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1.Comment on the opening of the play

The opening scene, between mother Catherine and daughter Raina, does three important things:  it tells of the expository off-stage action of the battle, it establishes the romantic view that Raina carries through her life, and it shows Catherine’s equally Romantic view of war.  Raina is on the balcony, admiring the stars; the important maid character, Louka, who will provide an important contrast of practicality to the mix, is also mentioned.  The balcony will soon be the point of entry of the “chocolate soldier,” Bluntschli, a contrast to the falsely heroic soldiers mentioned here, Sergio, “the hero of the hour”.  There are also the first hints of the family’s socioeconomic position. The scene thus sets the dramatic (comic) conflicts between the Romantic and the realistic views of war, love, and heroism, and begins the dramatic discussion of the difference between “arms and the man.”

2.How is love and war explained in the arms and the man?

I tend to think that Shaw’s treatment of war and love is to remove the romanticism that is so strongly attached to both concept.  Shaw was realistic enough to understand that society held cliched standards that sought to define both experiences to such a point that individuals had to second guess their own emotive narratives in both to ensure they were conforming to an external standard rooted in phony romanticism.  The romantic view of war made it out to be an experience of unquestioned glory and valor.  The fact that Bluntschii carries chocolates with him instead of bullets is an honest symbol of the fear intrinsic to war.  There is little Romanticism in a war, which is exposed as a “sham” in the work.  In much the same way, I think that Shaw treats love as an entity in which there is much romanticism and a concern about what love should be as opposed to what it is.  The hollowness between Raina and Sergius is representative of this.  Their union is one in which both are constantly plagued with expressing what should be said by lovers separated by war, even though it is evident that there is a hollowness to their words that both truly “get.”  In this, there is a strong statement about what has happened to love and war in terms of social expectations controlling individual experience and feeling.  It is this treatment that Shaw seeks to address in the drama.

3.Throw light on the main theme of the drama Arms and the Man.How can it be associated with both the themes of war and love?

I think that one way in which Shaw’s work can be linked to the concept of love and war is in the way in which Shaw suggests that there is an excessive Romanticism intrinsic to each.  Shaw writes his work with the idea that social convention and norms dictate an automatic Romanticizing of love and war, without a real questioning as to why these are the way they are.  The love that Raina and Sergius share is one that appears to be true on the surface.  To all who look, it is a love that is sincere.  Yet, there is an emptiness there, something that reflects an expectation of Romanticism.  This same type of love that only exists at a surface level and is not substantive can be seen in the love of war.  The symbolic action that Bluntschii does not carry bullets, but chocolate is reflective of the hollow reverence that war commands. Shaw criticizes the social expectation of war that sees it as glorious and honorable, something that is filled with valor, as opposed to examining it for the act of savage brutality.  It is here where I think that Shaw is able to use his work to thematically develop the Romanticism intrinsic to love and war.  This social condition is one in which Shaw is calling out for change.


“I sing of arms and of a man

Homework on Summary

1.Can you tell me about Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw?

.Arms and the Man is a play for the theatre.  It is a social commentary on war, military values, and manners in the upper class.  It was Shaw’s first effort for the stage, and did not enjoy success critically or financially initially, but it has become quite a famous and often-performed play.

The plot of the play is broadly thus:  A Serbian soldier in the Serbo-Bulgarian war takes refuge in the bedroom of young Bulgarian lady named Raina. She is engaged to a Bulgarian officer named Major Saranoff, whom Raina has just heard has distinguished himself in the latest action.  Raina is kind-hearted, however, and does not give away the whereabouts of this enemy fugitive.  Raina and her mother are kind to the soldier, who is scornful of military honor and glory, and seems to think only of avoiding harm to himself and others.  They keep his visit hidden from the rest of the family.

The war ends, and Raina’s father returns home.  Raina’s father denigrates Raina’s fiance’s prowess as a military leader; then that young gentleman comes for a visit.  There is a discussion about a young Swiss soldier (fighting for the Serbians) taking refuge in the house of a Bulgarian.  Raina and her mother Catherine now know that the story of their harboring a soldier has become known, though no one knows that it was indeed them who hid the enemy.

Raina and Sergius Saranoff are reunited, and their emotions are syrupy and insincere.  Sergius has an obvious attraction to the maid, Louka.  Catherine and Raina’s subterfuge is almost found out, when the coat that they lent to the soldier is requested by Raina’s father.  Then the man they harbored, now revealed to be a Swiss army officer (who had fought on the Serbian side) named Major Bluntschli, comes to return the coat.  Raina and Catherine try again to conceal their previous acquaintance with him.

