Arms and the Man Is a play of ideas George Bernard Shaw is a name in literature with which we can associate some timeless works. He is famous for his role in revolutionizing comedic drama. Shaw was a literary critic and a prominent British socialist, too. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. Shaw did not start his writing career as a playwright but wrote rather unremarkable fictions to begin with. In 1885, the drama critic William Archer recruited him to write reviews on book, art and music in various  publications.

In 1895 Bernard Shaw began writing for the ” Saturday Review” as a critic and from there he began writing his first plays. One unique feature of Bernard Shaw’s plays is that, they are thematically diverse. He wove threads of humor and romance between analyses of contemporary hypocrisies and social tensions. Shaw’s most commercially successful work, ” Pygmallion ” was adapted into the popular Broadway musical ” My Fair Lady “. “Arms and the Man ” is another hugely popular play of Bernard Shaw. It is a humorous play that shows the futility of war and deals comedically with the hypocrisies of human nature.


The Serbo-Bulgarian war is the historical template on which Bernard Shaw based his play ” Arms and the Man”. The play’s title is a direct lift from Virgil’s ” Aeneid” , the Roman Epic that glorifies war. Shaw used this quote ironically to highlight his message that war should not be glorified nor should be seen as romantic.
The play unfolds in Bulgaria towards the end of the Serbo-Bulgarian War. Raina Petkoff, the female protagonist of the play receives news that Raina’s fiance Sergius Saranoff, one of the heroes of that war, has led a victorious cavalry charge against Serbian forces.

Later that night, a Serbian officer Bluntschli, climbs the drainpipe outside Raina’s balcony and breaks into her room. Soon afterwards, Russian and Bulgarian troops burst into the house to search for him. Raina hides him so that he won’t be killed. In a conversation after this,  Blunschli’s pragmatic and cynical attitude towards war shocks the idealistic Raina. What amazes her farther is the fact that he carries chocolates in his ammunition pouch, rather than cartridges for his pistol.

With the ending of the war, both the sides sign a peace treaty and Raina’s father  ( Major Petkoff ) and Sergius both return home. This time, however Raina begins to find Sergius both fool hardy and tiresome. Sergius also finds Raina’s romantic ideals tiresome, but they both hide it from each other. Sergius begins flirting with Raina’s insolent servant girl Louka. After some more twists and turns of the events, Sergius proposes marriage to Louka and Bluntschli to Raina. Thus the play ends on a happy note.


” Arms and the Man ” has been adapted into opera film ( English and German), several audio versions by BBC also enacted several times as a drama. What makes this play unique is that it has a classical comedy feel but at the same time it is a play of ideas with certain surreal tendencies. Play of ideas or the drama of social criticism in the real sense is a modern development.

A number of  contemporary problems and evils are subjected to discussion and searching examinations and criticism in these plays. In the ” Arms and the Man “, Shaw breaks the idols of love and war. He pulls down all false Gods which men live, love, admire and adore. Bluntschli is the mouthpiece of the author in the play, who exposes the dreadful reality of war and has blown away the halo of romance that surrounds human life as a whole. All these attributes make ” Arms and the Man ” stand out as a play of ideas

1 Comment

  1. Jamey Wolsted - May 4, 2024 Reply

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