle of Slivnitza that was the turning point of the war, resulting in the Unification of Bulgaria. Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, which was predominantly Bulgarian, announced their unification in 1885, against the will of the Great European Powers, especially Austria. Serbia used the pretense of a border dispute to invade Bulgaria. The Serbians had modern guns but as in Shaw’s version, they had trouble with their cannon. 3They also underestimated the Bulgarians and used mostly young recruits. Shaw shows them running away as Bluntschli did. The Russian officers allowed the Bulgarian officers like Sergius and Petkoff to conduct the war. They were not as experienced as the Russians, but they had strong patriotism and morale. Shaw makes Petkoff say that without the intervention of the Great Powers, the Serbs and Bulgarians would not know how to fight. In the past, the Serbs and Bulgarians fought on the same side against the Turks, but the Serbian soldiers were tricked into fighting their former allies. Austria intervened after Slivnitza, disallowing more fighting.
The Bulgarian victory settled the Unification question and boosted the prestige of Bulgaria, since the Serbs had not before known defeat.4 Shaw uses Bulgaria as an example of a backward nation wanting to join the family of modern European nations. Bulgarians objected to Shaw’s stereotyping them as comic bumpkins who didn’t wash their hands and thought that a library was a few paperback books. Shaw does, however, bring out the political plight of such a country as Bulgaria, fighting for its identity among the bigger, modernized nations. He shows that Louka and Nicola, the servants, are in fact, the strength of the country, being closer to its roots. The Petkoffs and Sarnoff, wanting to be thought advanced, adopt the culture of foreign countries that do not properly educate the people. Saranoff wastes his time trying to be Byronic, and Catherine focuses on having an electric bell. This same phenomenon is still seen today when poorer nations copy what is trivial and popular in richer countries. Analysis of the Style and Language of the Play
Bernard Shaw is a great prose writer .His prose sparkles with wit and wisdom. His wit is highly attractive and renders his sentences penetrating. All his characters try to silence one another by means of their witty replies. Shaw is highly argumentative in his expression. He makes people listen to pure argument for long. He has succeeded only because of his brilliant wit and amusing language and he makes people laugh even while he is dealing with more serious topics.5 Second important characteristic feature of his prose style is that he builds up a music in opera or a symphony. He introduces a subject for discussion, then another subject a little later. Just as a composer brings in one melody after another. Soon the various subjects are woven together into a discussion which interests us intellectually and pleases us artistically. Really, he is highly poetic in his utterances. His sentences often run with rhythmical ease.
That is why even long speeches of Shaw are able to hold our attention for long. Whereas speeches of a similar length by another playwright-are often tedious and project monotony. His prose, like a sacred river flows with rare ease, lucidity and clarity. Although already established as a model for romances prior to the publication of Anthony Hope’s popular 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, Ruritanian romance takes its name from the imaginary country of Ruritania found in Hope’s book. This type of story generally includes intrigue, adventure, sword fights, and star-crossed lovers, ingredients that are all found in Arms and the Man. However, Shaw ultimately attacks this genre by exaggerating the absurdities of the plot and by transforming the typically cookie-cutter characters into dynamic characters delighting readers with his wit and humour. Relevance of the Play
Many see this play as a prophesy as World War I follows very quickly, and Shaw’s notions of welfare and class conflicts, resonant of Fabian Socialism finds recognition, but there are different ideas that are also brought forward by this play. These are as follows:
The conception of Bluntschli as the anti-hero
If Sergius is the hero of Slivnitza, Bluntschli is the anti-hero. The anti-hero is the antithesis of the traditional brave hero. An anti-hero is commonplace, unlucky, clumsy, unattractive, cowardly, funny, or blunt. If things work out for him, it is often an accident, like Bluntschli’s sudden wealth. The anti-hero is often a relief for modern readers because he is more real, more like they are, with faults and mistakes. Examples are Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, Herzog in Saul Bellow’sHerzog, or Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.6 In his Preface to Arms and the Man, Shaw reveals he is consciously creating such a character in Bluntschli, who outraged early critics because he denies patriotism and bravery. Shaw admits Bluntschli is “not a conventional stage soldier” (p. xxiv).
