Three years after Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920, George Bernard Shaw brought to the stage a more complex and human portrayal of the fifteenth-century French martyr, creating one of the theater’s most memorable and enduring female roles. Already renowned for plays such as Pygmalion, The Arms and the Man, and Major Barbara, Shaw presented Saint Joan as “A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue.”
The play begins in February 1429 as a visionary peasant girl feels called to lead a French army against the English in the Hundred Years War in order to install Charles VII, the dauphin, to the throne. Rallying the troops, Joan plays a pivotal role in the siege of Orléans and in the crowning of Charles at Reims Cathedral. The play culminates with Joan’s trial for heresy after she is captured by opposing forces and ultimately condemned and burned at the stake. Through the device of an epilogue, Shaw dramatizes the reevaluation of Joan through a retrial a quarter century after her execution that clears her of heresy to declarations of her as a Christian martyr and ultimately almost five centuries after her death, her canonization as a saint.
Shaw’s Joan is an upstart and a rebel—sane, self-assured, proud, courageous, but still with the naivete of the teenager she was—who challenged the conventions of her time as well as those in power.
Having exhaustively researched the documents of her trial, Shaw added a preface and series of reflections on Joan to the published text of the play, which offer further insight into a legendary figure who continues to fascinate, intrigue, and provoke a myriad of interpretations, as well as ongoing productions of Shaw’s only tragedy.
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About the Author
Bernard Shaw, acclaimed Irish playwright and Nobel laureate, has left an indelible mark on Western theater, culture, and politics. Over the course of his life, he wrote more than sixty plays that addressed prevailing social problems through comedy. Shaw was also a prolific essayist and lecturer on economics and sociological subjects, and was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work, marked by its use of stunning satire to encapsulate humanity.
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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 your 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, oh sir, but no sir, 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 his 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 wont.
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 isnt 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 doesnt 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] Shew 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 ablebodied 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 armor and some soldiers, and send me to the Dauphin. Those are your 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 him 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, l am damned!
JOAN [with unruffled sweetness] No, squire: God is very merci-full; 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 isnt 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 doesnt 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 hasnt 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. Common-sense 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 wont fight. We dont even know that he is the Dauphin: his mother says he isnt; 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 Mont-argis. I was with him.
POULENGEY. No matter: his men are cowed now; and he cant 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 dont 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.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Saint Joan"
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Table of Contents
Joan the Original and Presumptuous VII
Joan and Socrates VIII
Contrast with Napoleon VIII
Was Joan Innocent or Guilty? X
Joan's Good Looks XI
Joan's Social Position XII
Joan's Voices and Visions XIII
The Evolutionary Appetite XV
The Mere Iconography does not Matter XVII
The Modern Education which Joan Escaped XVII
Failures of the Voices XIX
Joan a Galtonic Visualizer XX
Joan's Manliness and Militarism XX
Was Joan Suicidal? XXII
Joan Summed Up XXII
Joan's Immaturity and Ignorance XXIII
The Maid in Literature XXIV
Protestant Misunderstandings of the Middle Ages XXVII
Comparative Fairness of Joan's Trial XXVIII
Joan not Tried as a Political Offender XXIX
The Church Uncompromised by its Amends XXXI
Cruelty, Modern and Medieval XXXIII
Catholic Anti-Clericalism XXXIV
Catholicism not yet Catholic Enough XXXIV
The Law of Change is the Law of God XXXVI
Credulity, Modern and Medieval XXXVII
Toleration, Modern and Medieval XXXVIII
Variability of Toleration XXXIX
The Conflict between Genius and Discipline XL
Joan as Theocrat XLI
Unbroken Success Essential in Theocracy XLII
Modern Distortions of Joan's History XLII
History always Out of Date XLIII
The Real Joan not Marvellous Enough for Us XLIII
The Stage Limits of Historical Representation XLV
A Void in the Elizabethan Drama XLV
Tragedy, not Melodrama XLVI
The Inevitable Flatteries of Tragedy XLVII
Some Well-meant Proposals for the Improvement of the Play XLVIII
The Epilogue XLIX
To the Critics, lest they should feel Ignored XLIX
Saint Joan 1