Saint Jeanne of the Stockyards – 1929

(German: Die Heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe)

Written after the success of The Threepenny Opera in 1928. Saint Jeanne of the Stockyards was Bertolt Brecht’s first major political drama for the commercial theater, but it was never staged during his lifetime. A masterpiece of parody and pastiche, the play was a response to the worldwide economic crises of 1929-32 and updates the story of Jeanne d’Arc to the stockyards of a mythical Chicago. In Brecht’s telling, Joan Dark is a virtuous lieutenant in a Christian army of salvation. She battles Pierpont Mauler, meat king and philanthropist, for the heart of business and the soul of labor. As Jeanne becomes Mauler’s unwitting mouthpiece, it quickly becomes hard to tell who is using whom in this scathing examination of capitalism and idealism.

The play was broadcast on Berlin Radio on the 11 April 1932 for the first time, with Carola Neher as Jeanne and Fritz Kortner as Mauler. The cast also included Helene Weigel, Ernst Busch, Peter Lorre, Paul Bildt and Friedrich Gnass. The play did not receive its first theatrical production until the 30 April 1959, at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, after Brecht’s death. Brecht had asked Gustaf Gründgens to direct, with scenic design by Caspar Neher and music by Siegfried Franz. Brecht’s daughter Hanne Hiob played Jeanne.

St Jeanne is one of Brecht’s less well-known plays. Set in Chicago, it is the story of Joan Dark and is the modern version of the biblical story, Jeanne d’Arc. Jeanne is a leader of a religious group, the Black Straw Hats. Throughout the play, she preaches to common-folk and the “meat kings” of Chigago, namely Mauler, Cridle and Lennox. Although criticised, her support for the needy is much appeciated. The play consists of lots of monologues, linked by short sections of dialogue. Jeanne uses biblical phrases and terms in her preaching such as “Oh ye of little faith” and words like “ordain” and “salvation”. The structure of this play makes it ideal to be used for monolgues, after a bit of editing.

Bertolt Brecht was born in Ausburg, Bavaria, in 1898 and left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. He lived in the United States for seven years, settling with his family in Santa Monica and New York and continuing to work on plays and films. After the war Brecht returned to Germany, where he founded the Berliner Ensemble. He died in 1956. Won the Kleist Prize (Germany’s most prestigious literary award) in 1922, and the Stalin Peace Prize in 1955.

Synopsis

The play begins with the capitalists who run the stockyards, represented by mega-tycoon Pierpont Mauler. Mauler confides in his colleague, Cridle, that, after visiting the stockyard for the first time, he wishes to sell his shares and “become a decent man.” Another stock holder, Lennox, is rumored to have lost his shares. Mauler strikes a deal with Cridle, which advances his position while at the same time devastating the lives of the 50,000 workers whose livelihoods are in the stockyards.

Jeanne enters just outside of the Black Straw Hats Mission, a Salvation Army-type organization whose events draw dozens of workers, but only as long as there is soup. Jeanne urges the workers to embrace God in light of life’s injustices, but finds it difficult to distract them from hunger and the failing market. When the workers learn of Mauler’s deal, they panic. Desperate to find a way to connect to the them, Jeanne goes to the stockyards in order to find and confront Mauler.

Jeanne and Martha, another Black Straw Hat, wait outside of the Livestock Exchange as Cridle, Graham, Lenox and Mauler discuss the market and Lennox’s sad fate. Cridle insists that Mauler lower the asking price for his shares of the stockyard, arguing that the state of the market lessens their worth.

Jeanne asks Mauler why he sold the slaughterhouses and he admits that he does not want to be involved with such a bloody business. Jeanne manage to stun Mauler with her simplicity and beauty. He takes forcibly takes money from the workers, gives it to Jeanne, and tells her to distribute it to the poor.

Mauler arranges for Jeanne to have a tour and see the “wickedness” of the poor workers whom she pities. She is stunned by the bestiality that she sees.

When a worker offers her a dangerous position in order to advance himself, she takes it, and finds herself trapped among the workers. Jeanne begins to see the corruption in all the larger institutions, including her own Black Straw Hats. She disaffiliates from the mission.

Mauler sees the imminent downfall of the market and attributes his financial situation to his poor relationship with God. He embraces religion and warns his colleagues that their property will fail them, but turning to God could save them from destitution.

By the end of the play, Mauler preaches with the Black Straw Hats and Jeanne dies a bitter, cynical martyr in a world of heartless capitalists, strike-breakers, and penniless workers.

Scene 9.

Jeanne’s Third descent into the depths: The Snowfall Listen to the dream I had one night a week ago. Before me in a little field, too small to hold the shade of a middle-sized tree, hemmed in by enormous houses, I saw a bunch of people: I could not make out how many, but there were far more of them than all the sparrows that could find room in such a tiny place ? A very thick bunch indeed, so that the field began to buckle and rise in the middle and the bush was suspended on its edge, holding fast a moment, then quivering: then, stirred by the intervention of a word ? uttered somewhere or other meaning nothing vital ? it began to flow.

Then I saw processions, streets, familiar ones, Chicago! You! I saw you marching, then I saw myself: I, silent, saw myself striding at your head with warlike step and bloodstains on my brow and shouting words that sounded militant in a tongue I did not know; and while many processions moved in many directions all at once I strode in front of many processions in manifold shapes: young and old, sobbing and cursing finally beside myself! Virtue and terror! Changing whatever my foot touched causing measureless destruction, visibly influencing the courses of the stars, but also changing utterly the neighbourhood streets familiar to us all.

So the procession moved, and I along with it veiled by snow from any hostile attack transparent with hunger, no target not to be hit anywhere, not being settled anywhere; not to be touched by any trouble, being accustomed to all. And so it marches, abandoning the position which cannot be held: exchanging it for any other one. That was my dream.

O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to accept thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?

Brecht wrote two other versions of the Jeanne d’Arc: The Visions of Simone Machard (1942) and The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc of Proven, 1431 (1952).