Set in the aftermath of the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, Arms and the Man challenges romantic ideas about war and love. Captain Bluntschli, a fleeing soldier, climbs through a Bulgarian lady's bedroom window, triggering a series of events that push the characters towards realism and pragmatism. The lady Raina and her fiance Sergius naively view war and life as little more than a stage on which to make grand romantic gestures. By the end of the play, Raina is engaged to the infinitely practical Bluntschli and Sergius to Raina's servant, the beautiful and grounded Louka. George Bernard Shaw wrote the play primarily as a vehicle to promote realism and disabuse audiences of their romantic notions of heroism, warfare and marriage.
George Bernard Shaw's first popular play, Arms and the Man opened on April of 1894 to an enthusiastic reception. Yet Shaw brooded about audience and critical interpretation of the play, which he felt was at odds with his authorial intentions. Having penned a political play designed to disturb and enlighten, Shaw was appalled when audiences misunderstood and embraced his work as a light-hearted comedy. He considered the play a "ghastly failure" (Satran 11) and spent months exchanging furious op-eds with theater critics in the London papers on the proper interpretation of Arms and the Man. When confronted by a single booing man and otherwise strong applause at one of the play's showings, he famously responded, "I assure the gentleman in the gallery that he and I are of exactly the same opinion, but what can we do against a whole house who are of the contrary opinion?" (Satran 12). Despite Shaw's hostility toward the play's reception, Arms and the Man helped launch his career as a playwright and ran for a remarkable fifty-some performances.