The third act takes place in the library. There are very few books, and the furnishings are less than impressive. Bluntschli is hard at work at the desk. Sergius sits with him, and is also supposed to be working, but is instead watching Bluntschli work and noting his quick and efficient progress. Major Petkoff is lounging happily on the ottoman, reading a newspaper. Raina is relaxing on a divan under a window, staring outside with a neglected novel in her lap.
Bluntschli is the only industrious figure in a room full of people watching, lazing around, and daydreaming. Sergius is somewhat baffled by Bluntschli’s ability, and Major Petkoff is basically content to let someone else do his work for him. These are not the patriotic Bulgarian heroes Raina spoke of in Act 1. Raina has resumed her dreamy romantic posturing, staring out the window and holding a novel in her lap without reading it.
Petkoff asks Bluntschli if there is any way he could be of service. Bluntschli, without pausing his writing, tells him he is managing on his own, but thanks him for the kind offer. Sergius petulantly notes that the only work he is doing is signing Bluntschli’s orders, like a glorified secretary.
Sergius’s youth and arrogance is on full display in this exchange. He has already noted that Bluntschli is more adept than him with writing orders, but still disdains having to assist Bluntschli.
Petkoff asks Catherine to fetch his old coat—he remarks it is not in the closet where he left it. Catherine tells him it is, and asks Nicola to go fetch it. Nicola (who knows the coat is actually in Bluntschli’s bag) leaves. Petkoff playfully bets Catherine some jewelry the coat will not be found. Sergius says he will give an Arabian Mare to Raina if the jacket is found. Petkoff notices that Raina has barely been listening, and affectionately tells the room she is dreaming, as usual. Meanwhile, Bluntschli finishes the orders. Sergius and Petkoff go to deliver the orders. Just before Major Petkoff leaves, however, he invites Catherine to come with him, saying “they’ll be far more frightened of you than me.”
Once again Nicola is used as a kind of pawn in Catherine’s dishonest scheming. The exchange following his exit demonstrates how excessively and comfortably the Petkoff’s live. While Nicola silently agrees to help Catherine lie to her husband, they sit in a room and bet jewels and horses on the outcome. It is an overt moment of criticism of the life of the upper class: frivolous and almost grotesquely careless with money, even as others suffer through difficult and demeaning labor to make a living.
Raina and Bluntschli are left alone. Raina tells him that the story about the night he climbed up their balcony got out. He apologizes, and explains that he only told one person, and that he thought he could rely on his friend’s discretion. She tells him that if Sergius found out, he would kill Bluntschli in a duel. Bluntschli feigns terror, clearly finding the idea that Sergius might best him in a duel utterly laughable. Raina is angry at his levity and tells him that her relationship with Sergius is “the one really beautiful and noble part of my life.”
Sergius and Bluntschli are two opposing heroes: Sergius, the ridiculous romantic hero, inept in war, and Bluntschli, a kind of hero-realist, who sees Sergius for what he is, and whose competency far outstrips the young and foolish Sergius. A duel between the two of them would most certainly end poorly for Sergius, but Raina clings to her romantic notions, and idealizes Sergius.
Bluntschli points out that she has lied to Sergius about their meeting, and she says the only falsities she has ever said in her life were because she wanted to save Bluntschli’s life, and demands his gratitude. Bluntschli says that hearing lies and getting ones life saved is simply part of being a soldier, and Raina tells him he is incapable of a noble thought. He then tells her that when she puts on her noble attitude and speaks in that “thrilling voice” he admires her but cannot bring himself to believe a word she says.
Bluntschli informs Raina that the reality of being a soldier is that you often have to put your life in the hands of others. This realism clashes with Raina’s notion of what a soldier should be—a heroic individual—and she decries Bluntschli’s remarks as base and unworthy. He seems to see through her act—he does not believe her, and seems to know she is concealing her authentic self from him.
