York Notes on "Arms and the Man" by George Bernard Shaw by B. King
Arms and the Man Summary
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.
At this very moment, the maid, Louka, rushes in with the news that the Serbs are being chased through the streets and that it is necessary to lock up the house and all of the windows. Raina promises to do so later, and Louka leaves. But as Raina is reading in bed, shots are heard, there is a noise at the balcony window, and a bedraggled enemy soldier with a gun appears and threatens to kill her if she makes a sound. After the soldier and Raina exchange some words, Louka calls from outside the door; she says that several soldiers want to search the house and investigate a report that an enemy Serbian soldier was seen climbing her balcony. When Raina hears the news, she turns to the soldier.
The play begins in the fall of during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. Raina, a Bulgarian woman from a wealthy family, learns from her mother, Catherine, that the Bulgarian cavalry have won a battle against the Serbs. Louka, their servant, enters and warns Catherine and Raina that escaped Serbs fleeing the battlefield might be in the area, seeking refuge in the houses of Bulgarian families. Raina is not worried, and chooses to keep her window unlocked. In the night, a man enters the room through the unlocked window and says he will kill Raina if she makes a noise. The man is Swiss and an escaped soldier, fighting as a mercenary for the Serbians.
The play is set in Bulgaria and set during the brief Bulgarian-Serbian war in the s. It opens with the young romantic Raina Petkoff and her mother Catherine talking excitedly about a successful cavalry charge led by the handsome and heroic Sergius , to whom Raina is betrothed. They are thrilled at his success. Their defiant young servant Louka comes in and tells them that there will be fighting in the streets soon, and that they should lock all of their windows. He is a Swiss professional soldier fighting for Servia. Though he fights for the enemy and is not in the least heroic he fears for his life, threatens to cry, and carries chocolates instead of ammo Raina is touched by his plight. He angers her when he tells her that the man who led the cavalry charge against them only succeeded because he got extremely lucky—the Servians were not equipped with the right ammo.