With Saint Joan, Shaw reached the height of his fame as a dramatist. Fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc (canonized in 1920), but unhappy with "the whitewash which disfigures her beyond recognition," he presents a realistic Joan: proud, intolerant, naïve, foolhardy, always brave-a rebel who challenged the conventions and values of her day.
About the Author
Other Books of Shaw:
• Pygmalion (1913)
• Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)
• The Devil's Disciple (1897)
Read an Excerpt
A fine spring morning on the river Meuse, between Lorraine and Champagne, in the year 1429 A.D., in the castle of Vaucouleurs.
Captain Robert de Baudricourt, a military squire, handsome and physically energetic, but with no will of his own, is disguising that defect in his usual fashion by storming terribly at his steward, a trodden worm, scanty of flesh, scanty of hair, who might be any age from 18 to 55, being the sort of man whom age cannot wither because he has never bloomed.
The two are in a sunny stone chamber on the first floor of the castle. At a plain strong oak table, seated in chair to match, the captain presents his left profile. The steward stands facing him at the other side of the table, if so deprecatory a stance as his can be called standing. The mullioned thirteenth-century window is open behind him. Near it in the corner is a turret with a narrow arched doorway leading to a winding stair which descends to the courtyard. There is a stout fourlegged stool under the table, and a wooden chest under the window.
ROBERT. No eggs! No eggs!! Thousand thunders, man, what do you mean by no eggs?
STEWARD. Sir: it is not my fault. It is the act of God.
ROBERT. Blasphemy. You tell me there are no eggs; and you blame your Maker for it.
STEWARD. Sir: what can I do? I cannot lay eggs.
ROBERT [sarcastic] Ha! you jest about it.
STEWARD. No, sir, God knows. We all have to go without eggs just as you have, sir. The hens will not lay.
ROBERT. Indeed! [Rising] Now listen to me, you.
STEWARD [humbly] Yes, sir.
ROBERT. What am I?
STEWARD. What are you, sir?
ROBERT [coming at him] Yes: what am I? Am I Robert, squire of Baudricourt and captain of this castle of Vaucouleurs; or am I a cowboy?
STEWARD. Oh, sir, you know you are a greater man here than the king himself.
ROBERT. Precisely. And now, do you know what you are?
STEWARD. I am nobody, sir, except that I have the honor to be your steward.
ROBERT [driving him to the wall, adjective by adjective] You have not only the honor of being my steward, but the privilege of being the worst, most incompetent, drivelling snivelling jibbering jabbering idiot of a steward in France. [He strides back to the table].
STEWARD [cowering on the chest] Yes, sir: to a great man like you I must seem like that.
ROBERT [turning] My fault, I suppose. Eh?
STEWARD [coming to him deprecatingly] Oh, sir: you always give my most innocent words such a turn!
ROBERT. I will give you neck a turn if you dare tell me, when I ask you how many eggs there are, that you cannot lay any.
STEWARD [protesting] Oh sir, oh sir -
ROBERT. No: not oh sir, or sir, but no sir. My three Barbary hens and the black are the best layers in Champagne. And you come and tell me that there are no eggs! Who stole them? Tell me that, before I kick you out through the castle gate for a liar and a seller of my goods to thieves. The milk was short yesterday, too: do not forget that.
STEWARD [desperate] I know, sir. I know only too well. There is no milk: there are no eggs: tomorrow there will be nothing.
ROBERT. Nothing! You will steal the lot: eh?
STEWARD. No, sir: nobody will steal anything. But there is a spell on us: we are bewitched.
ROBERT. That story is not good enough for me. Robert de Baudricourt burns witches and hangs thieves. Go. Bring me four dozen eggs and two gallons of milk here in this room before noon, or Heaven have mercy on your bones! I will teach you to make a fool of me. [He resumes h is seat with an air of finality].
STEWARD. Sir: I tell you there are no eggs. There will be none - not if you were to kill me for it - as long as The Maid is at the door.
ROBERT. The Maid! What maid? What are you talking about?
STEWARD. The girl from Lorraine, sir. From Domrémy.
