Explain the title Arms and the Man.  

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The title is an allusion to the first line of Virgil's Aeneid. In English, the line translates as "I sing of arms and the man." In Virgil, "the man" is, of course, Aeneas, and "arms" refers to the Trojan War & Aeneas' journey from Greece. The Aeneid stands as a glorious epic, depicting battles as defined by their heroes, who emerge from the war triumphant.

However, because Shaw's play is a satire, the title should be looked at ironically. Rather than praising "arms" & the men who use them by describing epic battle scenes and glorious triumphs, Shaw is dissecting the reality of war, showing the futile nature of taking up those arms. In Shaw's vision, war is dirty, brutal, unforgiving, and serves to support the inequalities inherent in the status quo. The characters in Shaw's play, especially Major Sergius Saranoff, serve to underscore the traditional heroism in war of the epic. Saranoff becomes a caricature, desperately clinging to his romanticized ideal of a hero. He struggles to be defined as one himself, but Shaw uses the character to instead suggest that no man could compare to a mythological hero in reality.

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