This Day In Literary History
On April 21st, 1894, Arms and the Man, the classic play by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened at the Playhouse Theatre in London.
Arms and the Man (the title comes from the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid) was set during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. The play's heroine is a Bulgarian girl, Raina Petkoff. Her fiance is Sergius Saranoff, a war hero whom she idolizes.
One night, Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary soldier in the Serbian army, bursts in through Raina's bedroom window. After threatening her, Bluntschli begs Raina to hide him.
She complies, though she thinks he's a coward - especially when he tells her that he is armed with chocolates instead of bullets. After the battle dies down, Raina and her mother sneak Bluntschli out of the house, disguising him in a housecoat.
The war ends and Sergius returns to Raina - and flirts with her servant girl Louka. Raina finds the man she once idolized to be tiresome and foolhardy. Then, Bluntschli unexpectedly returns to give Raina back the housecoat.
Raina comes to realize that Bluntschli respects her as a woman, where Sergius does not. She tells Bluntschli that she left a picture of herself in a pocket of the housecoat for him, with the inscription "To my chocolate-cream soldier." Unfortunately, Bluntschli never found it.
Later, Bluntschli receives word that his father has died and he has inherited considerable wealth. Louka then tells Sergius that Bluntschli was the man whom Raina protected - and is in love with.
Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel, but the men avoid fighting when Sergius and Raina break off their engagement amicably. To Raina's father's horror, Sergius proposes to Louka.
Meanwhile, Bluntschli is now a wealthy businessman. Raina, recognizing the shallowness of her romantic ideals and her ex-fiance's values, tells him that she would rather have her poor chocolate-cream soldier instead.
He convinces her that he's still the same person. The play ends with Raina proclaiming her love for Bluntschli, who then proclaims to everyone that he will marry Raina when he returns in two weeks.
The opening performance of Arms and the Man received a standing ovation - and loud boos from one lone heckler, to whom the playwright quipped, "My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we two against so many?"
When a group of Bulgarian students complained about Shaw using their country's military history as a vehicle for satirizing the absurdities of war, the playwright made the following apology:
I greatly regret that my play, Arms and the Man, has wounded the susceptibilities of Bulgarian students in Berlin and Vienna. But I ask them to remember that it is the business of the writer of comedy to wound the susceptibilities of his audience. When the Bulgarian students, with my friendly assistance, have developed a sense of humor, there will be no more trouble.
Quote Of The Day
"Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads." - George Bernard Shaw
Today's video a complete performance of George Bernard Shaw's classic play, Arms and the Man, taped live in London. Enjoy!