ROBERT [rising in fearful wrath] Thirty thousand thunders! Fifty thousand devils! Do you mean to say that that girl, who had the impudence to ask to see me two days ago, and whom I told you to send back to her father with my orders that he was to give her a good hiding, is here still?
STEWARD. I have told her to go, sir. She won't.
ROBERT. I did not tell you to tell her to go: I told you to throw her out. You have fifty men-at-arms and a dozen lumps of able-bodied servants to carry out my orders. Are they afraid of her?
STEWARD. She is so positive, sir.
ROBERT [seizing him by the scruff of the neck] Positive! Now see here. I am going to throw you downstairs.
STEWARD. No, sir. Please.
ROBERT. Well, stop me by being positive. It's quite easy: any slut of a girl can do it.
STEWARD. [hanging limp in his hands] Sir, sir: you cannot get rid of her by throwing me out. [Robert has to let him drop. He squats on his knees on the floor, contemplating his master resignedly]. You see, sir, you are much more positive than I am. But so is she.
ROBERT. I am stronger than you are, you fool.
STEWARD. No, sir: it isn't that: it's your strong character, sir. She is weaker than we are: she is only a slip of a girl; but we cannot make her go.
ROBERT. You parcel of curs: you are afraid of her.
STEWARD [rising cautiously] No sir: we are afraid of you; but she puts courage into us. She really doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. Perhaps you could frighten her, sir.
ROBERT [grimly] Perhaps. Where is she now?
STEWARD. Down in the courtyard, sir, talking to the soldiers as usual. She is always talking to the soldiers except when she is praying.
ROBERT. Praying! Ha! You believe she prays, you idiot. I know the sort of girl that is always talking to soldiers. She shall talk to me a bit. [He goes to the window and shouts fiercely through it] Hallo, you there!
A GIRL'S VOICE [bright, strong, and rough] Is it me, sir?
ROBERT. Yes, you.
THE VOICE. Be you captain?
ROBERT. Yes, damn your impudence, I be captain. Come up here. [To the soldiers in the yard] Show her the way, you. And shove her along quick. [He leaves the window, and returns to his place at the table, where he sits magisterially].
STEWARD [whispering] She wants to go and be a soldier herself. She wants you to give her soldier's clothes. Armor, sir! And a sword! Actually! [He steals behind Robert].
Joan appears in the turret doorway. She is an able bodied country girl of 17 or 18, respectably dressed in red, with an uncommon face; eyes very wide apart and bulging as they often do in very imaginative people, a long well-shaped nose with wide nostrils, a short upper lip, resolute but full-lipped mouth, and handsome fighting chin. She comes eagerly to the table, delighted at having penetrated to Baudricourt's presence at last, and full of hope as to the result. His scowl does not check or frighten her in the least. Her voice is normally a hearty coaxing voice, very confident, very appealing, very hard to resist.JOAN [bobbing a curtsey] Good morning, captain squire. Captain: you are to give me a horse and armour and some soldiers, and send me to the Dauphin. Those are you orders from my Lord.
ROBERT [outraged] Orders from your lord! And who the devil may your lord be? Go back to him, and tell him that I am neither duke nor peer at his orders: I am squire of Baudricourt; and I take no orders except from the king.
JOAN [reassuringly] Yes, squire: that is all right. My Lord is the King of Heaven.
ROBERT. Why, the girl's mad. [To the steward] Why didn't you tell me so, you blockhead?
STEWARD. Sir: do not anger her: give her what she wants.
JOAN [impatient, but friendly] They all say I am mad until I talk to them, squire. But you see that it is the will of God that you are to do what He has put into my mind.
ROBERT. It is the will of God that I shall send you back to your father with orders to put you under lock and key and thrash the madness out of you. What have you to say to that?
JOAN. You think you will, squire; but you will find it all coming quite different. You said you would not see me; but here I am.
STEWARD [appealing] Yes, sir. You see, sir.
ROBERT. Hold your tongue, you.STEWARD [abjectly] Yes, sir.
ROBERT [to Joan, with a sour loss of confidence] So you are presuming on my seeing you, are you?
