One of Shaws aims in this play is to debunk theromantic heroics of war; he wanted to present a realisticaccount of war and to remove all pretensions of nobilityfrom war. It is not, however, an anti-war play; instead, itis a satire on those attitudes which would glorify war. Tocreate this satire, Shaw chose as his title the openinglines of Virgils Aeneid, the Roman epic which glorifieswar and the heroic feats of man in war, and whichbegins, "Of arms and the man I sing. . . .“
When the play opens, we hear about the gloriousexploits which were performed by Major SergiusSaranoff during his daring and magnificent cavalryraid, an event that turned the war against the Serbstoward victory for the Bulgarians. He thus becomesRaina Petkoffs ideal hero; yet the more that we learnabout this raid, the more we realize that it was a futile,ridiculous gesture, one that bordered on an uttersuicidal escapade.
In contrast, Captain Bluntschlis actions in Rainasbedroom strike us, at first, as being the actions of acoward. (Bluntschli is a Swiss, a professional soldierfighting for the Serbs.) He climbs up a water pipeand onto a balcony to escape capture, he threatens adefenseless woman with his gun, he allows her tohide him behind the curtains, and then he reveals thathe carries chocolates rather than cartridges in hiscartridge box because chocolates are more practicalon the battlefield. Yet, as the playprogresses, Bluntschlis unheroic actions becomereasonable when we see that he survives, whereashad the war continued, Sergius absurd heroicexploits would soon have left him dead.
Throughout the play, Shaw arranged his material so as tosatirize the glories associated with war and to ultimatelysuggest that aristocratic pretensions have no place intodays wars, which are won by using business-likeefficiency, such as the practical matters of whichBluntschli is a master. For example, Bluntschli is able todeal with the business of dispensing an army to anothertown with ease, while this was a feat that left thearistocrats (Majors Petkoff and Saranoff) completelybaffled. This early play by Shaw, therefore, cuts throughthe noble ideals of war and the "higher love" that Rainaand Sergius claim to share; Arms and the Man presents aworld where the practical man who lives with no illusionsand no poetic views about either love or war is shown tobe the superior creature.
Captain Bluntschli A professional soldierfrom Switzerland whois serving in theSerbian army. He isthirty-four years old,and he is totallyrealistic about thestupidity of war.
Raina Petkoff The romantic idealistof twenty-three whoviews war in terms ofnoble and heroic deeds.
Major Petkoff The not skilled, fifty-year-old father ofRaina; he is wealthy byBulgarian standards,but he is also unreadand rude.
Catherine Petkoff Rainas mother; shelooks like and acts likea peasant, but shewears fashionabledressing gowns and teagowns all the time inan effort to appear tobe a Viennese lady.
Sergius Saranoff The extremelyhandsome youngBulgarian officer wholeads an attack againstthe Serbs which was anoverwhelming success.
Nicola A realistic, middle-agedservant who is verypractical.
Louka The Petkoffs femaleservant; she is youngand physicallyattractive, and she usesher appearance forambitious preferment.