What is the dramatic significance of Act 1 of Arms and the Man?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Bernard Shaw's play Arms and the Man is a play about both love and war. In a sense, Shaw sees these two themes as connected, in that romantic attitudes, which glamorize war and relationships rather than looking at them realistically, lead to bad outcomes in both the relationships among individuals and nations.

The first Act of Arms and the Man sets up the major conflict in the play between romantic ideals and reality, a conflict that plays out in the growth of the central character, Raina. At the opening of the play, Raina's mother is presented as enthralled with the glamour of war and of Sergius, the young hero to whom Raina is engaged. Raina is somewhat more ambivalent, but has no alternative models of either military or romantic ideals with which to compare her mother's views.

With the intrusion of Captain Bluntschli, not only does Shaw introduce a romantic alternative but also an ideological one. Thus the first act not only introduces the main characters and conflicts of the play, but also the ideas about war that Shaw wants to investigate through the vehicle of the play. Captain Bluntschli will serve almost as a mouthpiece for Shaw in the play.