JOAN [sweetly] Yes, squire.
ROBERT [feeling that he has lost ground, brings down his two fists squarely on the table, and inflates his chest imposingly to cure the unwelcome and only too familiar sensation] Now listen to me. I am going to assert myself.
JOAN [busily] Please do, squire. The horse will cost sixteen francs. It is a good deal of money: but I can save it on the armor. I can find a soldier's armor that will fit me well enough; I am very hardy; and I do not need beautiful armor made to my measure like you wear. I shall not want many soldiers: the Dauphin will give me all I need to raise the siege of Orleans.
ROBERT [flabbergasted] To raise the siege of Orleans!
JOAN [simply] Yes, squire: that is what God is sending me to do. Three men will be enough for you to send with me if they are good men and gentle to me. They have promised to come with me. Polly and Jack and -
ROBERT. Polly!! You impudent baggage, do you dare call squire Bertrand de Poulengey Polly to my face?
JOAN. His friends call his so, squire: I did not know he had any other name. Jack -
ROBERT. That is Monsieur John of Metz, I suppose?
JOAN. Yes, squire. Jack will come willingly: he is a very kind gentleman, and gives me money to give to the poor. I think John Godsave will come, and Dick the Archer, and their servants John of Honecourt and Julian. There will be no trouble for you, squire: I have arranged it all: you have only to give the order.
ROBERT [contemplating her in a stupor of amazement] Well, I am damned!
JOAN [with unruffled sweetness] No, squire: God is very merciful; and the blessed saints Catherine and Margaret, who speak to me every day [he gapes], will intercede for you. You will go to paradise; and your name will be remembered for ever as my first helper.
ROBERT [to the steward, still much bothered, but changing his tone as he pursues a new clue] Is this true about Monsieur de Poulengey?
STEWARD [eagerly] Yes, sir, and about Monsieur de Metz too. They both want to go with her.
ROBERT [thoughtful] Mf! [He goes to the window, and shouts into the courtyard] Hallo! You there: send Monsieur de Poulengey to me, will you? [He turns to Joan] Get out; and wait in the yard.
JOAN [smiling brightly at him] Right, squire. [She goes out].
ROBERT [to the steward] Go with her, you, you dithering imbecile. Stay within call; and keep your eye on her. I shall have her up here again.
STEWARD. Do so in God's name, sir. Think of those hens, the best layers in Champagne; and -
ROBERT. Think of my boot; and take your backside out of reach of it.
The steward retreats hastily and finds himself confronted in the doorway by Bertrand de Poulengey, a lymphatic French gentleman-at-arms, aged 36 or thereabout, employed in the department of the provost-marshal, dreamily absent-minded, seldom speaking unless spoken to, and then slow and obstinate in reply; altogether in contrast to the self-assertive, loud-mouthed, superficially energetic, fundamentally will-less Robert. The steward makes way for him, and vanishes.
Poulengey salutes, and stands awaiting orders.
ROBERT [genially] It isn't service, Polly. A friendly talk. Sit down. [He hooks the stool from under the table with his instep].
Poulengey, relaxing, comes into the room; places the stool between the table and the window; and sits down ruminatively. Robert, half sitting on the end of the table, begins the friendly talk.
ROBERT. Now listen to me, Polly. I must talk to you like a father.
Poulengey looks up at him gravely for a moment, but says nothing.
ROBERT. It's about this girl you are interested in. Now, I have seen her. I have talked to her. First, she's mad. That doesn't matter. Second, she's not a farm wench. She's a bourgeoise. That matters a good deal. I know her class exactly. Her father came here last year to represent his village in a lawsuit: he is one of their notables. A farmer. Not a gentleman farmer: he makes money by it, and lives by it. Still, not a laborer. Not a mechanic. He might have a cousin a lawyer, or in the Church. People of this sort may be of no account socially; but they can give a lot of bother to the authorities. That is to say, to me. Now no doubt it seems to you a very simple thing to take this girl away, humbugging her into the belief that you are taking her to the Dauphin. But if you get her into trouble, you may get me into no end of a mess, as I am her father's lord, and responsible for her protection. So friends or no friends, Polly, hands off her.
