What is the significance of George Bernard Shaw's play "Arms And The Man"?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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George Bernard Shaw's play "Arms And The Man" takes its title from the first line of Virgil's "Aeneid": "Arma virumque cano ..." (I sing of the arms and the man ..."), a formulaic introduction to a heroic epic describing great deeds of military prowess.

George Bernard Shaw himself, though, was not a militarist but a pacifist and vegetarian, opposed to World War I. This play is intended to satirize heroic literature that praises and glamorizes war. Major Sergius Saranoff, Raina's fiance, exemplifies the hero of ballads, leading a foolhardy charge that only succeeds because his opponents have the wrong ammunition. Captain Bluntschli, the Swiss mercenary, is an example of a professional soldier who takes a pragmatic view of his job, believing that it is the soldier's job to stay alive and win wars rather than putting on a brave show.  Thus he states:

Creams! Delicious! ... 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. 

The significance of the play is that Shaw is trying to show that war is really not glamorous, and by removing the sheen of glamour from war, make it seem less attractive, and thus discourage people from going to war.

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