Places: Arms and the Man

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1898, in Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant

First produced: 1984, at the Avenue Theatre, London

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: 1885-1886

Places DiscussedBedroom

Bedroom. Arms and the ManBedroom of twenty-three-year-old Raina Petkoff, a member of an upper-class Bulgarian family, in which the play opens with Raina’s mother rushing in to tell her that her fiancé, Sergius Saranoff, has led a victory in battle in the Russian-Austrian War. George Bernard Shaw’s stage directions describe the bedroom as “half rich Bulgarian, half cheap Viennese,” with “oriental and gorgeous” drapes, bedclothes, and carpet, along with “occidental and paltry” wallpaper and a dressing table made of common pine. Thus, while the Petkoffs have money, they do not know how to decorate their home. Raina reveals her family’s snobbery when she brags to the Swiss army captain Bluntschli that her family has the only Bulgarian home with “two rows of windows . . . [and] a flight of stairs.” The final proof of her family’s being “civilized people” is they actually have a library in their home.


Library. Room symbolizing the Petkoffs’ mistaken belief in their own superiority that is the setting for act 3 of the play. In the first act, Raina brags about the family library to the enemy soldier; in the second act her father brags to his wife that he has made sure that every officer he has encountered while fighting in the war knows that he has a library. In the third act, the audience finally sees for itself this prized place: The library contains a single bookshelf lined with torn paper-covered novels. The play’s stage directions do, however, indicate that the room’s chairs and tables make it “a most comfortable sitting room.”


Garden. Part of the Petkoff home that is the setting for act 2. While the garden attests to the material wealth of the Petkoffs, the fact that Mother Catherine hangs wet laundry on garden shrubs to dry is another indication that the family is not as superior as its members think. When Catherine’s husband tells her that “civilized people don’t hang out their washing to dry where visitors can see it,” she merely responds, “Oh, that’s absurd.”

BibliographyAlexander, Nigel. A Critical Commentary on Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” and “Pygmalion.” London: Macmillan, 1968. A detailed critical exposition; includes an introduction on “The Play of Ideas,” discussion questions, and recommendations for further reading.Bergquist, Gordon N. The Pen and the Sword: War and Peace in the Prose and Plays of Bernard Shaw. Salzburg, Austria: University of Salzburg, 1977. A detailed examination of the occurrence of soldiers and wars in Shaw’s plays and of Shaw’s thought on the military and related issues.Carpenter, Charles A. Bernard Shaw and the Art of Destroying Ideals: The Early Plays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. A clear exposition of Shaw’s methods in attacking idealism in Arms and the Man and other plays.Crompton, Louis. “Arms and the Man,” in his Shaw the Dramatist, 1969.Crompton, Louis. Shaw the Dramatist. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. An excellent consideration of the social, philosophical, and historical background of Arms and the Man.Dukore, Bernard F. Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man”: A Composite Production Book. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. Covers Shaw’s directions and advice for four different productions of Arms and the Man. Includes Shaw’s directorial notes, manuscript changes, and costume designs. Invaluable for preparing an actual staging of the play.Holroyd, Michael. Bernard Shaw. Vol. 1, 1856-1898: The Search for Love, 1988.Meisel, Martin. Shaw and the Nineteenth-Century Theater, 1963.
Categories: Places