How is Joan's heroism shown in Saint Joan?

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In Shaw's play, Joan of Arc is presented as a much more ambiguous character than she's often portrayed as. Shaw said that there are no villains in the play and that he believed that Joan's accusers, the men who sent her to be burned at the stake, genuinely did what...

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In Shaw's play, Joan of Arc is presented as a much more ambiguous character than she's often portrayed as. Shaw said that there are no villains in the play and that he believed that Joan's accusers, the men who sent her to be burned at the stake, genuinely did what they thought was best.

That said, it would have been impossible for Shaw to have changed too many details concerning Joan's personality without damaging the overall credibility of the play. Above all, that meant showing Joan in a suitably heroic light in keeping with her historical reputation. It meant that her extraordinary courage could not realistically be underplayed.

There are numerous points in the play where Joan displays heroism. In scene 2, she speaks frankly to the Dauphin about the voice of God telling her that she must help him become a real king, the implication being that the Dauphin is too weak to do this on his own. Such audacity on the part of Joan takes a great deal of courage, but it pays off handsomely as the young female warrior acquits herself nobly on the field of battle, leading the French to one victory after another.

Later on in the play, after she's been captured and arraigned on a trumped-up charge of witchcraft, Joan is suitably heroic as she defies the court convened to try her. During her trial in scene 6, she remains utterly defiant, insisting that she only ever acted according to God's direct instructions. After enduring agonizing torture, Joan is forced to recant this statement but subsequently recants her recantation and prepares to die.

For Joan, it is better to be burned to death at the stake for defending the truth than to make a false confession and be sent to prison for the rest of her life. Death by burning is a truly horrible way to go, and so by choosing to die this way, Joan is displaying a remarkable degree of heroism, even by her standards.

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