Arms and the Man

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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" (Of arms and the man I sing). (Perseus Project A.1.1)

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?"[1]


Plot summary

The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Its heroine, Raina (rah-EE-na) Petkoff, is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to Sergius Saranoff, one of the heroes of that war, whom she idolizes. One night, a Swiss mercenary soldier in the Serbian army, Captain Bluntschli, bursts through her bedroom window and firstly threatens Raina, then begs her to hide him, so that he is not killed. Raina complies, though she thinks the man a coward, especially when he tells her that he does not carry pistol cartridges, but chocolates. When the battle dies down, Raina and her mother sneak Bluntschli out of the house, disguised in an old housecoat.

The war ends and Sergius returns to Raina, but also flirts with her insolent servant girl Louka (a soubrette role), whom they think is engaged to the loyal house servant Nicola. Raina begins to find Sergius both foolhardy and tiresome, but she hides it. Bluntschli unexpectedly returns so that he can give back the old housecoat, but also so that he can see her. Raina and her mother are shocked, especially when her father and Sergius reveal that they have met Bluntschli before, and invite him to stay for lunch and to help them with troop movements.

Afterwards, left alone with Bluntschli, Raina realizes that he sees through her romantic posturing, but that he respects her as a woman, as Sergius does not. She tells him that she had left a portrait of herself in the pocket of the coat, inscribed "To my chocolate-cream soldier", but Bluntschli says that he didn't find it and that it must still be in the coat pocket. Bluntschli gets a note informing him of his father's death and revealing to him his now enormous wealth. Louka then tells Sergius that Bluntschli is the man whom Raina protected, and that Raina is really in love with him. So Sergius challenges him to a duel, but the men avoid fighting and Sergius and Raina break off their engagement (with some relief on both sides). Raina's father discovers the portrait in the pocket of his housecoat, but Raina and Bluntschli trick him by taking out the portrait before he finds it again, only tell him that his mind is playing tricks on him. After Bluntschli reveals the whole story to Major Petkoff, Sergius proposes marriage to Louka (to Mrs. Petkoff's horror). Nicola quietly and gallantly lets Sergius have her, and Bluntschli, recognising Nicola's dedication and ability, determines to offer him a job as a hotel manager.

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