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Theatre / Arms and the Man

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Original 1894 production

Arms and the Man is a comedic play first performed in 1894, written by George Bernard Shaw.

It tells the tale of a young Bulgarian lady named Raina Petkoff, whose fiance is an officer in the Serbo-Bulgarian War. One night, a Swiss officer working for the Serbs takes refuge from the battle in her bedroom. Hilarity Ensues. And that's just the first act. Things get even crazier when, after the war, Raina's fiance Sergius returns from the war and begins a kinda-sorta love affair with her maid, Louka, and Captain Bluntschli returns in peacetime, welcomed as an honored guest by Raina's father, even though he has no idea the two already know each other.

Actors who have appeared in productions include Laurence Olivier in 1944 (as Sergius) and Marlon Brando in his last stage production (also as Sergius). It has received several screen adaptations, including a 1989 BBC television version with Helena Bonham Carter as Rania and a 1958 German film, Arms and the Man.

This show includes examples of:

  • Beta Couple: Sergius and Louka
  • Commedia dell'Arte:
    • Raina is the Innamorata
    • Sergius is the Captain who initially seems like the Innamorato; Bluntschli is basically the opposite
    • Nicola is a Brighella
    • Louka bears resemblance to the Colombina
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nicola
  • Defeat by Modesty: When Bluntschli escapes into Raina's bedroom at the beginning of the play, he offers the fact that she will be seen in her nightgown as a reason she shouldn't call out to the soldiers outside and give him up for capture.
  • Dirty Coward: Examined through the behavior of both Bluntschli and Sergius
  • Duel to the Death: Also deconstructed. Sergius challenges Bluntschli to one. As Bluntschli is the one in the position to choose the weapon used for the duel, he suggests machine guns, frightening Sergius out of his challenge.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: The play was written to debunk any and all romantic notions of love and war for its audience.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Sergius has a moment of stupidity and cowardice in battle whose lucky result makes people think of him as a hero.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Lots of uses of the term "making love".
  • Hollywood Tactics: Used to examine why the obsession with chivalry was so damaging. Sorry, Sergius, charging straight toward a machine gun nest is not a good tactic. Not even if it works.
  • The Ingenue: Raina plays with this trope.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sergius is immature, arrogant, and none too bright, but he's got a chivalrous side.
  • Large Ham: Sergius, as a character. Whether or not the actor playing him is this way, however, varies.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title alludes to the first two words of the Aeneid.note 
  • Love Triangle: Two, as a matter of fact - Bluntschli/Raina/Sergius and Raina/Sergius/Louka.
  • Military Brat: Raina's father Paul is also a major in the Bulgarian army.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Bluntschli is the scion of an extremely wealthy hotel owning family in Switzerland, although as a boy, ran away into military service.
    • Of course, that's only if being a mercenary counts as military service. (You don't have to run away to join the military in Switzerland; there, the military joins YOU! all adult men are conscripted anyway).
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Captain Bluntschli
  • Private Military Contractors: Bluntschli is a mercenary
  • Ruritania: Although the play is set in an actual country during the backdrop of a real war, this trope is definitely in use, particularly in the scene where Raina brags about how advanced her family is by noting that they have the only library in Bulgaria and wash their hands on a somewhat frequent basis.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Raina gives this as the reason why she assists Bluntschli.
  • War Is Glorious: Deconstructed