Back To Course12th Grade English: Tutoring Solution
15 chapters | 231 lessons
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Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.
Produced in 1894, the three-act play Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw, begins at the height of the Serbo-Bulgarian War, with the scene set in Raina Petkoff's chambers. Raina, an immature young lady with delusions of grandeur and romantic conquest, is settling into bed when a war fugitive slips in through her window. The shadowy intruder half-heartedly threatens Raina's dignity if she gives him up when a search party comes around, and she consents. She feeds the starving man some chocolates, and upon discovering the exhausted soldier passed out on the bed, Raina and her mother Catherine agree to help get him out of the house to safety.
By the time the second act has begun, the war is over and a peace treaty signed. The servants, Louka and Nicola, are half-heartedly discussing their own impending marriage when Major Paul Petkoff, Raina's father, returns home. After a reunion and some chitchat with his family, he welcomes his daughter's fiancé, Sergius, a young Bulgarian soldier whom Catherine and Raina hold as the perfect hero. When Raina comes out to greet her betrothed, the couples split off, and the younger pair decides to take a walk.
As Raina readies herself, Sergius finds Louka clearing the table. He makes several advances at her, which she rejects after toying with him and mocking the relationship he and Raina have. He then becomes physical with her, bruising her arm with his grip in his frustration.
Meanwhile, Raina and Catherine discuss the girl's growing distaste for Sergius and are confronted with the surprising presence of the soldier they helped escape, who has come back to return a coat they loaned him. Eventually, we learn the man's name is Bluntschli and that Paul and Sergius met him during troop exchanges. The men beg Bluntschli to stay, and the women follow suit to avoid suspicion.
In the final act, Bluntschli is helping the men move regiments. With Sergius and the rest off to see to the orders he's drawn up, the soldier and Raina have some time to talk. Bluntschli finally confronts Raina about her affected heroic superiority, forcing her to face her own hypocrisy.
Things seem as though they're about to escalate out of control when Major Petkoff discovers the relationship between his daughter and Bluntschli, and Sergius' pursuit of Louka. However, Nicola quickly lies and says his engagement to Louka is for show and convenience, and Bluntschli has suddenly become even more popular with the Petkoffs given his newfound inheritance. This, combined with his witty charm and Nicola's selfless denial of any claim of betrothal to Louka, smoothes the whole situation over, leaving both couples to live happily ever after.
Raina Petkoff is the play's comedic heroine. She has a tendency to think too highly of herself; for instance, proudly pointing out the family's 'library,' which consists of a single shelf of battered books. Her world comes crashing down when Bluntshcli makes her see that she's been living a lie.
Bluntschli is the play's hero and a Swiss mercenary who fought for the Serbs. He's neither disillusioned with war nor does he romanticize it, but he is definitely a realist and considers himself a 'professional' soldier. Bluntschli tells Raina, 'You can always tell an old soldier by the inside of his holsters and cartridge boxes. The young ones carry pistols and cartridges; the old ones, grub.'
Sergius Saranoff is a Bulgarian soldier engaged to Raina. Everyone in Bulgaria (including himself) holds Sergius up as a national hero for his 'brave' cavalry charge that sent the Serbs running. Bluntschli later reveals, though, that the Serbian regiment Sergius was charging had the wrong ammo - otherwise, his whole squad would've died.
Louka and Nicola are the foils to Raina and Sergius. A foil is a character that contrasts with others in order to illustrate certain characteristics. For example, despite being a servant, Louka takes charge of herself and doesn't rely on ideas of chivalry or servitude to dictate how she thinks she should be treated. Likewise, Nicola doesn't allow feelings of entitlement to mandate what he thinks his love deserves; therefore, he's given up the claim of engagement he had to Louka to ensure her happiness and advancement in the world over his own, asserting that they were only ever 'together' to keep Louka in a favorable light with the family.
Let's take a look at some of the themes of Arms and the Man.
The title of this comedy recalls the opening line of Vergil's epic poem, Aeneid, which reads 'Arms and the man I sing. . . ' At different times, authors have latched onto a romanticized view of the world, particularly regarding war and love and how they're conducted. Shaw traces this view all the way back to the ancient heroic epics of those like Vergil and criticizes this perspective - for instance, by having Bluntschli describe Sergius as charging like Don Quixote at the windmills.
Another theme of the play is growing up. Many times, growing up means we're hit in the face with some tough realizations. For Raina, that means coming to terms with the fact that the persona she's adopted of a noble, supremely virtuous lady is nothing more than a sham. Bluntschli helps her see that Sergius is living the same lie, which only confirms her suspicions about him as well as herself. She realizes that Bluntschli is actually the first person to have taken her seriously as a person.
In this play, we also see a theme that everybody lies. During their heart-to-heart in Act III, Bluntschli tells Raina that there are two things every soldier gets used to, and one is hearing people tell lies. In fact, every person in this play has lied at least once - whether it's to protect a fugitive, to hide a love affair or to delude themselves into believing they're something that they aren't. Of course, Bluntschli lets Raina know that it doesn't make her terrible, just human. And let's not forget that it's Nicola's selfless lie concerning his engagement to Louka that ironically makes him perhaps the most heroic figure in the entire play.
George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man tells the comedic story of Raina Petkoff's coming of age during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. With its title taken from the first line of Vergil's Aeneid, the criticism of romanticized views on war and love is a prevalent theme, along with the crises of growing up and dealing with the fact that everybody lies. Throughout the play, Raina and Sergius are accompanied by their foils, or characters that contrast with others in order to illustrate certain characteristics, in the forms of the servants, Louka and Nicola.
George Bernard Shaw's three-act comedy, Arms and the Man, follows Raina Petkoff as she learns the reality of the world around her. Set during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, Shaw's play takes a critical look at the romanticizing of love and war, the challenges of self-reflections, and the gray world of absolute truth.
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Back To Course12th Grade English: Tutoring Solution
15 chapters | 231 lessons