Saint Joan A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue By George Bernard Shaw Saint Joan is a play by George Bernard Shaw, based on the life and trial of Joan of Arc. Published not long after the canonization of Joan of Arc by the Roman Catholic Church, the play dramatises what is known of her life based on the substantial records of her trial. Shaw studied the transcripts and decided that the concerned people acted in good faith according to their beliefs. He wrote in his preface to the play: There are no villains in the piece. Crime, like disease, is not interesting: it is something to be done away with by general consent, and that is all [there is] about it. It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us. Michael Holroyd has characterised the play as "a tragedy without villains" and also as Shaw's "only tragedy". John Fielden has discussed further the appropriateness of characterising Saint Joan as a tragedy.
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Joan of Arc, born in 1412, was burned at the stake in 1431, canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920, and, like most saints, whitewashed by history. Canonization tends to strip a saint of supposedly un-Christian attributes such as rebelliousness, pride, and intolerance. And Joan, despite having been a stubborn, haughty, naive, even foolish girl, has for much of history been remembered only as a pious martyr. However, George Bernard Shaw's play, Saint Joan, completed in 1925, began the modern rehabilitation of the icon as a fully human, fallible character--not to mention a poster girl for teenage rebellion and feminism. Shaw's Joan, like the real Maid of Orleans, leads the fight to drive the English out of her native France, insists on direct communication with her God instead of submitting to the mediation of Catholic priests, and refuses to dress, speak, or act according to traditional notions of how women were expected to behave. Until the closing scene of Shaw's play, however, neither Joan nor her foes are cast in neatly heroic terms. Both are earnestly pursuing their partial visions of the truth. In the play's famous epilogue, Shaw suggests that even 400 years later, most of us are so limited by our own perspectives that we are unable to tell the difference between a saint and a heretic. "O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints?" Joan asks, preparing for her death. "How long, O Lord, how long?" --Michael Joseph GrossFrom the Back Cover:
'Everything she did was thoroughly calculated; and though the process was so rapid that she was hardly conscious of it, and ascribed it all to her voices, she was a woman of policy and not of blind impulse'
With Saint Joan, Shaw reached the height of his fame as a dramatist. In this magnificent play he distilled many of the ideas he had been trying to express in earlier works on the subjects of politics, religion and creative evolution. Fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc, but unhappy with the way she had traditionally been depicted, Shaw wanted to remove 'the whitewash which disfigures her beyond recognition'. He presents a realistic Joan: proud, intolerant, naive, foolhardy, always brave -- a rebel who challenged the conventions and values of her day. As Imogen Stubbs writes, 'All Joans are relevant but some Joans are more relevant than others -- I think Shaw's Saint Joan is the right one to be received by the twenty-first century'.
The definitive text under the editorial supervision of Dan H. Laurence
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