George Bernard Shaw
"The inquisition is not dead . . . you will always have a spiritual tribunal of some kind, and unless it is an organised and recognised thing, with a body of law behind it, it will become a secret thing, and a very terrible thing."
-- G.B. Shaw, 1931
With SAINT JOAN (1923), his masterpiece, Shaw was again accepted by the post-war public. Now he was regarded as 'a second Shakespeare', who had revolutionized the British theatre. Shaw did not portrait Joan of Arc, his protagonist, as a heroine or martyr, but as a stubborn young woman. And as in classic tragedies, her flaw is fatal and brings about her downfall. Uncommonly Shaw showed some sympathy to her judges.
The play was written four years after Joan was declared a saint.
First performed in New York in 1923, three years after the canonization.
SAINT JOAN, KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
In the play, which takes from 1429 to 1456, there are several disparate settings, all in France. The first is in a chamber in the castle of Vaucouleurs. The second set, resplendent with all the beauty and pomp of royal glory, is in the throne room of Chinois Castle in Lorraine. The third scene takes place in a tent on the bank of the Loire River, a sharp contrast to the royal setting of the second scene. The next scene is set in the infirmary in the Cathedral of Rheims. The final scene is set in a hall in Rouen Castle. The epilogue is set as a dream in the king's bedroom in a royal chateau.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
Joan of Arc or Saint Joan (often referred to as The Maid) She is a country girl whose age is between seventeen and eighteen years. An actual historical character, she is the central character and protagonist of the play. Although she is not a classical beauty, Joan of Arc has an admirable sense of purpose and determination; she is also simple, wise and courageous. Her soldier's clothes, her short hair, and her military tactics reveal her sense of duty. Even when she is captured and put on trial, her basic honesty, her great religious faith, and her practical, common sense make the judges look ridiculous.
Charles VII or The Dauphin
He is a young man of about twenty-six who lacks self- confidence. He is somewhat ugly, thin, and wiry, with almost no physique and a sheepish expression. He is not greatly bothered about matters relating to the court or the country, being more concerned about his own poor health and lack of money. As a result, his power-hungry nobles run the country and force him to remain an uncrowned king. He is intelligent and recognizes that Joan is more noble and trustworthy than his own courtiers, who constantly bully him. With Joan's help, he is finally crowned king. He is the man in the epilogue who dreams about Joan 25 years later, revealing what happens to her after her death.
He is the responsible and courageous young commander of Joan's army. He is good-looking and very good-natured. Like Joan, he has a sense of purpose and a sense of duty. He is also known as "the Bastard," for he is the illegitimate cousin of the Duke of Orleans. Although he is a brilliant commander, he has no personal ambitions and serves his king and country loyally. He also serves Joan, believing her to be a good soldier and leader. In fact, he is one of the few friends that Joan can rely on during the play.
Richard de Beauchamp or the Earl of Warwick
He is a ruthless and imposing nobleman of forty-six years of age and a perfect example of feudalism at its worst. As a political opportunist, he is ambitious and thirsts for power. Although he is extremely cynical, he never loses control or becomes emotional.
He bears no malice towards Joan, though he sees her as an impending danger to his aspirations. As a representative of the traditional English nobility, he demands Joan's death in order not to upset the existing way of life.
The protagonist of the play is Joan of Arc. She believes that she has been chosen by God to save her country from confusion and destruction.
Her faith is the result of the purity of her conscience and her firm belief in her Maker and his purpose for her. She does not give up her pursuit even when she knows that she will be condemned and burned at the stake. She dies as a martyr for her cause. After she dies, she is glorified as a Saint.
The antagonists in this play are both the church and the state. The wily and treacherous triumvirate of cowardly conspirators -- the Earl of Warwick (Richard De Beauchamp), the Bishop of Beauvais (Peter Cauchon), and Chaplain De Stogumber -- represents the church and the state, both of which are characterized by set and rigid beliefs.
Shaw believes that thechurch and the state feared any voice of truth that might inconvenience them and would conspire to crush these threatening elements. The Bishop and the Earl of Warwick really have no personal malice towards Joan but condemn her because she is seen as a supreme threat to the systems that they represent.
The play represents a clash of Joan's conscience, faith, and belief in God's truth with the rigid pre-set judgements of the church andstate.
The climax of the play occurs when Joan, victorious in battle, is tricked and captured by her enemies as she is trying to return to England.
The Earl of Warwick has offered a reward for her capture.
As a result, she is dragged from her horse and imprisoned.
There are no miracles to save her, and nobody considers her worthy enough to pay her ransom. In spite of her treatment and the anger of the archbishop, she clings to her faith in her visions andvoices.
In the end, she recognizes that she stands alone, but her loneliness gives her strength.
There are two outcomes to this play. The more immediate outcome is Joan's being condemned and burned at the stake in 1429. This is a tragic end because it shows that the conspirators have triumphed over Joan, which is the triumph of evil overgood.
The second outcome, which takes place twenty-five years later, has a basically comic end. By 1456, the courts have decided to reconsider Joan's case, for both friends and foes now praise her efforts. She also appears in a dream to Charles VII, the former Dauphin. In addition, a strange apparition from the future appears and announces Joan's canonization, which occurs in1920.
Joan proposes that she should return to earth; but her closest friends, including Dunois, hesitate over this suggestion and flee from her.
