Saint Joan

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The action of the play takes place during the Hundred Years War between France and England. Northern France is controlled by the English, and the forces of Charles VII of France are demoralized. The teenage peasant girl from Lorraine, against all likelihood, gains the confidence of a local squire, then Charles himself, in her military leadership.

Joan has all along claimed a special mission from God, communicated to her by means of inner voices; and the miracles which aided her as a French soldier now provide her enemies with a basis to destroy her. Thus, after some significant successes in the field, she is captured by the English and tried by the Inquisition as a witch. She stoutly holds to her convictions, however, and is eventually burned at the stake.

Shaw’s Joan is a natural, determined, and charismatic young woman. But she also has divine gifts which are either unrecognized or feared by her political and ecclesiastical opponents. His play develops her character with feeling and complexity. It has a wide range of dramatic effects, from light comedy to high drama (as in the trial scene) and poetic lyricism (as in the epilogue).

Yet the play is most effective for its dramatization of the conflict between individual genius or inspiration (represented by Joan) and social, historical, and ecclesiastical necessities (represented by the Inquisitor). In this way, it avoids romanticism, piety, and positivism, and advances a view of...

(The entire section is 508 words.)