Arms and the Man

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Arms and the Man
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Characters Raina Petkoff
Sergius Saranoff
Captain Bluntschli
Catharine Petkoff
Major Petkoff
Louka
Nicola[1][2]
Date premiered April 21, 1894 (1894-04-21)
Place premiered Avenue Theatre
Subject Love 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 ("Arms and the man I sing").

The play was first produced on April 21, 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. The play was one of Shaw's first commercial successes. He was called onto stage after the curtain, where he received enthusiastic applause. However, 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?"[5]

Arms and the Man is a humorous play which shows the futility of war and deals with the hypocrisies of human nature in a comedic fashion.

Plot summary[edit]

Production photograph of Florence Farr for Arms and the Man

The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Its heroine, Raina (rah-EE-na) 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 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. 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) shock her, especially after he tells her that he does not carry pistol cartridges but chocolate. 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 Petkoff's 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, but 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 single, Bluntschli protests that being 34 years of age he is too old for her, believing her to be 17; upon learning that she is in fact 23, he immediately proposes marriage and proves his wealth and position by listing his inheritance from the telegram. Raina, having realized 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.

Critical reception[edit]

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.[6]

Subsequent productions[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

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

When Shaw gave Leopold Jacobson the rights to adapt the play into what became the 1908 operetta The Chocolate Soldier with music by Oscar Straus, he provided three conditions: none of Shaw's dialogue, nor any of his character's names, could be used; the libretto must be advertised as being a parody of Shaw's work; and Shaw would accept no monetary compensation. In spite of this, Shaw's original plot, and with it the central message of the play, remained more or less untouched.[12] Shaw despised the result, calling it "a putrid opéra bouffe in the worst taste of 1860", but grew to regret not accepting payment when, despite his opinion of the work, it became a lucrative international success.[12] When Shaw heard, in 1921, that Franz Lehár wanted to set his play Pygmalion to music, he sent word to Vienna that Lehár be instructed that he could not touch Pygmalion without infringing Shaw's copyright and that Shaw had "no intention of allowing the history of The Chocolate Soldier to be repeated"[12] (only after Shaw's death was Pygmalion eventually adapted by Lerner and Loewe as My Fair Lady).

A British film adaptation was directed in 1932 by Cecil Lewis. It starred Barry Jones as Bluntschli and Anne Grey as Raina. A filmed version of Arms and the Man in German entitled Helden (Heroes) starring O. W. Fischer and Liselotte Pulver was runner up for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958.

An audio version was produced by the BBC starring Ralph Richardson as Captain Bluntschli and John Gielgud as Major Sergius Saranoff. A second BBC audio version was produced in 1984 and broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in February 2009 starring Andrew Sachs as Captain Bluntschli and Gary Bond as Major Saranoff. A third version was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on March 21, 2010 starring Rory Kinnear as Captain Bluntschli, Lydia Leonard as Raina and Tom Mison as Major Saranoff. This production was produced by Nicolas Soames and directed by David Timson.

An audio version was produced in 1999 by the CBC starring Simon Bradbury as Captain Bluntschli, Elizabeth Brown as Raina and Andrew Gillies as Major Saranoff. Another audio version was produced in 2006 by the L.A. Theatre Works starring Jeremy Sisto as Captain Bluntschli, Anne Heche as Raina and Teri Garr as Catherine.

A musical by Udo Jürgens, Helden, Helden, also based on Shaw's play, premiered at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria in 1973.

Pejorative military use of the term "chocolate soldier"[edit]

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "E-NOTES". Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Cliff Notes". Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Google Books. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  4. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica". Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Frezza, Daniel. "About the Playwright: George Bernard Shaw", "Utah Shakespearean Festival," 2007. Accessed February 12, 2008. Shaw's contemporary, William Butler Yeats, was present for the performance, and rendered this quotation differently in his autobiography: "I assure the gentleman in the gallery that he and I are of exactly the same opinion, but what can we do against a whole house who are of the contrary opinion?" (Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, book 4: The Tragic Generation, from Autobiographies, in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, vol. 3, ed. William H. O’Donell and Douglas N. Archibald (New York: Scribner, 1999), 221).
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ London Stage in the 20th Century, by Robert Tanitch, Haus (2007) ISBN 978-1-904950-74-5
  8. ^ "Home at BBC Shop". Bbcamericashop.com. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  9. ^ "odysseytheatre.ca". odysseytheatre.ca. 2013-12-09. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  10. ^ http://www.odysseytheatre.ca/index.php/events/theatre-under-the-stars
  11. ^ http://www.shawfest.com/playbill/arms-and-the-man/players
  12. ^ a b c Ellwood Annaheim (February 2002). "Shaw's Folly – Straus' Fortune". Archived from the original on June 20, 2005. http://web.archive.org/web/20050620092840/www.geocities.com/musictheater/chocolate/chocolate.html.
  13. ^ Rosenthal, Ruvik. Maariv, September 11, 2007
  14. ^ "Australian Soldier – Kokoda Track 1942", livinghistory.com, accessed 22 September 2010
  15. ^ "Kokoda Trail I", Battle For Australia, accessed 22 September 2010

External links[edit]