POULENGEY [with deliberate impressiveness] I should as soon think of the Blessed Virgin herself in that way, as of this girl.
ROBERT [coming off the table] But she says you and Jack and Dick have offered to go with her. What for? You are not going to tell me that you take her crazy notion of going to the Dauphin seriously, are you?
POULENGEY [slowly] There is something about her. They are pretty foulmouthed and foulminded down there in the guardroom, some of them. But there hasn't been a word that has anything to do with her being a woman. They have stopped swearing before her. There is something. Something. It may be worth trying.
ROBERT. Oh, come, Polly! Pull yourself together. Commonsense was never your strong point; but this is a little too much. [He retreats disgustedly].
POULENGEY [unmoved] What is the good of commonsense? If we had any commonsense we should join the Duke of Burgundy and the English king. They hold half the country, right down to the Loire. They have Paris. They have this castle: you know very well that we had to surrender it to the Duke of Bedford, and that you are only holding it on parole. The Dauphin is in Chinon, like a rat in a corner, except that he won't fight. We don't even know that he is the Dauphin: his mother says he isn't; and she ought to know. Think of that! The queen denying the legitimacy of her own son!
ROBERT. Well, she married her daughter to the English king. Can you blame the woman?
POULENGEY. I blame nobody. But thanks to her, the Dauphin is down and out; and we may as well face it. The English will take Orleans: the Bastard will not be able to stop them.
ROBERT. He beat the English the year before last at Montargis. I was with him.
POULENGEY. No matter: his men are cowed now; and he can't work miracles. And I tell you that nothing can save our side now but a miracle.
ROBERT. Miracles are all right, Polly. The only difficulty about them is that they don't happen nowadays.
POULENGEY. I used to think so. I am not so sure now. [Rising, and moving ruminatively towards the window] At all events this is not a time to leave any stone unturned. There is something about the girl.
ROBERT. Oh! You think the girl can work miracles, do you?
POULENGEY. I think the girl herself is a bit of a miracle. Anyhow, she is the last card left in our hand. Better play her than throw up the game. [He wanders to the turret].
ROBERT [wavering] You really think that?
POULENGEY [turning] Is there anything else left for us to think?
ROBERT [going to him] Look here, Polly. If you were in my place would you let a girl like that do you out of sixteen francs for a horse?
POULENGEY. I will pay for the horse.
ROBERT. You will!
POULENGEY. Yes: I will back my opinion.
ROBERT. You will really gamble on a forlorn hope to the tune of sixteen francs?
POULENGEY. It is not a gamble.
ROBERT. What else is it?
POULENGEY. It is a certainty. Her words and her ardent faith in God have put fire into me.
ROBERT [giving him up] Whew! You are as mad as she is.
POULENGEY [obstinately] We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!
ROBERT [his irresoluteness now openly swamping his affected decisiveness] I shall feel like a precious fool. Still, if you feel sure -?
POULENGEY. I feel sure enough to take her to Chinon - unless you stop me.
ROBERT. This is not fair. You are putting the responsibility on me.
POULENGEY. It is on you whichever way you decide.
ROBERT. Yes: that's just it. Which way am I do decide? You don't see how awkward this is for me. [Snatching at a dilatory step with an unconscious hope that Joan will make up his mind for him] Do you think I ought to have another talk to her?
POULENGEY [rising] Yes. [He goes to the window and calls] Joan!
JOAN'S VOICE. Will he let us go, Polly?
POULENGEY. Come up. Come in. [Turning to Robert] Shall I leave you with her?
ROBERT. No: stay here; and back me up.
Poulengey sits down on the chest. Robert goes back to his magisterial chair, but remains standing to inflate himself more imposingly. Joan comes in, full of good news.
JOAN. Jack will go halves for the horse.
ROBERT. Well!! [sits, deflated
POULENGEY [gravely] Sit down, Joan.
JOAN [checked a little, and looking to Robert] May I?
ROBERT. Do what you are told.
