How do Catherine and Raina create an atmosphere of military melodrama in the opening of Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first element of military melodrama is the setting. The play takes place during the Serbo-Bulgarian War just after the November 1885 Battle of Slivnitsa in a town near Dragoman Pass where the battle took place.

Catherine rushes into the room to announce to her daughter Raina that the Bulgarians have won the battle and that Sergius, to whom Raina is engaged, was the hero of the battle, defying his commanders to lead a cavalry charge. She recounts this in a tone of breathless excitement:

A cavalry charge—think of that! He . . . led a charge on his own responsibility—headed it himself—was the first man to sweep through their guns. Can't you see it, Raina; our gallant splendid Bulgarians with their swords and eyes flashing, thundering down like an avalanche and scattering the wretched Servian dandies like chaff.

Although Raina worries that her own impression of the war has been as much shaped by opera and poetry as by reality, she is swept away in her mother's enthusiasm.

The next element of melodrama is suggested when Louka, the maid servant, carries in the news that Raina should lock her shutters tightly as the Bulgarian army and their Russian allies may be pursuing Serbian stragglers through the streets and even firing guns. 

The final element of melodrama is found in the advent of Captain Bluntschli, who has been fighting for the Serbian army, and who climbs up to the balcony to find refuge and threatens Raina with his revolver. From this point onward, though, the play moves from melodrama to comedy.