Raina is flustered, making as if to reprimand him, and acting offended until finally she relents, sighs, and asks “how did you find me out?” He tells her he has good instincts, and she tells him he is the first man who didn’t take her seriously. He corrects her, saying he is the first man who has ever taken her quite seriously. She agrees. She cozies up to him, clearly comfortable with him now. She tells him she has always behaved in such a way—her act has always been believed. She wonders if Bluntschli now thinks her a liar and a cheat—he tells her the opposite; that he admires her for her youth and charm and is, like all the other men in her life, infatuated with her.
Raina finally admits that it is all an act—she is not so frivolous and dreamy as she seems. By refusing to believe the act, Bluntschli, in a way, becomes the first person who has ever believed in the “real” Raina, who has ever taken her seriously. Raina is at ease with him because she can finally be herself, and doesn’t need to put on a performance or fill a role. What’s more, Bluntschli doesn’t condemn her for her romantic posturing. He admires her for it, seemingly incorporating this element of her personality into her complex identity.
She asks him what he thought of her portrait, and he grows confused, saying he never received a portrait. Raina reveals that she slipped a portrait of herself, with a note, into the coat pocket when he left. Bluntschli responds that he never looked in the pockets, and it is entirely possible the portrait is still in there. Raina is almost in tears, telling Bluntschli she wishes she’d never met him.
Raina becomes distraught again, however, when she learns that the jig may be up. Though she appreciates that Bluntschli can see her for who she is, she still clings to the identity she’s created for her credulous family. She still cares deeply about her family seeing her a certain way.
Louka comes in, delivering written messages to Bluntschli. Bluntschli opens one and declares it is bad news—his father is dead. Raina says this is sad news, and Bluntschli, betraying no signs of grief, says he will have to start home in the hour, as he will have to look after the hotels his father owned. He leaves in a hurry. Louka taunts that Bluntschli is fonder of the Servians than of his own father, knowing this will hurt Raina’s patriotic and romantic sensibilities. Raina bitterly suggests that soldiers cannot feel grief. Louka answers by saying that Sergius is a soldier but still seems full of heart. Raina haughtily leaves the room.
Bluntschli is as businesslike and unfeeling as Raina is emotional and romantic. He does not even seem to feel sorrow for his dead father, for he is only concerned about the business side of things: he must take over his father’s hotels. Louka continues to undermine her upper class employers whom she resents so much. She cuts down Bluntschli, knowing Raina loves him, and hints at Sergius’s infidelity.
Nicola comes in the room, and tries to be affectionate with Louka. She refuses him, and he offers her some of the money Sergius has just given him. She tells him, “keep your money, you were born to be a servant. I was not.” Nicola says he deserves credit for teaching her manners and making her into a woman. Louka says he would rather be her servant than her husband. Sergius comes in and interrupts their conversation. Nicola leaves.
Louka turns from ridiculing the upper class to ridiculing Nicola, a complacent member of the working class whom she believes is complicit in the perpetuation of class inequality. She refuses to accept that she should show more deference to the Petkoffs, and denies that Nicola “made her into a woman” just by teaching her how to act as a servant. Louka (correctly, we imagine) guesses that Nicola would rather serve her than marry her, for serving is his only calling.
Sergius examines the bruise that remains on Louka’s arm and asks her if he can cure it. Louka says the opportunity has passed. Louka wonders aloud if Sergius is truly a brave man, and Sergius says that one of the only things he is certain of is his bravery. But he says courage is cheap—a bulldog is capable of it. Louka tells him he does not yet know what courage is. She says courage would be a queen marrying for love, and not status. Courage, she says, is “daring to be the equal of your inferior.” She says Sergius is not brave because he would be too afraid to marry her even if he loved her, because she is a servant.
Sergius finally recognizes that the Byronic, romantic worship of the courageous warrior is misleading: for bravery in battle is something a bulldog is capable of. Louka reframes courage so that it speaks to the contentious issue of 18th century class relations: bravery is feeling free to love anyone in a society that divides people sharply into categories based on their wealth and status. Her comment is decidedly socialist and likely reflects Shaw’s personal philosophy.
