Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man
Bernard Shaw calls “Arms and the Man” an anti-romantic comedy. The main purpose of the dramatist is to satirize the romantic conception of life. Shaw has no faith in emotion and sentiment. Throughout the drama he denounces the idealism and insists on realism. He does it through humor of character and humor of situation at the same time.
The play “Arms and the Man” is not a farce, a true comedy. The purpose of a comedy is to ridicule and expose some humor or social weakness or flaw. It laughter at human weakness or flaw, but the purpose of the laughter is to drive the flaw. Though there are a lot of farcical, loud, laughter in the play, but it has a serious purpose and this way it makes a difference from a farce. Shaw, this way a comedian but with a serious purpose. He rouses mirth but he also rouses thought.
In “Arms and the Man” the dramatist’s intentions are comic and the use of anti-climax is the tool through which he achieves his comic intention. Sergius and Raina become comic figures as the insincerity of their romantic love and their romantic attitude is exposed. Raina and Sergius come down to the level of Louka and Bluntschli. The dramatist has succeeded in his comic intention. He shows that it is not heroic but something horrible and brutal because soldiers are not heroes but fools and cowards who fight only because they are compiled to fight. Sergius’s heroic victory appears in a comic light when it is discovered that he could win only because the Serbian gunmen had the wrong ammunition with them. Sergius makes love to Louka as soon as Raina’s back is turned, soon after “the higher love scene”. This way Shaw has shown the flaw of romantic ideals of love and war, his purpose in writing the play. He has given a number of fun and humor for his readers and audience, but same time he has also achieved his serious purpose.
Shaw wanted technical novelty for the modern drama which consists in making the spectators themselves the persons of the drama and the incidents of their lives its incidents, the disuse of the old stage tricks by which audiences had to be induced to take an interest in unreal people and improbable circumstances. He thinks that Shakespeare has put us on the stage but not our problems. Shaw believes that the most important peculiarity of modern art is the discussion of social problems. Shaw points that Shakespearean drama is an inferior specimen of art because it is romantic in its situation, conventional in its ideas, and pessimistic in its temper. Shakespeare generally borrows the plots of the dramas from others. These stories are mostly romantic and wonderful, and introduce all sorts of extravagant incidents and situations. Shaw objects not only to the romantic sentiments in Shakespeare’s drama but also to the romantic situations to be found there. But he confuses genuine romances and its sensational counterpart. As a matter of fact, Shakespeare chooses the extraordinary incidents in order that he may be able to portray the deepest passions. In the greater dramas of Shakespeare there is no extraordinary situation which is unrelated to human emotions. The situations may be extraordinary but they are made real by the genuineness of passions that have been struck.
In Shakespeare’s dramas there are no heroes according to the standards of Shaw. His lovers are not self-acting. He is forced to borrow motives from the more strenuous actions of his personages who come from common stock pit of melodramatic plot.
Shakespearean dramas are based on a view of life and art fundamentally different from Shaw’s. Shaw’s philosophy of life has no connection with the existence of art in human nature. He thinks that the really bad man is as rare as a really good man and to him life is, in spite of poverty, disease and misfortune, a huge game or show while Shakespeare considers evil as an essential element in common human nature.
Shaw insist that “A dramatist’s business is to make reader forget the stage and the actor forget the audience, not remind them of both at every time”…..His plays have generally very slender plots, the artistic interest being denied more from the exhibition of character through startling situation than from the weaving of a complex story.
Shakespeare’s genius is so different in almost every way from Shaw’s that despite Shaw’s conventional pretense of despising Shakespeare’s intelligence any comparison between them is idle foolishness. Most of Shakespeare’s great characters are creatures of passion- love, hate, jealousy, greed of power and the reality of the characters, combined with the marvelous power and beauty of the language in which they reveal themselves, carries reader and spectator away by conquering his imagination. Shakespeare is supreme in the realm of poetic drama; Shaw’s greatest gifts are not in the sphere of poetry but in the field of wit, of ideas, of flashing intelligence. He neither can nor wants to imitate Shakespeare as a creator of character, because he is too deeply concerned with his own problem.