|Written by George Bernard Shaw|
First performance 21 April 1894
Adaptations Arms and the Man (1958)
|Subject Love and war|
Playwright George Bernard Shaw
Place premiered Playhouse Theatre
|Date premiered 21 April 1894 (1894-04-21)|
Characters Catherine Petkoff, Captain Bluntschli, Major Paul Petkoff, Raina Petkoff, Major Siergius Saranoff, Louka, Nicola
Similar George Bernard Shaw plays, Other plays
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").
- Plot summary
- Critical reception
- Subsequent productions
- Pejorative military use of the term chocolate soldier
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. One night, 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/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 attitude towards war and soldiering (pragmatic and practical as opposed to Raina's idealistic views) shocks her, 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 an old housecoat.
The war ends with the Bulgarians and Serbians signing a peace treaty and Sergius returns to Raina, but also flirts with her insolent servant girl Louka (a soubrette role), who is engaged to Nicola, the Petkoffs' manservant. Raina begins to find Sergius both foolhardy and tiresome, but she hides it. Bluntschli unexpectedly returns so that he can give back the old housecoat, but also so that he can see her. Raina and her mother are shocked, especially when her father and Sergius reveal that they have met Bluntschli before and invite him to stay for lunch (and to help them with troop movements).
Afterwards, 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 tells him that she had 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 and revealing to him his now-enormous inheritance. Louka then tells Sergius that Bluntschli is the man whom Raina protected 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). Raina's father, Major Paul Petkoff, discovers the portrait in the pocket of his housecoat; Raina and Bluntschli trick him by removing the photograph before he finds it again in an attempt to convince him that his mind is playing tricks on him, 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 Mrs. Petkoff's horror); Nicola quietly and gallantly lets Sergius have her, and Bluntschli, recognising Nicola's dedication and ability, determines to offer him a job as a 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 clearing up the major's troop movement problems and informing everyone that he will return to be married to Raina exactly two weeks from Tuesday.
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, which are now held in such low esteem that the matter is hardly controversial.
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. 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.