Stage Direction: "Arms and The Man" By G.B.Shaw

Shaw has been an innovative dramatist in his elaborate use of prefaces, a fresh principle of characterization and the use of dialogues as debates or discussions. Also his is the elaborate stage direction in his plays. They from an integral part of his dramas and are full of dramatic significance. They create the necessary atmosphere, comment upon stage settings and interpret characters rightly. Now we will carry out a discussion on his use of stage-directions in Arms and The Man.

Like the rest of the plays, Shaw’s Arms and The Man also contains lengthy and elaborate stage directions. Although Shaw is sometimes a digresser, even going to an extend that some of stage directions have become disproportionately more lengthy and detailed and sometimes irrelevant and tiresome. But this is not true for Arms and The Man. In fact, the stage direction in the play contains a complete description of stage setting to create the necessary atmosphere for the proper understanding of his play. Moreover, having always distrusted in the actor’s imaginative ability to interpret characters rightly, he has given a detailed analysis of the mental conditions and processes of his dramatic personal in the stage direction of his play. His suggestions and explanation are also full of great literary charm.

Precisely speaking, Shaw’s prefaces are practical experience of the art of producing plays. They contain his revolutionary messages of the plays as well as its explanation. In the prefaces, Shaw has not merely allowed his works to speak for themselves and present their claims to intellectual consideration. The preface to always pleasant preoccupies the technicalities of the dramatic forms and simplifies the under lying fundamental issues in the play. Thus, it also is the subject for stage direction. Here we can quote a few lines from the preface where Shaw makes and assesses the character of the Swiss officer: “I am quite aware that the much criticized Swiss officer in Arms and The Man is not a conventional stage soldier. He suffers from want of food and sleep; his nerves go to pieces after three days under fire, ending in the horrors of a rout and pursuit; he has found by experience that it is more important to have a few bits of chocolate to eat in the field than cartridges for his revolver. “The preface to Arms and The Man is a critical commentary on the necessary atmosphere, stage-settings and interpretation of characters. Further, his acute observation regarding costumes, background, gestures and expressions make the play interesting.

In matter of detailed stage directions at the beginning of each three acts in Arms and The Man we find pictorial details of the scenery, furniture, stage in the play. At the beginning we are given a perfect scenario. It is a lady’s bedchamber in Bulgaria and the time is towards the close of November in the year 1885, the year the Servo-Bulgarian war was going on. Shaw comments that the interior of the room is not like anything to be seen in the west of Europe. It is half rich Bulgarian half cheap Viennese. This little bit of information is sufficient to hint the inside of Bulgarian civilization. The expression exposes the vanity of the Bulgarian rich men who are found of cheap imitation of the fashions of the rich Viennese people. The manners, customs, and fashions of the rich Viennese people are thought to be worthy of imitation by the rich people of Bulgarian since Vienna to them is a seat of superior culture and civilization. Again in the stage direction in act iii, we find a Shaw’s humoristic remark on the library room that Petkoff so boost off. Shaw says: “If is not much of a library. Its literary equipment consists of a single fixed shelf stocked with old paper covered novels, broken backed, coffee stained, torn and thumbed, and a couple of little hanging shelves with a few gift books on them”. Such elaborate commentary revives the taste of a novel. They combine the functions of the drama as well as the novel.

Also, as it is already said, the descriptions on the characters in Arms and The Man help the reader to get a mental picture of the character. Examples can readily be quoted. For example, Catherine Petkoff is described as ‘determined  to be a Viennese lady; a piece of information that helps the reader to know that she is a snob trying to pretend that she is fashionable person. Again Romantic nature of Raina is hinted when it is said “Raina, reclining on the diva, is gazing in a day drama out at the Balkan Landscape, with a neglected novel in her lap”.

Despite of all, Shaw is often criticized for his elaborate stage directions. Shaw himself in a letter to Louis Wilkinson tries to defend him by saying that his stage directions are meant for a complete artistic existence as printed books. He adds a stage direction need not tell on actor how to act: it should bell him what to act. There is only one effect to be produced: but there may be fifty different ways of producing it.”     

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