Sergius denies this, saying that if he loved her he would do everything in his power to be with her. But, he says, he loves another woman, and adds that Louka is simply jealous of Raina. Louka laughs at this and says Raina will marry Bluntschli, a man worth ten of Sergius. Sergius takes her in his arms and insists he will kill “the Swiss.” Louka says it is more likely the Swiss will kill him. He says he cannot believe Raina would be capable of dishonesty—and Louka wonders if Raina thinks he is capable of holding Louka in his arms like this.
Sergius claims to be brave in this way, but his declaration of his enduring love for Raina is a dishonest evasion, and the audience can see he is too much of a coward to admit he loves Louka. Louka points out to him that if he is capable of dishonesty so is Raina. Louka, more than anyone else, understands how complex a person’s identity is. Her realism allows her to reason that everyone is dishonest to some degree, and that everyone is capable of treachery. Sergius and Raina, in contrast, can sense that they themselves don’t fit the roles they’ve each separately created for themselves, but don’t realize that nobody else fits in their own roles either.
Sergius berates himself, calling himself a coward a liar and a fool. Louka goes to leave, and he tells her she belongs to him. She asks him if he means to insult her—he says “it means that you love me, and that I have had you here in my arms.” He then says if he chooses to love her, he will not be a coward, and if he should ever touch her again, he will be touching his fiancé. Louka tells him she will not wait long.
Sergius toys with the notion of committing to Louka, but tellingly he speaks in hypotheticals, and uses strange, equivocal language. Despite his declaration that he will be courageous, he is still carefully hedging his bet and posturing in a certain way. He is not yet acting authentically.
Bluntschli enters as Louka leaves. Sergius confronts him, and challenges him to a duel. Bluntschli amusedly accepts, knowing his skill far surpasses that of the young Sergius. Raina hurries in, having overheard the confrontation, and asks them to explain. Sergius accuses Raina of loving Bluntschli. Bluntschli says this is nonsense as Raina doesn’t even know if he is married. Raina looks crestfallen and asks him if he is married. Sergius takes this as evidence of her love.
Raina is finally forced into a situation where she must come clean about her feelings for Bluntschli. Bluntschli is now the one concealing his true feelings, by making an obscure comment that he is potentially married. Yet Bluntschli’s evasion makes Raina lets down her guard and her authentic emotion shows through.
Raina guesses that Bluntschli’s friend (the one who did not keep the secret of his story) has contacted Sergius, but Bluntschli tells him his friend is dead. Sergius says war and love are both “hollow shams,” and tells Raina that Louka was his informant. Raina responds that what she saw in the garden, from a window inside the house, now makes sense to her. (She presumably watched Sergius take Raina in his arms in Act II).
The romantic façade begins to break down entirely. Our romantic hero Sergius calls love and war “hollow shams,” a directly anti-romanticist sentiment. And Raina reveals she has seen Sergius and Louka embracing in the garden. The “true love” between Raina and Sergius is finally revealed: it is superficial, immature and artificial.
Sergius despairs, and tells Bluntschli he cannot fight him, for Bluntschli is not a man so much as he is a “machine” and men cannot fight with machines. Raina tells him perhaps he ought to fight Nicola, who is engaged to Louka. This sets Sergius off on a rant. Aside, Raina asks Bluntschli if he thinks she and Sergius are “a couple of grown up babies.” Bluntschli asks where Louka is, and Raina tells him she is probably listening at the door.
Sergius is still a showoff, however, and launches into a grandiose speech. His point is valid, however: Bluntschli is so carefully controlled and so unemotional he resembles a machine more than a man. He has been concealing his feelings just as everyone else has. Raina recognizes that her and Sergius’s posturing has been essentially immature—indeed the action resembles a kind of schoolyard drama, with Louka listening at the door.