Joan curtsies and sits down on the stool between them. Robert outfaces his perplexity with his most peremptory air.
ROBERT. What is your name?
JOAN [chattily] They all call me Jenny in Lorraine. Here in France I am Joan. The soldiers call me The Maid.
ROBERT. What is your surname?
JOAN. Surname? What is that? My father sometimes calls himself d'Arc; but I know nothing about it. You met my father. He -
ROBERT. Yes, yes; I remember. You come from Domrémy in Lorraine, I think.
JOAN. Yes; but what does it matter? We all speak French.
ROBERT. Don't ask questions: answer them. How old are you?
JOAN. Seventeen: so they tell me. It might be nineteen. I don't remember.
ROBERT. What did you mean when you said that St Catherine and St Margaret talked to you every day?
JOAN. They do.
ROBERT. What are they like?
JOAN [suddenly obstinate] I will tell you nothing about that: they have not given me leave.
ROBERT. But you actually see them; and they talk to you just as I am talking to you?
JOAN. No: it is quite different. I cannot tell you: you must not talk to me about my voices.
ROBERT. How do you mean? Voices?
JOAN. I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
ROBERT. They come from your imagination.
JOAN. Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.
ROBERT. No fear! [To Joan] So God says you are to raise the siege of Orleans?
JOAN. And to crown the Dauphin in Rheims Cathedral.
ROBERT [gasping] Crown the D-! Gosh!
JOAN. And to make the English leave France.
ROBERT [sarcastic] Anything else?
JOAN [charming] Not just at present, thank you, squire.
ROBERT. I suppose you think raising a siege is as easy as chasing a cow out of the meadow. You think soldiering is anybody's job?
JOAN. I do not think it can be very difficult if God is on your side, and you are willing to put your life in His hand. But many soldiers are very simple.
ROBERT [grimly] Simple! Did you ever see English soldiers fighting?
JOAN. They are only men. God made them just like us; but He gave them their own country and their own language; and it is not His will that they should come into our country and try to speak our language.
ROBERT. Who has been putting such nonsense into your head? Don't you know that soldiers are subject to their feudal lord, and that it is nothing to them or to you whether he is the duke of Burgundy or the king of England or the king of France? What has their language to do with it?
JOAN. I do not understand that a bit. We are all subject to the King of Heaven; and He gave us our countries and our languages, and meant us to keep to them. If it were not so it would be murder to kill an Englishman in battle; and you, squire, would be in great danger of hell fire. You must not think about your duty to your feudal lord, but about your duty to God.
POULENGEY. It's no use, Robert: she can choke you like that every time.
ROBERT. Can she, by Saint Denis! We shall see. [To Joan] We are not talking about God: we are talking about practical affairs. I ask you again, girl, have you ever seen English soldiers fighting? Have you ever seen them plundering, burning, burning the countryside into a desert? Have you heard no tales of their Black Prince who was blacker than the devil himself, or of the English king's father?
JOAN. You must not be afraid, Robert -
ROBERT. Damn you, I am not afraid. And who gave you leave to call me Robert?
JOAN. You were called so in church in the name of our Lord. All the other names are your father's or your brother's or anybody's.
JOAN. Listen to me, squire. At Domrémy we had to fly to the next village to escape from the English soldiers. Three of them were left behind, wounded. I came to know these three poor goddams quite well. They had not half my strength.
ROBERT. Do you know why they are called goddams?
JOAN. No. Everyone calls them goddams.
ROBERT. It is because they are always calling on their God to condemn their souls to perdition. That is what goddam means in their language. How do you like it?
JOAN. God will be merciful to them; and they will act like His good children when they go back to the country He made for them, and made them for. I have heard the tales of the Black Prince. The moment he touched the soil of our country the devil entered into him, and made him a black fiend. But at home, in the place made for him by God, he was good. It is always so. If I went into England against the will of God to conquer England, and tried to live there and speak its language, the devil would enter into me; and when I was old I should shudder to remember the wickednesses I did.
ROBERT. Perhaps. But the more devil you were the better you might fight. That is why the goddams will take Orleans. And you cannot stop them, nor ten thousand like you.
