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The Great Battle At Slivnitza!

In Arms and the Man George Bernard Shaw doesn't get hung up on facts.

After watching Arms and the Man at the Shaw Festival, I researched the history of the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War and I was rather shocked to learn how George Bernard Shaw's creative license almost completely eclipses the truth in the matter... Of course, the play is a comedy, not a historical documentary, but did he have to change so much?

Early in Act One Catherine tells her daughter Raina about the recent battle at Slivnitza. She extols Sergius and his magnificent cavalry charge,

CATHERINE [with surging enthusiasm] You can't guess how splendid it is. A cavalry charge! Think of that! He defied our Russian commanders--acted without orders--led a charge on his own responsibility.

Well, truthfully, in that particular conflict there were no Russian generals commanding any Bulgarian troops. Political events in Bulgaria relating to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire had forced the complete withdrawal of all Russian military support one year earlier, and now the Russians refused to support the Bulgars in their war with Serbia, and that's actually what makes the battle of Slivnitza so significant; the home grown Bulgarian Army beat the Serbian Armed Forces all by themselves.

CATHERINE

... gallant splendid Bulgarians with their swords and eyes flashing, thundering down like an avalanche and scattering the wretched Serbians and their dandified Austrian officers like chaff.

Although it sounds good, at Slivitnza it was actually the Serbs who charged the Bulgars and suffered heavy losses from well aimed artillery fire. The resulting Bulgarian counter attack forced the Serbs into a rear guard action which lasted until they surrendered ten days later. The entire conflict lasted only fourteen days.

PETKOFF The war is over. The treaty was signed three days ago at Bucharest; and the decree for our army to demobilize was issued yesterday.

Actually the peace treaty wasn't signed until February of 1886, four months later, but this small detail Bernard Shaw had to alter to set up the comedic circumstances whereby the Majors meet Bluntschli, the chocolate cream soldier.

Submitted by:

Robert Hugh Campbell

Related Information:1. Shaw Festival '06http://www.shawfest.com2. Information about the play "Arms and the Man"http://www.shawfest.com/2006/web/content.php?docid=1_3_1




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