Arms and the Man | Study Guide

George Bernard Shaw

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Arms and the Man | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



The preface was written at a later date for the publication of several of Shaw's plays in book form. In it Shaw mentions that it is difficult to decide what to write. Although he wants to write something meaningful, it must also be something common people will want to see, so it can make a profit. In addition to Arms and the Man, Shaw mentions other plays, including Candida (1894) and Widowers' Houses (1892).

Act 1, Section 1

The play begins in Raina's bedroom, 1895. Raina's mother, Catherine, tells Raina that her fiancée, Sergius (whose photograph is on ostentatious display in the room), was very heroic in a battle of the Serbo-Bulgarian War that day. He led the cavalry in a charge. Raina is happy because she had doubts about Sergius's bravery. Then, the servant Louka comes in and says they must close the shutters because there is gunfire in the streets. Raina says she feels sorry for the Serbian soldiers, who are poor refugees, and she doesn't really want to close her shutters. Louka tells her in secret that the shutters don't close properly because the latch is broken. Raina closes them and goes to bed.

A moment later, a man breaks into the room. He is a Serbian soldier trying to avoid capture and death. Raina chides him for being fearful, and he says all soldiers are. A Bulgarian officer comes in, looking for the soldier, whom someone saw climbing up Raina's balcony. Raina hides the man and lies about him being there. The officer chalks it up to people's imaginations running away with them.

Act 1, Section 2

After the officer leaves, Raina notices that the man's gun was on the ottoman the whole time. He tells her it doesn't matter, as it wasn't loaded. He has no ammo because he's been carrying chocolate instead, to have something to eat. Raina is shocked but offers him some chocolate she has, as he is hungry.

They get to talking about that day's battle. The man says he was certainly fearful, as every soldier is once he's been in battle for three days. He also comments the Bulgarian army wasn't very professional, sending in soldiers they knew would be killed. The only reason they weren't killed was that the Serbians had the wrong kind of cartridges for their guns. He describes the man who led the cavalry charge in a way that makes him sound not very heroic and somewhat buffoonish. Raina shows him Sergius's picture and asks if he was the cavalry leader. The man says it was and apologizes. Raina tells him to leave. He says he can't climb the drainpipe again. He'd just as soon die. In fact, dying would just be a long sleep, and he's very tired. Raina takes pity on him and says he can take refuge in their home. After all, he is a guest and the duties of a host are paramount. He falls asleep in Raina's bed, and she tells her mother to let him sleep there.

Act 2, Section 1

Several months later, Sergius and Major Petkoff are coming home from war. Petkoff is pleased at having won, while Sergius announces he is going to resign from the military. They tell a story they heard from a Swiss soldier, who said he had escaped harm by hiding in a young lady's bedroom and then snuck off, wearing the master of the house's coat. Catherine and Raina appear offended by this story. Meanwhile, Louka and her fellow servant, Nicola, to whom she is engaged, have figured out that something is up.

Sergius and Raina dramatically declare their love for one another and plan an outing.

Act 2, Section 2

After Raina leaves to get ready, Louka talks to Sergius. Sergius declares how tiring "higher love" is, meaning the type of love he has with Raina. They always have to make dramatic declarations of the other's perfection, and he is unable to be himself. Louka says there was a man in Raina's bedroom. She heard enough of their conversation to know that if the man returned, Raina would marry him. They had a real conversation, unlike Raina and Sergius. This upsets Sergius, and he grabs Louka's arm, bruising her. At the same time, though, they are also flirting. Louka asks Sergius to cure the bruise. He apologizes and offers her money, but she wants a kiss, which he will not give.

Raina and Catherine enter. After Sergius leaves the room to talk with Petkoff, they discuss how much trouble they'd be in if the men knew about the man in Raina's room. Raina, however, still seems enamored with the man and says she'd stuff him with chocolates if he came back. Just then, Bluntschli, the very same soldier, arrives to return Petkoff's jacket. Catherine begs him to sneak out and plans to send back his duffel bag after she extracts Petkoff's coat from it. But before he can go, Petkoff and Sergius come into the room. Recognizing Bluntschli, whom they know, they invite him to stay at the house.

Act 3, Section 1

A bit later, in the library, Bluntschli is fixing Major Petkoff's military matter when Petkoff says he wants his coat, which he cannot find. Catherine says it's in the closet and sends Nicola to get it. While she is gone, Petkoff takes bets on whether or not the coat will be found. Nicola returns with the coat, which he found in the closet where it belongs. Bluntschli completes his work and Sergius, Petkoff, and Catherine go off to deliver the orders.

Left alone with Bluntschli, Raina tells him that Petkoff and Sergius heard about him hiding in a lady's room but don't know that she is the lady. She says Sergius would challenge him to a duel and kill him if he knew. What's more, she says it is hard for her to lie to Sergius because she never lies. Bluntschli says he thinks she lies all the time, as does he. He also says he admires her. Raina tells Bluntschli that he is the first man not to take her seriously, and he says he is the first man who has. She says she puts on a noble attitude in front of everyone, implying it is an act. They all believe her. Raina tells Bluntschli she left a portrait of herself in the coat, for him to find. However, he didn't see it and thinks it might still be in the coat. It might not be, though, since he also pawned the coat for a while. Raina is horrified because she wrote something on the portrait.

Louka comes in with mail for Sergius, saying that his father is dead. She and Nicola discuss that she has ideas above her station.

Act 3, Section 2

Sergius and Louka argue about Sergius caring too much what others think. She says if she were the empress of Russia, she would marry the man she loved even if he was beneath her. But Sergius doesn't have that kind of courage. Sergius says she is just jealous of Raina. Louka says she knows Raina really loves Bluntschli, not him. Sergius says that if he were to love Louka, he would marry her in spite of what Bulgaria thinks. If he touches her again, it will be as his fiancée.

Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel. Bluntschli protests Raina only allowed him in her room because he held a pistol to her head. Raina realizes that it was Louka who told Sergius the truth. She knows Sergius has been making love to Louka.

Petkoff enters. He has found the photograph in his coat pocket, which Raina inscribed, "Raina, to her Chocolate Cream Solider: a souvenir." Finally, Bluntschli tells Petkoff what happened. Petkoff asks which of the gentlemen she is engaged to. Raina says that Sergius loves Louka, not her. Petkoff says that's impossible because Louka is engaged to Nicola. Nicola says she isn't. He gives her up, and Sergius becomes engaged to Louka. After realizing that Raina wants to marry him and is 23, which is older than he thought, Bluntschli becomes a suitor for Raina's hand. He reveals he has a lot of family money from his hotel business. Raina protests that she didn't give her hand to kiss, her bed to sleep in, or her roof to shelter to the emperor of Switzerland. She gave them to her chocolate cream soldier.

Arms and the Man Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 There is shooting outside, so Raina closes her shutters.

Rising Action

2 A man (Bluntschli) breaks into Raina's room.

3 Raina protects the man from an officer looking for him.

4 Raina allows the man to stay for the night.

5 Months later, Petkoff and Sergius return home from the war.

6 Bluntschli returns Petkoff's coat, which Raina gave him.

7 Bluntschli and Raina flirt; they are clearly in love.

8 Louka tells Sergius about Raina and Bluntschli.


9 Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel.

Falling Action

10 Bluntschli learns his father died and left him everything.

11 Sergius bravely becomes engaged to Louka.


12 Bluntschli is deemed an acceptable match for Raina.

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