The coat is duly found, placed again in the closet where it was supposed to have hung all along.  Raina’s father does not appear to have noticed the subterfuge.  When Raina and Bluntschli talk she tells him she left a note and a portrait in the coat for him; he never found it, which means these incriminating bits of evidence are still in the coat pocket.  In the course of this act it becomes clear that Saranoff loves Louka, and Raina loves Bluntschli, so the initial engagement of Saranoff and Raina is now in trouble.  Raina’s father is prevented from finding the incriminating photo, but he knew of it all along.  Raina’s father reveals the deception, and it becomes clear which couples love each other.  Bluntschli tells everyone that he is a rich man, so it becomes possible for Raina to marry him, and Saranoff to marry the maid.  On this ridiculous note the play ends happily.

While it is not always easy to discern Shaw’s meaning from the play, this is definitely an anti-war play.  The long-held notions of military glory and honor are all shown to be silly and counter-productive, and pacifism and a certain cynical self-interest are held to be more sensible.  The comedy is sometimes scathing, but the overall play is light-hearted.  Arms and the Man has become a classic.

2.A full summary of Arms and the Man.

Arms and the Man is an anti-war play by George Bernard Shaw.  It is one of his first plays, and the title is taken from the first line of Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid (“Arms, and the man I sing…” Book I, line 1.)  There is a full summary here at enotes but the gist of the story is this:

It is 1885, and the war between Serbia and Bulgaria is raging.  Raina Petkoff, a young Bulgarian woman, is engaged to marry a cavalry officer named Major Sergius Saranoff.  A battle takes place close by Raina’s home, and she hears that her fiance has distinguished himself in it. To escape the fighting, a Serbian soldier (who is actually a Swiss mercenary) climbs into Raina’s window.  Raina, hides the soldier, even when she is questioned about it.  She learns that the soldier, Captain Bluntschli, does not carry weapons, and really despises war.  He carries food instead.  The mercenary describes the foolish actions of earnest soldiers, such as those taken by Sergius today.  Bluntshli is merely interested in keeping himself alive, not in gaining glory on the battlefield by killing and wounding other people.

Raina agrees to hide the mercenary, and he falls asleep on her bed.  Raina’s mother, Catherine, finds him, but the family decides to let him hide in their house.

A few months later, Raina’s father, a major in the Bulgarian army, comes home and tells the family that the war is over.  Major Petkoff also says that Raina’s fiance, Sergius, is not a good soldier.  Shortly thereafter Sergius arrives, and says that he is leaving the army.  He talks about a Swiss officer who had, he says, cheated him in a deal involving a horse, and also who had been sheltered by two Bulgarian ladies during the house-to-house fighting in the city.  Catherine and Raina act suitably shocked.

When they are alone, Raina and Sergius have a syrupy-sweet reunion.  But when Raina is out of the room, Sergius renews his lewd advances to Louka, the maid.  Louka taunts Sergius, saying that Raina loves someone else more than she loves him.  Raina and her mother are almost caught out in their deception, for Raina’s father asks for the coat that they had given to Captain Bluntschli.  They try to cover it up, but Major Petkoff discovers them.  Bluntschli offers to help Major Petkoff with military administrative matters, and Major Petkoff invites him to stay.

Major Petkoff wants his old coat, which had formerly been in the possession of Captain Bluntschli.  Catherine has spirited the coat, behind her husband’s back, into a closet where he had previously looked for it.  He goes back and finds it there, thinking he had made a mistake.  Bluntschli has made up excellent orders for the Bulgarian troops, and Sergius is taken up with expediting them.  He takes Major Petkoff with him, and Bluntschli and Raina talk.  She tells him she had left a note in the pocket of the coat she had lent him, but he never discovered it.  Her father is now wearing the coat.

Sergius finds out from Louka about Raina’s feelings for Bluntschli, and he challenges him to a duel.  Raina prevents it, by telling Sergius she knows about his feelings for Louka.  Major Petkoff returns, and Raina surreptitiously takes the photo out of the pocket of his coat, not knowing that her father has already seen it.  The Major looks for it, and, not finding it, causes everyone to now tell the truth.  Sergius becomes engaged to Louka, and Raina is now set to marry Bluntschli.  The play ends happily.





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