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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”).
The play was first produced on 21 April 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. Arms and the Man was one of Shaw’s first commercial successes. He was called onto stage after the curtain, where he received enthusiastic applause. 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?”
Arms and the Man is a humorous play that shows the futility of war and deals comedically with the hypocrisies of human nature.
The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Its heroine, Raina Petkoff, is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to Sergius Saranoff, one of the heroes of that war, whom she idolizes. On the night after the Battle of Slivnitza, a Swiss mercenary soldier in the Serbian army, Captain Bluntschli, climbs in through her bedroom balcony window and threatens to shoot Raina if she gives the alarm. When Russian and Bulgarian troops burst in to search the house for him, Raina hides him so that he won’t be killed. He asks her to remember that “nine soldiers out of ten are born fools.” In a conversation after the soldiers have left, Bluntschli’s pragmatic and cynical attitude towards war and soldiering shocks the idealistic Raina, especially after he admits that he uses his ammunition pouches to carry chocolates rather than cartridges for his pistol. When the search dies down, Raina and her mother Catherine sneak Bluntschli out of the house, disguised in one of Raina’s father’s old coats.
Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw
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