Play Bulgarian officer, victory in a daring cavalry
Play analysisArms and the ManBy Bernard Shaw”Arms and the Man” starts with gunfire on a dark street in a small town. The romantic and willful Raina is about to begin her true-life adventure by sheltering the handsome fugitive Bluntschli, enemy of her equally handsome fianc SergiusThe setting of the play is in war-torn Bulgaria, and focuses not only on the romance between the young people of the play, but the atrocities that go on during war times and the ability of people not so very far removed from these atrocities to ignore them completely.
Shaw’s purpose in this play is to attack the romantic notion of war by presenting a more realistic depiction of war, devoid of the idea that such death and destruction are both noble and romantic. These deconstructions make “Arms and the Man” a satirical comedy about those who would glorify the horrors or war.Shaw develops a perfectly ironic contrast between the two central male characters form the beginning to the end. At the start of the play we are given an account of Major Sergius Saranoffs, a handsome young Bulgarian officer, victory in a daring cavalry raid, which turned the war in favor of the Bulgarians over the Serbs. In contrast, Captain Bluntschil, a professional soldier from Switzerland, acts like a coward. He climbs up to a balcony to escape capture, he threatens a woman with a gun, and he carries chocolates rather than cartridges because he claims the sweets are more useful on the battlefield. In the eyes of our true main character Raina Petkoff, the young romantic idealist who has bought into the stories of battlefield heroism, Saranoff is her ideal hero.
However, as the play proceeds, we learn more about this raid and that despite its success, it should have failed. Eventually Saranoff is going to end up dead if he continues to engage in such ridiculous heroics. Meanwhile, we realize that Bluntshcil has no misconceptions about the stupidity of war and that his actions have kept him alive.Over the course of the play, Raina loses this romantic ideal in favor of a far more accurate version that allows her to find true love. Sergius goes through a similar transformation, realizing that there must be more to himself than the two dimensional ideal of the soldier that young ladies seem to worship.Shaw gives the subtitle An Anti-Romantic Comedy to Arms and the Man and it is clear that his aim is to use the conventions of romantic comedy to subvert. In the first act ideals associated with war, such as heroic actions and patriotic self-sacrifice, are presented to the audience for inspection.
When Raina finds out that a cavalry charge led in heroic style by Sergius has won the battle for the Bulgarians she declares: It proves that all our ideas were real after all Our ideas of what Sergius would do. Our patriotism. Our heroic ideals.
Raina and Sergius are the idealists in the play and Bluntschli’s role is to puncture their ideals. In the second act Sergius says to Raina: I think we two have found the higher love. When I think of you, I feel that I could never do a base deed, or think an ignoble thought. Later when Sergius meets Louka he asks her if she knows what the higher love is, and responds to her No sir anti-climactically: Very fatiguing thing to keep up for any length of time, Louka. One feels the need for some relief after it. Another example comes when the audience is expecting Louka to fend off Sergius in the interests of her honor: Let me go sir, I shall be disgraced Oh, will you let go? When he refuses, she responds: Then stand back where we can’t be seen. Have you no common sense.
Again anti-climax is integral to the play’s comic structure: it raises an idealistic expectation in the audience and then crushes it by exposing it to a more down to earth reality.In the end though the play is revealing in all things. Bluntschli shatters the heroic view of the charge by Sergius. The higher love is revealed as a sham. Raina discovers Sergius’s attraction to Louka and Sergius can’t come to terms with the fact that his identity isn’t unified; reviewing his disparate nature he says of his various selves: One of them is a hero, another a buffoon, another a humbug, another perhaps a bit of a blackguard.
Unable to accept this he sees mockery everywhere: everything I think is mocked by everything I do. The play unfolds naturally and coherently with the characters as representations of ideals and standards. Understanding that the characters themselves are all merely fabrications of these ideals is the basis of understanding the play as a social deconstruction. Although some of the play has little to no bearing on the anti-heroic ideals of the Bush era administration backlash of todays youth, I think that most people can relate with the concept of heroism and the romantic ideals that go with that understanding and enjoy the play at its base form.
The transformation of the main characters is symbolic of the transformation that must take place in a countrys attitude of war in order for that attitude to be changed something that modern day Americans can surely relate to.