Arms and the Man

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Arms and the Man
G Bernard Shaw.jpg
Shaw at the time of the production of Arms and the Man
Written by George Bernard Shaw
CharactersRaina Petkoff
Sergius Saranoff
Captain Bluntschli
Catherine Petkoff
Major Paul Petkoff
Nicola [1] [2]
Date premiered21 April 1894 (1894-04-21)
Place premiered Avenue Theatre
SubjectLove and war [3] [4]

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"). [5]


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?" [6]

Arms and the Man is a humorous play that shows the futility of war and deals comedically with the hypocrisies of human nature.

Plot summary

Production photograph of Florence Farr portraying Louka in Arms and the Man, 1894 Farr as Louka.jpg
Production photograph of Florence Farr portraying Louka in Arms and the Man, 1894
Actors of the Smith College Club of St. Louis are sketched rehearsing for an all-woman amateur benefit performance of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man" in December 1908. No men were allowed in the rehearsals or at the performance. The illustration is by Marguerite Martyn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Smith College Club of St. Louis presents Arms and the Man by Shaw, 1908.jpg
Actors of the Smith College Club of St. Louis are sketched rehearsing for an all-woman amateur benefit performance of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man" in December 1908. No men were allowed in the rehearsals or at the performance. The illustration is by Marguerite Martyn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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.

The war ends, and the Bulgarians and Serbians sign a peace treaty. Raina's father (Major Paul Petkoff) and Sergius both return home. Raina begins to find Sergius both foolhardy and tiresome, but she hides it. Sergius also finds Raina's romantic ideals tiresome, and flirts with Raina's insolent servant girl Louka (a soubrette role), who is engaged to Nicola, the Petkoffs' manservant. Bluntschli unexpectedly returns so that he can give back the old coat, but also so that he can see Raina. Raina and Catherine are shocked, especially when Major Petkoff and Sergius reveal that they have met Bluntschli before and invite him to stay for lunch (and to help them figure out how to send the troops home).

Left alone with Bluntschli, Raina realizes that he sees through her romantic posturing, but that he respects her as a woman, as Sergius does not. She reveals that she left a photograph of herself in the pocket of the coat, inscribed "To my chocolate-cream soldier", but Bluntschli says that he didn't find it and that it must still be in the coat pocket. Bluntschli gets a telegram informing him of his father's death: he must now take over the family business, several luxury hotels in Switzerland.

Louka tells Sergius that Raina protected Bluntschli when he burst into her room and that Raina is really in love with him. Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel, but Bluntschli avoids fighting and Sergius and Raina break off their engagement, with some relief on both sides. Major Petkoff discovers the photograph in the pocket of his old coat; Raina and Bluntschli try to remove it before he finds it again, but Petkoff is determined to learn the truth and claims that the "chocolate-cream soldier" is Sergius. After Bluntschli reveals the whole story to Major Petkoff, Sergius proposes marriage to Louka (to Major Petkoff and Catherine's horror); Nicola quietly and gallantly lets Sergius have her, and Bluntschli, recognising Nicola's dedication and ability, offers him a job as hotel manager.

While Raina is now unattached, Bluntschli protests that—being 34 and believing she is 17—he is too old for her. On learning that she is actually 23, he immediately proposes marriage and proves his wealth and position by listing his inheritance from the telegram. Raina, realizing the hollowness of her romantic ideals, protests that she would prefer her poor "chocolate-cream soldier" to this wealthy businessman. Bluntschli says that he is still the same person, and the play ends with Raina proclaiming her love for him and Bluntschli, with Swiss precision, both clears up the major's troop movement problems and informs everyone that he will return to be married to Raina exactly two weeks from that day.

Critical reception

George Orwell said that Arms and the Man was written when Shaw was at the height of his powers as a dramatist. "It is probably the wittiest play he ever wrote, the most flawless technically, and in spite of being a very light comedy, the most telling." Orwell says that Arms and the Man wears well—he was writing 50 years later—because its moral—that war is not a wonderful, romantic adventure—still needs to be told. His other plays of the period, equally well written, are about issues no longer controversial. For example, the theme of Mrs. Warren's Profession , which so shocked audiences at the time, was that the causes of prostitution are mainly economic, hardly big news today, and the play Widowers' Houses was an attack on slum landlords, who are now held in such low esteem that the matter is hardly controversial. [8]

Subsequent productions


The scene in The Chocolate Soldier in which Bumerli (the equivalent of Bluntschli) enters the bedroom of Nadina (the equivalent of Raina), in a 1910 London production Chocolate Soldier - Workman.jpg
The scene in The Chocolate Soldier in which Bumerli (the equivalent of Bluntschli) enters the bedroom of Nadina (the equivalent of Raina), in a 1910 London production

Pejorative military use of the term "chocolate soldier"

The chocolate-cream soldier of the play has inspired a pejorative military use of the term. In Israel, soldiers use the term "chocolate soldier" (Hayal Shel Shokolad, חייל של שוקולד) to describe a soft soldier who is unable to fight well. [18] Similarly, members of the Australian Citizens Military Force were derided by the regular army as "chokos" or chocolate soldiers, the implication being that they were not real soldiers. [19] [20]

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  7. Marguerite Martyn, "College Girls Swear Real Swears in "Arms and Man," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1908,, Part 6, Page 1
  8. George Orwell,George Bernard Shaw, Chapter 8 in George Orwell, The Lost Writings, Edited by W. J. West, Arbor House, New York, 1985.This also appears as Chapter 8 in Orwell, The War Broadcasts, Edited by W. J .West, The British Broadcasting Corporation, and The Old Piano Factory, London, 1985.
  9. London Stage in the 20th Century, by Robert Tanitch, Haus (2007) ISBN   978-1-904950-74-5
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  14. "". 9 December 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
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  20. "Kokoda Trail I" Archived 25 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine , Battle For Australia, accessed 22 September 2010