Study Guide

Saint Joan

by George Bernard Shaw

Saint Joan Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Saint Joan: A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue, George Bernard Shaw tells a historically faithful version of how Joan of Arc went from being a provincial adolescent, to military hero, to executed heretic, to rehabilitated venerable by the Roman Catholic Church twenty-five years later and to saint in 1920. Shaw’s prefaces and postscripts to the play explain his knowledge and admiration of Joan.

In scene 1, in 1429, Robert de Baudricourt, on the River Meuse in France meets Joan of Arc for the first time and sees her extraordinary personality, complete with candidly announced dream visions and messages from saints Catherine, Margaret, and Blessed Michael, who tell her to lead the French army to victory at Orleans. To get the job, she wants an audience with the Dauphin.

In scene 2, March 8, 1429, Joan is in Chinon in Touraine, where she asks the Dauphin to let her lead the French army. She must first go through the rough scrutiny of La Trémouille, the archbishop, Monsieur de Rais (Bluebeard), and Captain La Hire, who has stopped swearing along with the soldiers in the presence of Joan. In realilty, the trial for heresy of Joan begins here. The archbishop’s views represent the medieval Roman Catholic Church. “She is not a saint. . . . She does not wear women’s clothes.” Joan arrives late to meet the Dauphin and other members of the court, who are in disguise to test her. Joan instantly, and with casual humor, picks out the Dauphin.

Ominously, the archbishop says to Joan, “You are in love with religion.”...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Saint Joan Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In the protagonist of Saint Joan, Shaw has created his most lasting embodiment of the Life Force, a figure who is superior in character and vision and who tries to elevate ordinary people to her level by becoming their leader. Shaw’s Saint Joan is funny and self-confident; she is guided by practicality and common sense but does not fit the traditional image of a religious martyr. Although Saint Joan is filled with comic moments, it is considered Shaw’s only tragedy. Yet it has also been called a comedy containing one tragic scene.

Joan’s legend had been revived in France during World War I; an ambitious Hollywood film, Joan, the Woman, had been released in 1917; and in 1920 Joan was canonized. The ensuing interest in Joan of Arc also seized Shaw and especially his wife. In Joan’s assertion of her will against institutional restraints Shaw recognized so many of his convictions that, as the famous drama critic-historian Eric Bentley has written, Shaw would have had to invent Joan had she never existed. In the play’s preface, Shaw praises “the vigor and scope of her mind and character, and the intensity of her vital energy.”

Although she is a warrior, Joan is also a preserver of life. As she appears on the scene, the hens start laying eggs again. In her enthusiasm she appeals to the French soldiers because “she’s so positive.” Joan’s affirmation of life and the indestructibility of her vital energy are felt throughout the play. Even when Joan is burned as a witch, the executioner admits thatHer heart would not burn; and it would not drown. I was a master at my craft . . . but I could not kill The Maid. She is up and alive everywhere.

Guided by voices, the eighteen-year-old country girl Joan is set on liberating France from the English, who are occupying half of the country in 1429....

(The entire section is 764 words.)

Saint Joan Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At Vaucouleurs castle, Robert de Baudricourt berates his steward for claiming that the hens stopped laying. The steward insists they will not lay until Robert talks to Joan, the Maid, who demands to see him. Robert finally admits Joan. She promptly requests a horse, armor, and some soldiers to take her to the dauphin. She already persuaded several soldiers to accompany her and convinced them that God sent her to save France from the English occupying force. Robert yields, and the hens immediately begin laying again.

At Chinon, the archbishop and the Lord Chamberlain complain about the dauphin’s irresponsibility. Bluebeard, a nobleman, tells about a cursing soldier who died after being cautioned by an angel dressed as a soldier. Charles appears, looking browbeaten but excited about Robert’s surprise. Almost everyone advises Charles not to see Joan, but he insists. They then decide that Bluebeard will pretend to be Charles, to see if Joan can pick out the real dauphin; the archbishop cynically remarks that such seeming miracles could be as useful as real ones. When Joan enters, she immediately spots Charles and tells him that she is sent by God to help him drive the English from France and to crown him king. Charles, full of doubts, tries to escape her but finally yields and gives Joan command of the army. Cheering, the knights prepare to head for Orléans.

Two months later at Orléans, Dunois’s French forces still did not attack the English because the east wind prevents their ships from going up the river. When Joan arrives, Dunois explains the military situation. Joan grasps the problem immediately and agrees to pray for a west wind to make the French attack possible. As she speaks, a page sneezes and everyone suddenly notices that the wind changed. Joan, overwhelmed by this sign, rushes with Dunois into battle.

In the English camp, Chaplain Stogumber and the Earl of Warwick consider France’s recent military victories. Stogumber resents seeing Englishmen beaten by French “foreigners.” Warwick complains that people are beginning to define themselves by their country rather than by local allegiances—a danger to both feudal lords and the Church. Warwick therefore hopes to collaborate with Bishop Cauchon, who represents the rival Burgundian faction in France. When Cauchon arrives, he and Warwick agree that neither feels happy about the imminent crowning of...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Saint Joan Summary

Preface
Shaw begins his preface to Saint Joan by announcing that Joan, though a professed Catholic, was in fact one of...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)