Arms and the Man as an anti-romantic comedy

“Arms and the Man” is a famous play written by George Barnard Shaw that was first performed on April 21, 1984. This play uncovers the falseness of the war and deals with the two-facedness of human nature. It is regarded as an anti-romantic play because through this play Shaw has criticized the dreamlike worship of life. The play is also a comedy because in it Shaw has openly ridiculed the futility of romantic love and the idea of war. We can also call Shaw’s play a didactic play because the aim of the dramatist is to show his readers the reality of love and war. 

Shaw brings up anti-romantic aspects in “Arms and the Man” through situational irony. Raina, in the beginning, accepts the romantic idea of war and in her dreams manifests this idea in the character of Sergius, with whom she is in love with. Her ideas of war and love both rest on physical appearance and fantasies. But Bluntschli enlightens her of this romantic concept of a soldierly bravery, expressing it as merely an unprincipled form of stupidity. Eventually, Raina abandons her romantic ideas and is assured that a more practical perception is superior and changes her romantic feelings for Segius with a more profound love for Bluntschli. 

Shaw’s concept of romantic love:

Shaw’s argument of romantic love is more complicated than it appears primarily. Love is not what Raina was thinking in the First Act, that is the uniting of her soul to Sergius’s and the concept that they could possibly live merrily together. Their association appears perfect, with her flawless virtuosity and his valor and glory. Shaw says that this kind of love is based on misrepresentation of how an individual acts besides fairy tales. 

In “Arms and the Man” the characters and their conversations are either guided by romantic love or lack of it. During the early twentieth century, the societal traditions of love incorporated social courting, parental consent, and giving importance to the prestige and money of each partner. But the characters in the play go against the general standard and end up with a character that is well-suited to them. 

Characters gradually disillusion themselves of the characteristics of romantic love they have greatly admired throughout their lives and find that it is much more complicated. For example, At the beginning of the play it seems that Raina is in love with Sergius, but when she became infatuated with Blunstshcli, she understands that her love for Sergius was shallow and not profound. Raina may also have fallen in love with Sergius because he was applauded as a hero and also because her mother Catherine and her father Petkoff encouraged the relationship to preserve the family’s prestige. 

On the other hand, Louka, despite the fact that she is engaged to Nicola, doesn’t seem to have ever been in love with him, and exhibits that she is eager to make an effort to tie the knot into an upper rank. Romantic love doesn’t appear to be a concern in her judgments. The preliminaries of Louka’s relationship with Sergius are adulterous and go against the norms of courtship. The first meeting of Bluntschli and Raina is also unusual, as they meet covertly in her bedroom. And eventually when they got engaged, Bluntschli, the practical and crafty soldier, astonished everyone by disclosing himself to be a lifelong romantic.

Limitations of romantic love in “Arms and the Man”: 

Shaw does not completely reject the concept of romantic love. Rather, he appears to allow for it only when characters discard their preconceptions about romantic love. Blunstshcli casts aside much of his soldierly courageous behavior before Raina when he first meets in her bedroom. And Raina also confesses that she is not altogether a perfect individual, as she often does and utters things that oppose righteous and decent behavior.

We cannot call the relationship of Louka and Sergius a proper romantic relationship. Their relationship is based on lust and ambitions together with advancement of one’s social status. This is possibly not romantic love in the way Blunstshcli and Raina exhibit, and it is certainly not the kind of romantic love Raina manifests at the beginning of the play. Shaw appears to place a lot more importance on the way individuals behave, instead of their romanticized ideas about behavior and conduct. 

Shaw’s concept of war: 

“Arms and the Man” also talks about how war is fought. Shaw has taken the title of the play from Virgil’s “Aeneid” that extols war. Shaw used this title ironically to show how war should not be judged as romantic. 

Bluntschli is a Swiss mercenary who has employed himself for the Serbians together with other soldiers. Sergius is expected to exhibit the “heart” of the Bulgarians mission, with his courageous charge at the beginning of the play illustrating how firmly he wants to preserve his nation’s glory. But as the story of the play progresses it becomes clear that war is merely a piece of work for soldiers. Sergius whom we thought to be a brave hero was actually marshals a foolish charge against the opponent. He does this only so that he gets promoted to a higher rank. Bluntschli also breaks up Raina’s fairy-tale idea of war and bravery when he manifests that the great soldiers are generally not recognized as such on the outside. 


To conclude, we can say that Shaw’s play “Arms and the Man” is an anti-romantic comedy because with his creative intellect and humor, Shaw dismisses the idealistic concept of love and war and reveals what they really are. The play is a light comedy with an important message.  

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