Presentations of Upper Class Society in Shavian Plays

Settings and stage directions play vital role in Shaw’s plays.  Shaw’s idea of class differences in the contemporary society is also portrayed in Arms and the Man through the very use of settings and stage directions. These social differences are one of the many social ills existing in the society that Shaw sharply identifies in the text of Arms and the Man. The first act opens its course through the scene of a bedchamber of Raina Petkoff, the heroine of the play, and daughter of Major Patkoff, an important person in a small Bulgarian Town. As for the elucidation of social ill, the depiction of Raina is filled with contradiction.  Her reclusive inner life does not see the light of the day but only her outer appearances seemingly has of great value to her and her family. At first, she appeared on the balcony, and she is intensely conscious of the romantic beauty of the night and the very reality that her beauty is also the part of the nature. Shaw describes the expensive fashionable cloths and the luxurious furniture remarkably:

Night: A lady’s bedchamber in a small town near the Drago-man Pass, late in November in the year 1885. Through an open window with a little balcony a peak Balkan wonderfully white and beautiful in the starlit snow, seems quite close at hand though it is really miles away the interior of the room is not like anything to be seen in the west Europe. (Shaw Arms 29)

The vivid long portrayal of Raina’s fur cloak, the room, the windows, the curtains, the chairs, the tables, the carpets, the ornamental textile fabrics and the paper of the walls manifests the upper class Bulgarian society, but Shaw is not describing who Raina is or what she thinks of her social position. In belonging to the upper class family, she has to maintain the apparent appearances through her luxurious lifestyle. Furthermore, by choosing a rich man Sergius, who is going to be her husband, Raina assures her life after marriage to be luxurious. She says: “I belong to the family of the Petkoffs, the richest and the best known in our country” (Shaw Arms 63). In this way, Shaw criticizes the social ills through vivid descriptions of the complex and hollow life of the upper class society. As for example, the dance of Raina and Sergius, as they simply sit for dinner, the narrator states:

Raina [suddenly coming round the corner of the house and standing at the top of the steps in the path] Raina is here.
She makes a charming picture as they turn to look at her. She wears an underdress of pale green silk, draped with an overdress of thin ecru canvass embroidered with gold. She crowned with a dainty eastern cap of gold tinsel. Sergius goes impulsively to meet her. Posing regally. She presents her hands; he drops chivalrously knees and kisses it. (Shaw Arms 86-87)

This entire description is the usual routine that Raina and Sergius perform. The elite society with their contradiction between inner self and outward behavior is elaborated by the essence of these characters. The way of the talking, moving, and addressing are very artificial and mechanical in contrast to the commoners. This stands in a sharp contrast to the setting of Nicola and Louka episode, which is not dreamy.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Sociopolitical Worldview of George Bernard Shaw
1. Abstract
2. Introduction: Shaw as a reformer of social, political and theatrical conventions
3. War is the Coward’s Art
4. Socialism as a Way to Achieve Political and Economic Freedom
5. Futility of Romantic Love
6. Presentations of Upper Class Society
7. Conventional Family and Marriage as a Hindrance for Reformation
8. Life Force, the Core Relation between Man and Woman
9. Hope in Evolution, or the Replacement of Man by Superman
10. Conclusion: Shaw advertised his doctrines on the problems of modern society
11. Works Cited

Shaw made various types of witty remarks on social and political topics. Those remarks and his writing style are helpful for the readers to ascertain the ideas of Shaw. He also himself always had something to assert. He was always direct and humorous. He was skillful in ordering facts and arguments. (Mukherjee xiv).According to James L. Roberts, “This style illustrates his great self-confidence, partly through controlled amazement and shock. This type causes the reader’s mind to be dazed, and it then takes in assertions without realizing that it is doing so” (qtd. in Reflections).

Shaw had a reputation for brilliant repartee, witty paradoxes and the humorous inversion of logic, but these characteristics are not frequently seen in Arms and the Man. In this play, Shaw has achieved his aim of arresting his audience’s attention by making his characters say exactly what they thought. The characters normally use simple, direct, and unadorned sentences based upon colloquial and spoken English (Mukherjee xiv). As for example, Raina creates a comic scene when she mentions their vanity and snobbery. Raina told to Bluntschli,

I belong to the family … the richest and best known in our country. … I must tell you that my father holds the highest command of any Bulgarian in our army. He is [proudly] a Major. … We have one [library], the only one in Bulgaria. I tell you these things to show you that you are not in the house of ignorant country folk. … We go to Bucharest every year for the opera season; and I have spent a whole month in Vienna (Shaw Arms 63-65).

Except these direct spoken tones, only at the time of speaking to each other, Raina and Sergius attempt to impress others and use more formal rhetorical expression, but those tones are created for the purpose to present romantic atmosphere.

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 Mockery and anticlimax features are prominent in Arms and the Man. We find Bluntschli wittily mocking Sergius’s ‘operatic’ charge and deflating Raina’s arguments with his sharp, down to earth replies. The stylistic technique that helps to knit the dialogue together is the repetition of a word or figure of speech that expresses the society.

Catherine: Civilized people never shout for the servants. Ive learned that while you were away.
Petkoff: Well, I tell you something Ive learnt too. Civilized people don’t hang out their washing to dry where visitors can see it (Shaw Arms 80).

Shaw presents many contradictory ideas in his play, and those ideas contradict with each other and are portrayed through different characters in the play. He uses different tones and verbal language styles to fulfil his purposes. In Arms and the Man, differences in personality and point of view are expressed in the styles of speech assigned to each character. For example, Sergius speaks in an unnatural, formal, literary style, full of pride, dignity and aristocratic disdain for others. When he goes through the feeling of hurt, he uses melodramatic expressions. Bluntschli’s speech patterns are usually short and simple sentences marked with a touch of humour. He uses ordinary phrases, common idioms and contractions (Mukherjee xv). These two types of speech express two views on life. One is romantic and the other is realist. On the other hand, most of the time, Raina speaks in a dignified grand manner when she is in good mood. However, in her impulsive and pitying mood, her speech is direct, “I’m sorry, I won’t scold you.” Major Petkoff’s speech is informal colloquial and filled with idioms. Catherine’s speeches have a commanding tone, but when she speaks of or to Sergius the style becomes elevated: “You look Superb, The campaign has improved you, Sergius. Everybody here is mad about you, We are all wild with enthusiasm about that magnificent cavalry charge” (Shaw Arms 85).

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Tanner is a revolutionary who is the author of Revolutionists Hand-book and Pocket Companion. This book questions all the established traditions of society. It contains a lot of maxims, witty, startling and thought provoking. The main essay of the book lashes at modern society and political organization in particular. The institution of marriage is scorned at, and selective breeding is advocated. It is a scathing Shavian attack on existing society. So it is easy to say that Shaw had his own ideas about that rational way of presenting society through the narration or from the dialogues of the character. As his purpose is to disseminate progressive ideas among audiences, he uses the techniques of debate, discussion and many other ways. 

Shaw had his own ideas when it comes to the rational way of presenting society.  It may be through the narration or from the dialogues assigned to each character. As his purpose is to disseminate progressive ideas among audiences regarding the social ills, he uses techniques of debate, discussion, and many other ways to grab the attention of audiences and engage them in understanding the core of his purpose.

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