In the world of Saint Joan, several values collide. The church is jealous of its world-controlling power. England (Warwick) and France (Charles) are jealous of their nationalistic power, and Joan’s project is a nationalistic one, though her act is essentially an individualistic or Protestant one. She stands for the liberty of the individual to define God as she chooses. In this historical instance, France is the fortuitous recipient of the caprice of Joan’s warrior genius. A subtext of the play is that in the world, that is, Joan’s world, there is no hospitality for love or charity. At best, the Roman Catholic Church and the English and French politicians are about slippery abstractions—morality and patriotism, and posturing. The Inquisitor says, “I would go to the stake myself. . . .”
In Shaw’s dispensation, Joan is the ultimate Protestant as doomed superwoman. She is a brilliant military leader. He gives her an attractive personality in spite of her being an architect of the violence of warfare. Her nationalistic cause is not a Shavian one. For Shaw, by their natures, neither church nor state can be ethically admirable. He thought the meaning of the Joan story was not optimistic for humanity as it is. A common modern reading of Saint Joan is as a report of medieval political chicanery by civil and religious authorities to neutralize or remove individuals who have become inconvenient or expensive obstacles to vested powers. Remarkably, Shaw’s treatment of the Joan story is the most faithful to the historical record of the many versions of it that have been written. Shaw’s optimism projects beyond history in his hypothesis that for human destiny, a “life force” drives a process of creative evolution ultimately to transcendental consciousness.