Bring out the significance of the title Arms and the Man by G.B. Shaw.

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George Bernard Shaw's title "Arms and the Man," is based on the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid, "arma virumque cano" (I sing of the arms and the man). These words would have been familiar to every English schoolboy in Shaw's period as middle and upper class children all studied Latin in school, and the Aeneid was a standard school text. The opening of the epic describes how Aeneas fled from the fall of Troy and eventually ended up in the area that would become Latium (the central part of Italy surrounding Rome).

The title, with its echoes of Virgil, suggests that the play will address epic themes of war and love. While Shaw does, in fact, address both those themes, Captain Bluntschli is not a heroic, Aeneas-like figure, but a mercenary simply trying to earn his living. Raina initially might fancy herself a sort of Dido-like figure, but she finds happiness in abandoning romantic illusions and ending up in a far happier relationship based on friendship, interesting conversation, and mutual esteem. Thus the title is intended to evoke the epic tradition, while at the same time updating it, satirizing it, and bringing it into the modern world.

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The title, of course, is from the opening line of Virgil’s Aeneid—“Of arms and the man I sing” and refers to the contrast between the political forces of war versus the human traits that war’s participants bring to it. The man can be warm, loving, supportive, etc. while war itself is its opposite. The Aeneid itself is both the story of the aftermath of the Trojan War and the subsequent wars of acquistion, the conquering of Carthage and founding of Rome—and the “human” story of Aenaes—his loves, his ambitions, himself as a “man.” For Shaw, an anti-romanticist regarding war, his anti-hero Sergius demonstrates the wide disparity between the ideals of war (bravery, sacrifice, loyalty to country, etc.) and the folly of human illusions about those things—Sergius’ “charge” was nothing more than a frightened horse, and the absence of slaughter was because the opposite side had run out of ammunition. By naming his play this way, Shaw is not merely drawing comparisons to Virgil’s work, but is also, as in so many of his plays, bursting the bubble of self-importance, blindness to human folly, and false values. Modern parallels exist in hyperbolic news stories of war “heroes” who were simply “doing their job.”

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