Not familiar with George Bernard Shaw’s comedy Arms and the Man? Don’t worry, we’re here to set you at ease with some fun facts about the show.
A Ghastly Failure?
Intending to create an “anti-romantic comedy,” Shaw was shocked by the abundant opening night laughter for Arms and the Man.
He later wrote to a friend, “going before the curtain to tremendous applause, [I was] the only person in the theatre who knew that the whole affair was a ghastly failure.”
An “Off” Location
Geography wasn’t Shaw’s strong suit. He wanted to set the play during a recent war, and chose Bulgaria on the advice of friends shortly before the script “was nearly finished.”
“I looked up Bulgaria and [Serbia] in an atlas, made all of the characters end in ‘off’, and the play was complete.”
Raina’s pet name for Captain Bluntschli was inspired by slang for soldiers who are unwilling to fight or otherwise “soft” in the militaries of Australia (as “choco”) and Israel (as “hayal shel shokolad”).
Orwell’s Favorite Shaw
George Orwell considered Arms and the Man to be “probably the wittiest play [Shaw] ever wrote, the most flawless technically, and in spite of being a very light comedy, the most telling.”
The formidable muse and actress Florence Farr commissioned Shaw to write Arms and the Man. Farr embodied the Victorian “New Woman” that Shaw so admired…and they had a brief affair during the writing of the play.
Shaw failed to complete the script in time for its intended opening. Farr played Louka when the play premiered the following month, and that was the last of their artistic collaborations.
Alps and Balkans
Shaw scrapped his original title, Alps and Balkans, in favor of an ironic reference to the opening line of the Roman poet Virgil’s war-glorifying Aeneid, “Of arms and the man I sing . . .”
Late Start, Late Finish
Arms and the Man marked Shaw’s first commercial success at the age of 37. Shaw continued to write until he was 94 years old, when he died.
This handsome figure of mine
In the summer of 1953 Marlon Brando played Sergius Saranoff in a one-week production of Arms and the Man. It was the last time Brando, who “hated it,” acted in a live theatre production.