Sergius hears this and in a rage throws the door open and pulls Louka inside. Bluntschli comments that he has eavesdropped before too, but it was justified because his life was at stake. Louka says her love was at stake. Sergius flinches, embarrassed at her in spite of himself. But then he draws himself up and says “I am not ashamed!” Raina contemptuously remarks that Louka is not in love, she is only curious.
Sergius has been taught that servants are below him, and when Louka declares that she and Sergius are in love, he cannot help but feel ashamed. He denies this, however, declaring he is “not ashamed” even though he has just betrayed his embarrassment. Even if he does not feel courageous he is determined, as always, to seem courageous.
Major Petkoff enters, and everyone pretends everything is normal. He is holding his jacket. Raina asks to help him put it on, and as she does, takes her portrait from the pocket. But her father has already seen the photo, and when he reaches in his pocket to show it to her, he finds it missing. Raina eventually must explain that the portrait was for Bluntschli, and Bluntschli admits he was the Swiss fugitive in the story the Major heard.
Everyone immediately reverts back to a careful performance when Major Petkoff enters. But circumstance forces them to explain the situation. Though people do not often volunteer to reveal their secrets and true feelings, circumstance often forces them to in this play. We get the sense that reality will break through idealism and Romanticism whether we like it or not.
The rest of the details emerge. Meanwhile, Nicola arrives and admits he and Louka are not engaged, for she does not want him. Bluntschli remarks he would hire Nicola to run his hotels, for he seems a very capable man. Louka demands an apology from Sergius—he finally agrees, taking her hand and apologizing. She reminds him he promised that should he touch her again she would be his fiancé. He puts his arm around her.
Sergius finally accepts his relationship with Louka, but only after Louka basically traps him with a semantic technicality. Once again it seems that reality will always draw out a person’s true nature, even if he or she does not deliberately reveal this nature.
Catherine enters and sees Sergius and Louka. She asks to know the meaning of this. Sergius says he will marry Louka, and Bluntschli congratulates them. Catherine is aghast. Louka, calling Raina by her first name, says that Raina will not be hurt by this, for she will marry the Swiss. Bluntschli says he is too old to take the hand of a seventeen-year-old—he is a vagabond, and, he admits, an incurable romantic, but not the sort of fellow a young girl would fall in love with. Raina says she agrees that he is a romantic idiot, and clarifies that she is not seventeen but twenty-three. Bluntschli is shocked, thinks for a moment, and asks Major Petkoff if he may court Raina.
It is revealed that Bluntschli, in his own idealistic cognitive error, has assumed that Raina is only a teenager. He has constructed her in an idealized way. Romantic literature often equates dreaminess and beauty with youth, and Bluntschli has done just that. Raina corrects his mistake: their roles are reversed. She now corrects his idealistic preconceptions, making clear that she can be beautiful, energetic and dreamy without being a child. Bluntschli accepts this,accepts the reality of her, and immediately treats her “seriously” by asking to court her.
Bluntschli says that by inheriting the hotels from his father he has inherited a great fortune, and would be a good husband. Raina insists she will not be bought, saying she did not give candy to the “Emperor of Switzerland” Bluntschli gets on a knee and asks to whom she did give the candies to: she lovingly responds “my chocolate cream soldier.” Bluntschli laughs delightedly, gets up, and makes a military bow, and exits. Sergius has the last line of the play: “What a man!”
Though Bluntschli offers up the fact of his wealth as evidence he would be a good husband, Raina makes clear that she fell in love with a tattered soldier, and her affection will not be “bought.” She is done conforming to upper class expectations. Her relationship with Bluntschli represents a kind of transgression of expectations, a union of “real love” rather than “true love.” Meanwhile, Sergius, the man held up as a heroic model for all men through the play, now holds up the realist Bluntschli as the man who should actually be admired. And in so doing the Romantic ideals of the play are fully demolished, as those who embodied them have themselves abandoned them in favor of a new, more realistic and more authentic way of seeing and being in the world that emphasizes connections between people as opposed to roles within ideals or classes.