George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ is a thought provoking anti-romantic comedy. Shaw has exposed and ridiculed the hollowness of romantic love and the heroic ideals of war in this play. He criticized the romantic notion of various sectors of life- love, soldiering and war in the play. He is witty but at the same time, he is thought provoking. No doubt, the purpose of the dramatist is to make his readers see the truth about love, war and soldiering.
In the very beginning of the play, a romantic picture is set. Raina, a girl, stands on her balcony to enjoy the beauty of the Bulgarian night. When Raina’s mother, Catherine, tells Raina that her fiancé, Sergius, made a heroic cavalry charge and win a splendid victory against the Serbians, Raina becomes very excited and tells her mother that her ideas about war turned out to be true. Afterwards, when Sergius returns from the front, she adoringly called him a ‘hero’ and ‘king’. Sergius also addresses Raina as his ‘queen’ and his ‘inspiration’ behind his heroic deed. So, both Raina and Sergius are living in a world of higher love. Their idea about war is also romantic.
The turning point
However, Raina’s romantic outlook of life changes with the appearance of Bluntschli. After winning the battle, Bulgarian cavalry are now finding the Serbian fugitives. Bluntschli, a Serbian fugitive, enters into Raina’s bedchamber in order to take shelter there. In the conversation with Raina, Bluntschli exposes the real fact about the cavalry charge. It was that the charge ordered by Sergius could have been suicidal for them if the Serbian army had right kind of ammunition. It makes Raina think if Sergius deserved an award or a court-martial against him for the blunder.
Bluntschli also exposes the real fact of soldiering to Raina. He says that the duty of a soldier is to live as long as he can. Also, he says that nine out of ten soldiers are fools. He makes another remark about soldiering saying that experienced soldiers carry chocolates in their pockets while young and inexperienced soldiers carry only weapons. At first, Raina thought it was something noble to be a soldier; but Bluntschli’s words made her rethink her ideas.
Sergius doesn’t get a promotion to a higher rank even though he won a great victory for the Bulgarians. It makes Sergius realize that soldiering is a trade like any other trade. It is not ‘heroism’ but ‘coward’s act’ of attacking your enemy when you are strong and keeping yourself away from the enemy when you are not strong. Again, Sergius also learns that Raina made love to Bluntschli behind his back. Sergius is also not an honest man as far as higher love is concerned. He made love with Louka, the maid-servant, behind Raina’s back. When Raina discovers this fact, her romantic notion of higher love
is shattered; and Bluntschli’s practical ideas attract her more than those of Sergius. However, in these manners, the romantic view of love and soldiering is exposed and ridiculed by Shaw.
Drifting away from reality
In order to achieve his anti-romantic purpose, George Bernard Shaw has taken the help of exaggeration of reality. A fugitive soldier may demand food when he is starving, but it is hard to believe that he would demand chocolate. In this play, Bluntschli demands chocolate from Raina when he returns from battle field after three days. Again, higher class person like Sergius usually marries a higher class woman like Raina but in this case, he agrees to marry Louka, the maid servant of Raina’s family. Although Bluntschli says that soldiers are born fools, it is not credible to them to not observe a pistol lying before them, even, after a thorough search, while a maid servant like Louka notices it as soon as she enters into the room.
However, though it is an anti-romantic play, and the dramatist undoubtedly has succeeded in exposing the romantic notions of life, the play has enough romance in it. The play opens with a romantic setting. There are thrill, shootings, fugitives and pursuers. There is also a romantic knight and his heroic cavalry charge.
In conclusion, we can safely say that the play, ‘Arms and the Man’ which opens with a romantic setting is obviously an anti-romantic comedy. Georges Bernard Shaw has excellently exposed and ridiculed the romantic notions of life, especially, of love, war and marriage. So, ‘Arms and the Man’ is an excellent anti-romantic comedy which is excellently written by an excellent dramatist.