One of Bernard Shaw's most glittering comedies, Arms and the Man is 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. Shaw mocks deluded idealism in Candida, when a young poet becomes infatuated with the wife of a Socialist preacher. The Man of Destiny is a witty war of words between Napoleon and a `strange lady', while in the exuberant farce You Never Can Tell a divided family is reunited by chance. Although Shaw intended Plays Pleasant to be gentler comedies than those in their companion volume, Plays Unpleasant, their prophetic satire is sharp and provocative.
Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an active Socialist and a brilliant platform speaker. He was strongly critical of London theatre and closely associated with the intellectual revival of British drama. Dan H. Laurence (series editor) has edited Shaw's Collected Letters and Collected Plays with their Prefaces. He was Literary Advisor to the Shaw Estate until his retirement in 1990. Bill Mc Cormack is Professor of Literary History at Goldsmith's College, London.