Bring out the significance of the title of Arms and the Man

 Bring out the significance of the title of Arms and the Man

The title of a literary work adumbrates the theme of it. Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man was at first called Alps and Balkans, but one place is as good as another, for the play concerns human attitudes. The title which replaced it was taken from the first line of Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (Arms and the Man I sing”). The Aeneid which begins with the Latin phrase “Arma virumque Cano” and the opening lines in Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid run as follows: 

“Arms and the Man, I sing who forced by fate And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate”

Virgil’s phrase as understood from Dryden’s translation praises “the soldier and weapons of war”. It is a heroic expression that brings to the mind the stir and thrill of war, and heroic exploits of great warriors. But in Arms and the Man Shaw reverses the process and changes the significance of the phrase. The technical originality of the play is that it “is built not on pathos, but bathos” (Chesterton) and the main intention of the dramatist is to create comic and not tragic effects. This very technical peculiarity. bathos or anti-climax is indicated by the title of the play itself.

The pathos in Arms and the Man indicates a comic-ironic treatment of the theme of Virgil’s Aeneid Instead of glorifying war and heroism like Virgil, Show expresses the romantic glamour attached to war and the profession of a soldier Though the play opens against a background of ideal heroism it ends in total disillusionment of all.

The play clearly manifests in a comical, ironical manner that war is not a glorious affair. Here the two themes of war and marriage are really interwoven, for Shaw believed that while war is evil and stupid and marriage desirable and good, both had become wrapped in romantic illusions which led to disastrous wars and also to unhappy marriages. When the play opens we find Raina, the heroine, rejoicing at the news of the victorious cavalry charge led by her betrothed Major Sergius Saranoff. Raina rejoices because she can now believe that “the world is really glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act into romance. Moreover, this victory has proved for Raina that all her ideals of patriotism. honour and selfless love real after all. This is a romantic girl’s romantic view of life, revealed at the very beginning of the play.

But then reality suddenly breaks in on her. An enemy soldier, the Man in the title, who has been a witness to the great cavalry charge, intrudes into Raina’s room to save his life. Contrary to Raina’s high ideals, Bluntschli, the fugitive soldier, does not hesitate even to take advantage of her undress to protect himself.

Thus, Raina’s ideal of war receives a serious jolt (shock) because she sees for herself that arms confer no superior status on a man Shaw then enhances his dramatic irony by offering a second account of the same cavalry charge. He draws a realistic picture of the battlefield which is the direct negative of the dozens of military paintings showing the flashing swords and eyes of a thundering avalanche. Bluntschli, therefore, tells the girl that, far from being heroic, the famous attack was a piece of unprofessional bungling which should have got the whole regiment killed if the enemy guns had not missed fire.”

Till now, Raina thought that “the romantic view of war is based on the idealistic notion that men fight because they are heroes and that the soldier who takes the biggest risks wins the greatest glory and is the greatest hero.” But finally, she comes out of such an illusion after her encounter with the mercenary soldier who makes her aware of the grim realities of war. Similarly, Sergius is also disillusioned soon and realizes: “Soldiering is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.” Thus, war has lost its romance for Sergius as it has for Raina.

Shaw’s views on love are no mere conventional than his views on heroism and courage. He has little regard for the emotional trivialities which go by the name of love and consequently of marriage. To display idealized love at odds with the love of convenience is a familiar stage thing, but Shaw shows not only the prettiness but also the hollowness of romance, idealistic hero and heroine of their pedestals and replaces self-deception by genuine feeling and passion. Shaw objects not so much to war as to the attractiveness of war. He does not so much dislike love like the love of love.

Some critics have questioned the appropriateness of the title because in their opinion, it does not seem to cover the second aspect of the play the theme of romantic love. But the charges are not really tenable because there is no real conflict between the two. Arms do not make a man great nor do they make him a better lover. For both Sergius and Raina, the notions of love and war are interrelated. As he tells Raina, in a war he conducted himself as a medieval knight running in a tournament. In the presence of Raina, he strikes an attitude that has no relation to his real feelings. Soon he gets tired of his higher love and flirts with Louka as soon as Raina turns back. He soon learns that he is a creature of common clay like Louka. The incident of Major’s old coat and photograph which Shaw introduces to extricate his characters from their intellectual confusions awakens Raina to reality She understands that Sergius is fallible and jealous like any common man and that it is not possible to spend her whole life with such a figure full of romantic ideals. She opts for Bluntschli whose business-like manner wins her over from romanticisms in love as well as in war. Thus, reality prevails over romance and Raina is paired off with the practical Bluntschli and the romantic Sergius to practical Louka.

From this point of view, we can say that the title of the play is a suitable one. It is indicative of the dramatist’s satiric intention of exposing the illusions regarding both glory of war and the heroism of soldiers. Ninety years later we are even better equipped to appreciate the dangers of glorying in the romance of war, we are less likely to read Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum east”. 

Whatever might be the case, Shaw’s Arms and the Man clearly hints at the brutality of warfare. War cannot do good to a large number of humanity. Above all, when romance is attached to the idea of war, it becomes more horrible than it appears to be. Herein lies Shaw’s point of scarifying the romantic glorification of war. According to Shaw, a man with his instincts and impulses is more significant than arms which confer no superior status to man. Hence the significance of the title.

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