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Theatre / Saint Joan

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Saint Joan, subtitled "A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue", is a play by George Bernard Shaw, first performed in 1923. Its subject is Joan of Arc, who was canonized as a saint in 1920.

The scenes are as follows:

  1. February 1429. Joan visits Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the royal garrison at Vaucouleurs. She describes the mission she believes God has given her, to raise the siege at Orleans, see the Dauphin crowned at Reims Cathedral, and drive the English out of France. She persuades him to provide her with a horse and armor and some soldiers to escort her to the Dauphin.
  2. March 1429. Joan arrives in the court of the Dauphin, and persuades him to stand up to his courtiers and to give her control of the troops at Orleans.
  3. April 1429. Joan arrives at Orleans, and wins over Jean de Dunois, the commander of the French troops. They prepare to attack the English forces.
  4. June 1429. The English Earl of Warwick and the French Bishop of Beauvais meet to discuss the problem of Joan. Bishop Cauchon wants her dealt with because her claim to receive instructions directly from God undermines the authority of the Church hierarchy. Warwick similarly sees her as a threat to the power of the feudal lords. Warwick's scribe, John de Stogumber, just hates her because she's making the English look bad. An agreement is reached that if she can be captured, Cauchon will have her tried as a heretic and Warwick will have her executed.
  5. July 1429. Following the Dauphin's coronation as Charles VII, Joan has a falling-out with the court about what to do next. The King and his lords are happy with the gains they've made and want to see about a treaty with the English, while Joan is determined to keep fighting until the English are driven out. Despite their opposition, and a warning that the English have offered a large reward for her capture, Joan declares that she will continue even if she has to do it herself.
  6. May 1431. The final day of Joan's trial for heresy. The members of the ecclesiastical court, who include Cauchon and de Stogumber, discuss the case before Joan is brought in and given a final chance to recant. The court nearly manages to persuade her that throwing her life away would be against God's will (to the vocal displeasure of de Stogumber, who wants her dead and doesn't appreciate the court trying to save her), but in the end Joan is condemned, excommunicated, and taken out to be burned at the stake. Warwick is pleased to have seen the last of Joan, but a monk who was present at both the trial and the execution says that he thinks it might have been a beginning rather than an ending.
  • Epilogue, June 1456. Charles VII receives news that a retrial has overturned Joan's heresy conviction. He dreams that he is visited by Joan, and they discuss how things have changed since her death. One by one they are joined by Cauchon, Dunois, an English soldier who was kind to Joan at her execution, de Stogumber, the executioner, Warwick, and finally a stranger in 20th-century dress who informs them of Saint Joan's canonization.

A big-screen adaptation was released in 1957, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc, Richard Widmark as the Dauphin, Richard Todd as Dunois, Anton Walbrook as Peter Cauchon, John Gielgud as Richard de Beauchamp, and Felix Aylmer as the Inquisitor.

This play contains examples of:

  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A more heroic version. As she is burned at the stake for heresy, Joan asks for a cross, and a soldier makes one for her by tying two sticks together. When they meet again in the afterlife, he doesn't recognize her, and cheerfully says that he's known so many young women in his life that they all blur together.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Earl of Warwick is something of one. When Stogumber complains that Joan must be a witch because she has beaten an English army, he replies airily, "That happens, you know. It is only in history books and ballads that the enemy is always defeated."
  • Distant Finale: The Epilogue is set 25 years after Joan's death, on the night after a retrial has overturned her heresy conviction, and has King Charles dreaming of a reunion with Joan and the other people involved in her life and death; they tell Joan what has become of them since her death, discuss the implications of the retrial, and react to the news, brought by a mysterious messenger, that in 1920 Joan will be recognized as a saint.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: In the trial scene, the Inquisitor delivers a long and very convincing speech on the necessity of the Inquisition to a young friar who doubts Joan's heresy.
  • A Hell of a Time: In the Epilogue, the ghost of the English soldier reports that Hell is actually quite comfortable, at least compared to fifteen years at war in France.
    Soldier: You won't find it so bad, sir. Jolly. Like as if you were always drunk without the trouble and expense of drinking. Tip top company, too: emperors and popes and kings and all sorts.
  • Heroic Bastard: Jean de Dunois, the commander of the soldiers who Joan leads into battle, and subsequently her closest friend in the French court. His real-life nickname, "Bastard of Orleans", is mentioned in the play; it wasn't an insult but a factual statement — he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Orleans — and even something of a sign of respect, since as an acknowledged son of the Duke he was a member of the royal family.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the characters.
  • Living Is More than Surviving: Joan responds with this when she learns the church intends to spare her life but keep her in solitary confinement for the remainder of it.
    Joan: You promised me my life; but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead.
  • Mission from God: Joan believes God has given her a mission to drive the English out of France and help Charles become a great king.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: John de Stogumber, an English cleric, spends most of the play determined to get Joan burned as a heretic, and speaks forcefully against her at her trial. After witnessing the burning and gaining an understanding of what a cruel death it is, he's so remorseful he has a Freak Out. In the Epilogue, he's retired to become The Vicar of a small village whose inhabitants regard his sermons on the importance of understanding the consequences of your actions as a charming foible.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Each scene compresses events that actually took place over days, weeks, or months into a single event taking no more than half an hour. In the preface to the published playscript, Shaw acknowledges this and says that it's a necessary adjustment to the practical necessities of a stage play.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: Hinted at in the Epilogue, where Joan's ghost meets the ghost of an English soldier who has gone to hell, but gets one day off a year as a reward for being kind to Joan at her execution. He tells her that after fifteen years at war he actually finds Hell quite homely and wasn't sure to do with his days off at first, and ends by mentioning that he's been told he can have more days off, "as many as I like," when he decides he wants them.