One of Bernard Shaw’s most glittering comedies, Arms and the Man is also a burlesque of Victorian attitudes to heroism, war and empire. In the contrast between Bluntschli, the mercenary soldier, and the brave leader, Sergius, the true nature of valour is revealed
The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Its heroine, Raina (rah-EE-na) Petkoff, is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to Sergius Saranoff, one of the heroes of that war, whom she idealizes. One night, a Swiss voluntary soldier in the Serbian army, Captain Bluntschli, bursts through her bedroom window and firstly threatens Raina, then begs her to hide him, so that he is not killed. Raina complies, though she thinks the man a coward, especially when he tells her that he does not carry pistol cartridges, but chocolates. When the battle dies down, Raina and her mother sneak Bluntschli out of the house, disguised in an old housecoat.
The war ends and Sergius returns to Raina, but also flirts with her insolent servant girl, Louka, whom they think is engaged to the loyal house servant Nicola. Raina begins to find Sergius both foolhardy and tiresome, but she hides it. Bluntschli unexpectedly returns so that he can give back the old housecoat, but also so that he can see her. Raina and her mother are shocked, especially when her father and Sergius reveal that they have met Bluntschli before, and invite him to stay for lunch and to help them with troop movements.
Afterwards, left alone with Bluntschli, Raina realizes that he sees through her romantic posturing, but that he respects her as a woman, as Sergius does not. She tells him that she had left a portrait of herself in the pocket of the coat, inscribed “To my chocolate-cream soldier”, but Bluntschli says that he didn’t find it and that it must still be in the coat pocket. Bluntschli gets a note informing him of his father’s death and revealing to him his now enormous wealth. Louka then tells Sergius that Bluntschli is the man whom Raina protected, and that Raina is really in love with him. So Sergius challenges him to a duel, but the men avoid fighting and Sergius and Raina break off their engagement (with some relief on both sides). Raina’s father discovers the portrait in the pocket of his housecoat, but Raina and Bluntschli trick him by taking out the portrait before he finds it again, only tell him that his mind is playing tricks on him. After Bluntschli reveals the whole story to Major Petkoff, Sergius proposes marriage to Louka (to Mrs. Petkoff’s horror). Nicola quietly and gallantly lets Sergius have her, and Bluntschli, recognising Nicola’s dedication and ability, determines to offer him a job as a hotel manager.
News arrives that Bluntschli’s father has just died, leaving him a grand inheritance of Swiss luxury hotels. Raina, having realized the hollowness of her romantic ideals and her fiancé’s values, protests that she would prefer her poor “chocolate-cream soldier” to this wealthy businessman. Bluntschli says that he is still the same person, and the play ends with Raina proclaiming her love for him and Bluntschli, with Swiss precision, both clearing up the major’s troop movement problems and informing everyone that he will return to be married to Raina exactly two weeks from Tuesday.