The Folly of Hypocrisy Exposed in Arms and the Man
Satire is the “biting exposure of human folly which criticizes human conduct, and aims to correct it” (Di Yanni 839). Moliere was the French master of satiric comedy, and Shaw has been hailed likewise–as the “Irish Moliere.” In Arms and the Man, Shaw demonstrates his genius for satire by exposing the incongruities of life and criticizing the contradictions in human character.
Love and war are the main subjects of this play. Shaw addresses each, showing the disparity between how these issues are perceived and what they are in actuality. Love, of course, is often regarded in romantic terms. Raina, of Arms and the Man, is described as a young, beautiful woman who indeed does hold to idealistic notions concerning the emotion of love. To her, “the world really is a glorious world for women who can see its glory and men who can act in its romance!” (Shaw 1294, act 1). She acts as though she can continue to live in her ideal world forever and believes that she has found a true love in Sergius. As a couple, they put on a show for each other to prove their emotions are real. Raina says, in effect, that she is perfect in Sergius’ company–“‘When I think of you, I feel that I could never do a base deed, or think and ignoble thought'”–and he, in hers–“‘You will never disappoint me, Sergius,'” she adds (1311, act 2).
However, by the play’s end, Shaw is eager to reveal that all is not as it seems with any of the characters, especially with Raina. The audience knows it, and the characters learn the truth, too. When Sergius discovers the facts about his fiancée, he exclaims, “‘You love that man! . . . You allow him to make love to you behind my back, just as you treat me as your affianced husband behind his'” (1329, act 3). Later, he comes to the realization that their “romance is shattered. [And] Life’s a farce” (1330, act 3). It almost seems as though the playwright himself is saying this line; he speaks them to the audience as directly as if he were on stage. For Shaw often stocked his plays “full of lines in which the characters explode romantic elusions” (Ervine 269).
Love, though, is not the only concept around which romanticism abounds.