Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 9, 2023
December 2, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The play discusses how war is made, how it is fought, and how parties sue for peace at the close of it. Indeed, the play’s title is a direct quote from Virgil’s Aeneid, the Roman epic that glorifies war. Shaw used this quote ironically, drawing attention to how war should not be seen as romantic.
The Serbo-Bulgarian War is not addressed directly in the text, although that is the historical template on which Shaw bases his production. Bluntschli is a Swiss mercenary who has hired himself to the Serb cause, along with soldiers from other nations. Sergius is supposed to representing the “heart” of the Bulgarian enterprise, with his gutsy charge at the start of the work demonstrating just how powerfully he wishes to defend his nation’s honor. What becomes clear as the play progresses, however, is that war is simply a job for soldiers, and nothing more. Sergius is not the hero he is initially thought to be. He romanticizes war to such an extent that he leads a foolish charge against the enemy, and only does so in order to climb the ranks for recognition. Bluntschli also destroys Raina’s romantic idea of war and heroism when he proves that the best soldiers are often not identified as such on the outside.
For Shaw, war is simply a way for men to occupy themselves, perhaps in redrawing small parts of the national borders, while others on the domestic front, who are predominantly women, shape many more aspects of life. Though Catherine and Raina are ostensibly dependent upon the outcome of the war, in dealing with Bluntshli they are also active participants in some of its intrigues. In harboring an enemy and ultimately marrying him, they add to the argument that war and its divisiveness can be meaningless.
The interactions of characters are primarily driven by romantic love, or lack of it. Social conventions of love during Shaw’s time period included public and formal courting, parental approval, and consideration of social status and wealth of each partner. However, the characters in this play defy the norms and each end up with a person that is best suited to them.
Characters slowly disabuse themselves of the features of romantic love they have most cherished all their lives, and realize that it is far more complex. For example, Raina does appear to love Sergius in the beginning of the play, but when she falls in love with Blunstshcli, she realizes her love for Sergius was superficial. Perhaps Raina only felt this way because Sergius was lauded as a hero and because Catherine and Petkoff supported the union to maintain the family’s social status.
By contrast, Louka, though engaged to her fellow servant Nicola, does not appear to have ever been in love with him, and demonstrates that she is willing to work hard to marry into a higher rank. Romantic love does not seem to be a factor in her decisions. The beginnings of Louka’s relationship with Sergius are illicit, and defy social norms of courtship. Bluntschli’s introduction to Raina is also unconventional, as they meet secretly in her bedroom. And when they finally become engaged, Bluntschli, the pragmatic and calculating soldier, surprises everyone by revealing himself to be a lifelong romantic.
The social station of the characters in the play is one of the dynamics that becomes most pronounced by its end. Louka wants to be more than a servant, whereas Nicola seems content to remain one. Bluntschli appears to be middle class, but reveals later that he is far, far wealthier than the noble Petkoffs. Petkoff and Catherine want Raina to reinforce the family’s position however she can, either by marrying the ostensibly bravest man in Bulgaria, Sergius, or by adding greatly to the family’s coffers by joining with Bluntschli.
As in any marriage narrative of the nineteenth century, romantic love might be a part of the marriage calculation, as it certainly didn’t hurt to love one’s partner. But that is far from the point of marriage in this time period. Characters want to unite noble families and improve financial situations. What romantic love tends to do in these situations, then, is cut across and destabilize what might be the otherwise orderly transfer of money between families.