He is truthful about his suffering hunger and lack of sleep. He is nervous, desperate, and asks for chocolate creams, a food associated with frivolous females. Early audiences thought Shaw cynical instead of realistic, but in his Preface he claims his view of warfare is justified by military experts and military history. Soldiers viewing the play during World War I laughed in recognition of the truthful conditions Shaw portrays about war. Critics argued that Shaw was being perverse by turning everything upside down. Bluntschli is the exact opposite of literary heroes. When he invades Raina’s bedroom, he does not act romantic or try to make love to her.
He eats chocolates and then falls asleep. He is impartial and calm, not passionate. He acts like a businessman, fighting not for principle, but for whichever side pays the most. He is friendly to people (the Petkoffs) who are supposedly his foes. Unmarried at thirty-five and believing he is unattractive to women, he is surprised by Raina’s interest in him. Raina has to pursue him, rather than the other way around. When Sergius wants to get in a fight over Raina, Bluntschli is indifferent. He will go through the motions but does not want to kill. Bluntschli is practical and does not live by high ideals. He doesn’t mind if Raina lies; he sees through her. Shaw speaks of the “romantic morality of the critics and the natural morality of the plays” (p. xxiv). Shaw is committed to the humor of realism.
Shaw’s socialism affects his works
George Bernard Shaw and his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, were founding members of the Fabian Society, a British socialist movement of the nineteenth century (still existing) that believed in social democracy through gradual change rather than revolution. It advocated principles of the welfare state to bring about social justice and equal opportunity, with capitalism controlled through regulation. It attracted such intellectuals as the Shaws, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb.7 The popularization of their progressive ideas contributed to the modern Labour Party in Britain. Members like Shaw wrote pamphlets and articles that spoke of social problems and proposed solutions such as socialized health care, minimum wage, and the abolition of hereditary peerages.8 Shaw sees his drama as another forum for social issues. He used his plays and the lengthy prefaces to raise awareness and foster discussion. He moves the audience through humor and emotional and intellectual appeal.
For instance, Arms and the Man is not the usual romantic comedy of the time about the upper classes. All the social classes are included. A little like the British TV series, “Upstairs, Downstairs,” the audience first sees the Petkoffs and their story, and then the scene switches to the servants and their lives—how they feel exploited, how they plan for their future. Finally, what is even more revolutionary, we see the servants breaking out of their class roles. Louka marries an aristocrat, and Nicola becomes a businessman. Shaw brings out certain interesting facts about class distinction; for instance, all the men in the Bulgarian army put their lives on the line for their country, and yet, the poor man is still bullied by his own upper-class officers. Shaw shows there is no essential distinction between people of different classes. Sergius pretends that he and Raina have nobler principles than the servants, but Louka exposes the fact that the upper classes lie and cheat as much as the servants do.
They are all human beings; they all want love and prosperity and respect. Nicola points out that the only thing Louka has to do to be a lady is to take on the role of expecting others to do her bidding. It is all an act. Shaw emphasizes in his Preface to this play, “I can no longer be satisfied with fictitious morals and fictitious good conduct, shedding fictitious glory on robbery, starvation, disease, crime, drink, war, cruelty, cupidity, and all the other commonplaces of civilization” (p. xxv). The illusion of romance that society has set up to favor the few must be replaced with justice.9
1. G.B Shaw ‘Arms and the Man’
2. T. F. Evans ‘George Bernard Shaw: The Critical Heritage’
Articles and Websites:
1. Leonard Dudley and Ulrich Witt ‘Arms and the Man:World War I and the Rise of the Welfare State’ KYKLOS, Vol. 57 – 2004 – Fasc. 4, 475–504 < http://telematica.politicas.unam.mx/biblioteca/archivos/040105077.pdf> last accessed on 12th march 2013
2. Gary Sloan, ‘George Bernard Shaw: Mystic or Atheist?’ last accessed on 17th March 2013
3. Shaun Knapp, ‘The Fabian Socialist Window: A View into the Heart of the New World Order Agenda’ < http://www.awakeandarise.org/article/FabianWindow.htm> last accessed on 17th March 2013
4. Richard Nordquist, ‘Why Law Is Indispensable, by George Bernard Shaw’< http://www.oldmagazinearticles.com/anti-war_George_Bernard_Shaw_against_WW1_pdf> last accessed on 17th March 2013