She wonders when earth will be ready to receive itssaints and asks God, "How long, how long?" As a result, even the epilogue, where Joan is recognized as a Saint, has a tinge of bitterness.
The main theme of Saint Joan is the difference between true religious faith and the hypocrisy of organized religion. Joan is a true believer, one who strives to do God's will in everything she does. In contrast to her, Shaw pictures organized religion, represented by the Roman Catholic Church of the fifteenth century, as manipulative and hypocritical.
The Church leaders seem much more concerned about increasing their own power and authority than in doing the will of God. Ironically, the Church condemns and executes Joan for being a heretic, when in reality she is only trying to carry out God's will for her, while they are trying to protect their own power. With greater irony, Joan is really victorious over organized religion. Because the Church puts her to death, Joan is made a martyr and a saint for her purity of purpose and faith in God.
Saint Joan also portrays the wickedness of political schemes and treacheries. Joan, who believed in the truth of God, is victimized by self-serving and corrupt men who fear her influence.
To protect their own power in the Church and the State, they pay to have Joan captured and support her condemnation and burning at the stake.
The general mood of Saint Joan is somber, but there are also instances of melodrama and humor in the play. Additionally, the plot is very fast paced, creating a sense of tension as well.
The play, however, ends on a lighter note in the epilogue, where Joan returns to Charles in a dream twenty-five years after her death.
|George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw is, after Shakespeare, the most frequently produced playwright in the English language. Irish by birth, he found popular success in London in the 1890s with his comedies on social themes like Arms and the Man and Candida (both 1894).
Shaw’s popularity, as a critic and public speaker as well as a dramatist, continued into the twentieth century with such classics as Major Barbara (1905) and Pygmalion (1912, later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady), and inspired the adjective Shavian to describe the argumentative wit of his intellectual comedy.
Shaw’s dismay over the barbarism of the First World War contributed to two of his most profound works, Heartbreak House (1919) and Saint Joan (1923). Before the premiere, critics feared that Shaw would rationalize or trivialize France’s patron saint, but Saint Joan proved inspiring to audiences in New York, London, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna.
The Scandinavian success of the play led to the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Shaw in 1925.
In Saint Joan, Shaw created one of the few successful history plays since Shakespeare’s time. Like the great chronicles of Henry V or Richard II, Saint Joan treats leadership as a religious as well as a political question. Faced with opportunistic institutions on every side, Joan’s faith never wavers in the rightness of her cause and in the need for committed action. In Shaw’s decision to end the play not with Joan’s horrible death but with her vital spirit, we can see Shaw’s hope for humanitarian progress that might redeem the tragedy of war.
-- Julia Matthews
The play relates how Joan, a simple and faithful French country girl, sees visions and hears voices that she believes come directly from God.
Accepting the visions and voices as God's directionfor her life, Joan successfully drives the English from Orleans and crowns the Dauphin as the King of France. She is burned at the stake for her efforts.
Throughout the play, Joan must endure difficulties. She is mocked for dressing up like a man, judged as incapable of defeating the English, and is considered mad for believing that God speaks directly to her.
In spite of the criticism she receives,she remains true to the direction of the visions and faithful to her God, whom she puts above the Church and the State. Through her efforts and persuasiveness, she convinces the Dauphin to give her a horse, armor, and soldiers so she can lead a siege against the English in Orleans. She is successful in her campaign against the enemy, freeing Orleans and winning the admiration of her soldiers and the common people.
Encouragedby them and her faith, she plans to march onward to Paris andreclaim the city from the English. Joan is given courage by her belief that God wants her to restore order to France. The nobility is fearful of Joan, for she is a threat to the powerthat they hold in the Church and the State. The Earl of Warwick is particularly afraid of her influence and offers a reward for her capture.
As a result, she is dragged from her horse, sold to theEnglish as a prisoner of war, imprisoned, tried, condemned as aheretic, and burned at the stake. None of her supporters come to her aid. Although she feels alone in the world, she clings to her faith.
At her trial, Joan is pictured in chains and worn by the strains of long imprisonment. She can barely speak in her own defense and often gives incoherent answers to the Inquisition.
She is finallyworn down and recants her stories of the visions and voices,believing she can save herself to do God's work.
When she learns that she will be imprisoned for life, she tears up the document of recantation.
As a result, she is excommunicated by the Churchand taken away to be executed. The people, even some of theconspirators, are greatly affected by the cruelty of Joan's burning at the stake and cannot believe her courage and composure.
Only the executioner seems unaffected. He comes inside to report to the Earl of Warwick that the deed is done and that Joan's remains have been discarded in the river. He does report, however, that Joan's heart did not burn. It is symbolic of the fact that Joan's purity and goodness will never be forgotten, as evidenced in the fact that she becomes a martyr and is made a saint.
The epilogue takes place twenty-five years after Joan is burned at the stake. Joan's case has been reconsidered by the court, and she has been freed of all charges, totally clearing her name.
On the day of the retrial, Charles VII, the previous Dauphin and now King of France, dreams about Joan and her accusers. When they learn that she is to become of saint, the men that caused her early death now praise her; Joan denounces their hypocrisy and threatens to come back to life to live among them.
They all flee in terror at the thought, even Dunois, her best friend. Joan ends the play by asking God when mankind will ever understand and honor its saints.