JOAN. One thousand like me can stop them. Ten like me can stop them with God on our side. [She rises impetuously, and goes at him, unable to sit quiet any longer]. You do not understand squire. Our soldiers are always beaten because they are fighting only to save their skins; and the shortest way to save your skin is to run away. Our knights are thinking only of the money they will make in ransoms: it is not kill or be killed with them, but pay or be paid. But I will teach them all to fight that the will of God may be done in France; and then they will drive the poor goddams before them like sheep. You and Polly will live to see the day when there will not be an English soldier on the soil of France; and there will be but one king there: not the feudal English king, but God's French one.
ROBERT [to Poulengey] This may be all rot, Polly; but the troops might swallow it, though nothing that we can say seems able to put any fight into them. Even the Dauphin might swallow it. And if she can put fight into him, she can put it into anybody.
POULENGEY. I can see no harm in trying. Can you? And there is something about the girl -
ROBERT [turning to Joan] Now listen you to me; and [desperately] don't cut in before I have time to think.
JOAN [plumping down on the stool again, like an obedient schoolgirl] Yes, squire.
ROBERT. Your orders are, that you are to go to Chinon under the escort of this gentleman and three of his friends.
JOAN [radiant, clasping her hands] Oh, squire! Your head is all circled with light, like a saint's.
POULENGEY. How is she to get into the royal presence?
ROBERT [who has looked up for his halo rather apprehensively] I don't know: how did she get into my presence? If the Dauphin can keep her out he is a better man than I take him for. [Rising] I will send her to Chinon; and she can say I sent her. Then let come what may: I can do no more.
JOAN. And the dress? I may have a soldier's dress, mayn't I, squire?
ROBERT. Have what you please. I wash my hands of it.
JOAN [wildly excited by her success] Come, Polly. [She dashes out].
ROBERT [shaking Poulengey's hand] Goodbye, old man, I am taking a big chance. Few other men would have done it. But as you say, there is something about her.
POULENGEY. Yes: there is something about her. Goodbye. [He goes out].
Robert, still very doubtful whether he has been made a fool of by a crazy female, and a social inferior to boot, scratches is head and slowly comes back from the door.
The steward runs in with a basket.
STEWARD. Sir, sir -
ROBERT. What now?
STEWARD. The hens are laying like mad, sir. Five dozen eggs!
ROBERT [stiffens convulsively: crosses himself: and forms with his pale lips the words] Christ in heaven! [Aloud but breathless] She did come from God.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Certainly not my favorite Shaw. I found this play quite dull and for some reason was very annoyed with the main character, even though she is the heroine. Seems very dated somehow and not terribly relevant.
Would be 5 stars but anyone who writes a preface of 50 pages (in very small print) for a play of 100 pages (in normal print) is absurdly arrogant, and especially when they try to claim that this particular story is a melodrama and not a tragedy. The play itself is, in fact, clearly a tragedy--St Joan is a noble character (a chaste teenage girl who leads armies in a faltering independence movement and inspires them to victory), brought down by a fatal flaw (burned after insisting, through pride and obstinacy, that she should go take Compeigne even when King Charles, the Archbishop, and her co-captain Dunois say they will offer no protection, then refusing, during her trial, to comply with the demands made of her by the English and the Church), with pity and catharsis cleansing the audience's emotions at the end (where everything about her burns except her heart, she is given two sticks with which to make a cross by an English soldier, she saves a life by not letting a cross burn in a man's hands when he brings it near her, and her ghost appears to a bunch of apologetic characters twenty-some-odd years later).I would say it's one of the best plays I've read, and I've read many of them, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Milton (Samson Agonistes), Moliere, Addison, Chekhov, Sheridan, Goethe, Synge, O'Neill, Williams, Kushner (ugh!), and so on and so forth...I highly recommend it for 8th-10th grade students, and I know that it was assigned when I was in high school (don't tell anyone I didn't read it then!).
I did not know much about Joan of Arc before I read this. The book really made her real for me. Of course Shaw did not "know" Joan, but he portrays her in such a real and believable way that I was continuously comparing the character to people I have met in my life. I realized that whether or not Shaw was close to the mark or not, Joan had to be an exceptional person. One who I would have liked to have met.
