I would like to share a few of my thoughts about this play which, of course, represent only my own personal opinions. I'll make them fairly general and the given examples come only from the first act.
I feel that a vital aspect of this work is the way Shaw examines the problem of the "persona" or social mask that various characters tend to wear rather than engaging with their true feelings.
This is especially clear in the conflicts created between a romanticised "ideal"e.g.--patriotism--"Higher" love--heroism--and the reality of the way people act and the needs and desires that actually motivate them.
I believe that Shaw is trying to show that self-knowledge can only come through shedding the romantic illusions that distort the perception of the world as it is.
A very early example of this is seen in Act I when Catherine reports the heroism of Sergius. Raina makes a significant statement:
"Our ideas of what Sergius would do--our patriotism --our
heroic ideals. Oh, what faithless little creatures girls are!--I
sometimes used to doubt whether they were anything but dreams.
When I buckled on Sergius's sword he looked so noble: it was
treason to think of disillusion or humiliation or failure. "
Clearly she has seeds of doubt about the higher values she espouses. And she continues:
"Well, it came into my head just as he was holding me in
his arms and looking into my eyes, that perhaps we only had our
heroic ideas because we are so fond of reading Byron and
Pushkin, and because we were so delighted with the opera that
season at Bucharest. Real life is so seldom like that--indeed
never, as far as I knew it then."
This common-sense, this practicality about life is the reality that Raina knows. Her persona is created by Byron, Pushkin, and Opera!
When the fugitive enters her room to escape, Raina is confronted with real life. Her attempt at asserting heroic courage is dashed by certain actualities of her situation:
RAINA (cutting him short). You will shoot me. How do you know
that I am afraid to die?
MAN (cunningly). Ah; but suppose I don't shoot you, what will
happen then? Why, a lot of your cavalry--the greatest
blackguards in your army--will burst into this pretty room of
yours and slaughter me here like a pig; for I'll fight like a
demon: they shan't get me into the street to amuse themselves
with: I know what they are. Are you prepared to receive that
sort of company in your present undress? (Raina, suddenly
conscious of her nightgown, instinctively shrinks and gathers it
more closely about her. He watches her, and adds, pitilessly)
It's rather scanty, eh?
So the theme of the conflict between the mundane real and the romanticised ideal is established quite early on. Thus, one can explore this theme and see how Shaw links it to the problem of self-awareness later in the play. Of course, this is merely one way of approaching the drama which I happen to like and which suits me personally. There are plenty of other approaches equally good or better that one might prefer depending on inclination.
Last edited by fantasyfan; 10-10-2012 at 04:45 PM.