What is the significance of the title of the play Arms and the Man?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title, Arms and the Manis an ironic reference to Virgil's Aeneid, which glorifies the warrior. Shaw's play, in contrast, satirizes the idea of the warrior hero, showing Sergius as an incompetent who has blundered into heroism by mistake, and, also reveals that Sergius, despite his highly romanticized...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

wooing of Raina, is, in actuality, seducing her servant Louka. 

Therefore, the real "man" in the play is not the supposed warrior hero Sergius, but the pragmatic Bluntschli who deserts the battlefield and show up at Raina's balcony. Bluntshcli does not fall for false romanticism, be it in love or war, and it is he who wins Raina in the end. In the last line of the play, Sergius says of Bluntshli, "What a man! What a man!" Sergius still doesn't understand Bluntschli, but the repetition of "man" in the last lines emphasizes that Bluntshcli is the real man in the play.

"Arms" means weapons of warfare, but it is also a play on the kind of possessive love embodied in the idea of folding a beloved in one's arms as a conquest. Sergius, in particular, tends to gather Louka in his arms as an object he owns. When she questions whether his statement that she "belongs" to him is an "insult," he responds: "It means that you love me, and that I have had you here in my arms." Shaw critiques this idea of love as ownership.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title of Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw is based on the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid,

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris Italiam, fato profugus

I sing of arms and a man who first, exiled by fate, [came] from the shores of Troy

This line begins a great epic telling of the heroic deeds of Aeneas, who fled after the fall of Troy in the Trojan war to found Rome.

The purpose of the title is to give us a different take on warfare. Captain Bluntschli is also fleeing after losing a battle, but rather than being a heroic character about to found a great empire, he is a rather pragmatic, bourgeois mercenary, who is quite happy to abandon warfare for running a hotel chain when he has the opportunity to do so. In his meeting with Raina, which parallels Aeneas' meeting with Dido, Bluntschli is more concerned with obtaining food and getting some sleep than with glory.

What this does is locate the play in a "mock epic" tradition, which evokes the grand and hyperbolic traditions of heroic epics only to satirize and deflate them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the dramatic significance of the first act of Arms and the Man?

The first act of Shaw's Arms and the Man sets the plot of the play in motion, and introduces us to the main characters and themes. In the first act, we encounter the two major areas of conflict that are the central themes of the play:

War: The main conflict over war is one of a romantic versus a realistic approach, the former expressing patriotic sentiment and a literary and artistic tradition and the latter exemplifying the pragmatic and mercenary approach to war as a business having as its goal not nobility but surviving and winning. Sergius, the Bulgarian aristocrat and patriot, exemplifies the former and Bluntschli, the Swiss mercenary, the other.

Love: Just as there is a tension between the two views of war, so too is there a tension between romance as represented by Sergius, which is based on literary tradition and romantic illusion, and real love which is grounded in honesty, intellectual compatibility, and mutual practical and emotional support, which Raina eventually discovers with Bluntschli.

As Raina begins to be influenced by Bluntschli's account of the battle, we get the basic tension that makes the plot interesting. As an audience, we are fascinated by the education of Raina. The first act builds suspense as we wonder whether her new understanding will make her see Sergius in a new light and perhaps reconsider their relationship; the ending of the play of course resolves the tension, and even has Sergius show his own discomfort with the heroic role into which he feels he has been compelled. 

Last Updated on