The play 's the thing. Saint Joan is an excellent example of Shaw's work and, I think, that excellence coupled with the time of Joan's becoming a saint gave Shaw the Swedish Merit Badge. Shaw's preface is too clever by half and the self important lecture can be skipped with no real harm to understanding the play. The play itself is notable for a lack of villians. That makes it extraordinary and much of the dialouge is skilled and thoughtful.
I really liked this book even though I had to read it in a matter of 1 week. I still kept my head up and read it. I have to do a report on it so -=ALL READERS=- Get this book its exciting and a good book >=)
In one surviving account, Joan of Arc was quoted as saying that her judges were merely putting her on trial because they were members of the pro-English faction and therefore her 'capital enemies'; unfortunately, this play tries to claim otherwise. Despite the fact that Cauchon and his cronies are well known to historians to have been long-term supporters of the English and Burgundian factions, and the eyewitnesses said repeatedly that they prosecuted Joan out of revenge for the defeats that their side had suffered at the hands of her army, rather than out of any genuine belief that she was guilty of heresy, Shaw distorts history on this and other issues. Here are some specific examples: - Shaw, like Cauchon, claimed that Joan was guilty of heresy for wearing male clothing allegedly as a personal preference, despite the fact that she was quoted as saying that she wore soldiers' clothing (of a type which had 'laces and points' by which the pants and tunic could be securely tied together) primarily to protect herself, as her guards had tried to rape her on several occasions, and to similarly safeguard her chastity while surrounded by the men in her army. The medieval Church allowed an exemption in such cases of necessity. Shaw rejects all of the above based on the specious argument that the 'other women' who accompanied armies in that era didn't wear such clothing, ignoring the fact that these 'other women' were: 1) prostitutes, who wore provocative dresses because they were trying to encourage sexual encounters rather than the opposite; and 2) aristocratic women sometimes were given command of their family's armies in the absence of their husband or son, but these women did not bed down at night among the troops in the field, as Joan often did. - On a somewhat related subject, Shaw tries to portray her as a rebel against 'gender norms', again ignoring her own statements such as, quote, 'I would rather stay home with my poor mother and spin wool [rather than lead an army]' and other quotes which hardly sound like someone who is trying to reject traditional gender roles. She was given titular command of an army for the same reason other religious visionaries sometimes were given such a role in that era, not as part of a 'feminist crusade'. - Shaw admits that Joan was a devout Catholic and yet claims her as 'the first Protestant martyr' - in the same sentence. If you read the documents you will find that Joan never opposed the Church as a whole: she merely stated her objection to being tried by a panel of pro-English clergy, and repeatedly asked to be given a non-partisan group instead or to be brought before the Pope. The bottom line is: this play does little more than repeat the slander leveled at Joan by the men who cruelly put her to death, despite the attempts by many scholars to promote a more accurate view of the issue.
I was required to read this play for an summer AP English assignment and quite enjoyed it. Although we are not sure of all the historical facts I think that Shaw gave an interesting interpitation of the story of this historical hero. I am fond of stories set in the middle ages and although itmight not be historically accurate it was very enjoyable. It is a wonderful story that all of us should be familliar with.
While Shaw may have been a gifted playwright, his 'Saint Joan' did an enormous disservice to the subject: the view it presents of Joan of Arc conflicts with the historical evidence on nearly every point, echoing instead the propaganda of her enemies. In truth, her trial was orchestrated by the English with the help of a few pro-English clergy, not by the Inquisition (and even Shaw admits that the Inquisition overturned the verdict in 1456, shortly after the English were finally driven out of Rouen); nor was Joan a 'rebel' except in the minds of her political opponents: that was proven by the testimony of the witnesses at the retrial. By dredging up a fraudulent view of La Pucelle, Shaw's play was among the first popular works to undermine the efforts of countless scholars whose research had brought a more truthful view of the issue to light. If you want to see the historical Joan, I would suggest one of Regine Pernoud's books.