An analysis of Bernard Shaw’s play "Arms and the Man" as an anti-romantic comedy

Bernard Shaw calls Arms and the Man, set during a war in the Balkans between the Bulgarians and the Serbians, an anti-romantic comedy. The main purpose of the dramatist is to satirize the romantic conception of life. Shaw has no faith in emotion and sentiment. Throughout the drama he denounces the idealism and insists on realism. He does it through humor of character and humor of situation at the same time.

Even the very title signs an anti romantic bearing. Bernard Shaw borrowed the title from the opening line of Virgil’s great epic Aeneid, which reads as follows: “Arma virumque cano", meaning “Of arms and the man I sing”. Shaw’s obvious purpose was to satirise and puncture the inflated balloons—the romantic ideas about war and love.   
This inflated balloons concern themselves with the problems of life—the maladies of society. Bernard Shaw presents those vividly before the audience/readers with a view to bringing about radical changes in the real situation. Arms and the Man can definitely be classified as a drama of ideas since it deals with the undesirable presentation of the romantic concept of love and war. Shaw however resorts to Ruritanian romance which takes its name from the imaginary country of Ruritania found in Hope's book. This type of story generally includes intrigue, adventure, sword fights, and star-crossed lovers, ingredients that are all found in Arms and the Man. However, Shaw inverts the conventions of melodrama and inserts critical commentary on love and war into the cleverly funny lines of his play.
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In Arms and the Man the dramatist's intentions are comic irony and the use of anti-climax is the tool through which he achieves his comic intention. Sergius and Raina become comic figures as the insincerity of their romantic love and their romantic attitude is exposed. Raina and Sergius come down to the level of Louka and Bluntschli. The dramatist has succeeded in his comic intention. He shows that war is not heroic but something horrible and brutal because soldiers are not heroes but fools and cowards who fight only because they are compaled to fight. Sergius's heroic victory appears in a comic light when it is discovered that he could win only because the Serbian gunmen had the wrong ammunition with them. Sergius makes love to Louka as soon as Raina's back is turned, soon after "the higher love scene". This way Shaw has shown the flaw of romantic ideals of love and war, his purpose in writing the play. He has given a number of fun and humor for his readers and audience, but same time he has also achieved his serious purpose.

In broad it is the conflict between idealism and realism. The romantic ideal of war as a glorious opportunity for a man to display courage and honor is dispelled when Sergius admits that his heroic cavalry charge that won the battle was the wrong thing to do. His notable action does not get him his promotion and Sergius learns the realism.Much of Bluntschli is made of realism—i.e., keeping chocolates instead of ammunition in his cartridge belt, showing contempt for sentimentality, and reacting in a practical manner to his father's death. However, Nicola is the consummate realist in the play. Nicola's message is: adapt, exploit, and survive. Bluntschli proves to have a romantic side, after all, and thus is the most balanced character in the play in that he seems to know when to temper his romanticism with realism and when to stick to his ideals.

In a set of characters these anti sentimental ideas are imposed on Shavian style. Shaw deliberately created Bluntschli as an anti-hero or unheroic hero, who exposes the false romantic ideas of love and war. He brings all the characters round back to the practical problems of life, doing which, he shows that he is truly heroic in the sense that happiness actually lies in that. He is radically rational and logical in his actions and views about life.G. B. Shaw created Saranoff Sergius as a romantic type made famous by the craze of Byronism in Europe, as a foil to Bluntschli in an obvious attempt to expose the hollowness of the conception of love and war, which, the character of the former believes to live by. Shaw shows that, in reality, Sergius is a romantic fool, a coward, full of contradictions. In spite of his higher love for Raina, he flirts with a maid-servant louka. In practical affairs, he fails utterly. Sergius accidentally won a battle in an unscientific and impractical manner. That is why he was not promoted to higher rank. To protest against this, he tells Catherine that he gave up the job. Now he intends to use his accidental victory to prove his heroism, which, in reality, is false.Shaw presents Raina as a young girl with as head full of false conceptions of love and war. But very quickly she learns the truth as she comes in contact with Bluntschli whom she rightly chooses as her husband free from all the illusions. But above all, Shaw endows her with all the attributes of a woman, of a mother, which Shaw later on necessary for the creation of Superman.
 Further, Shaw wanted technical novelty for the modern drama which consists in making the spectators themselves the persons of the drama and the incidents of their lives its incidents. He disuses the old stage tricks by which audiences had to be induced to take an interest in unreal people and improbable circumstances.  Shaw believes that the most important peculiarity of modern art is the discussion of social problems. Shaw's greatest gifts are not in the sphere of poetry but in the field of wit, of ideas, of flashing intelligence. He neither can nor wants to imitate other dramatists as a creator of character, because he is too deeply concerned with social problems or issues.                                
 Ardhendu De   

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