Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw: Summary & Overview

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  • 0:02 Overview of Saint Joan
  • 1:15 Summary: Scene I
  • 2:11 Summary: Scene II
  • 3:09 Summary: Scene III
  • 3:43 Summary: Scene IV
  • 4:57 Summary: Scene V
  • 5:48 Summary: Scene VI
  • 7:23 Epilogue
  • 8:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Joan of Arc, one of the most controversial historical figures to ever exist, has been written about numerous times. George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan is one of the most famous versions of her story. Read on to find an overview of the plot and a summary of the story!

Overview

Saint Joan (the full title is Saint Joan: A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue) is a play written by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw that was published in 1924. ¬¬ George Bernard Shaw is a well-known for Irish writer from the 19th and 20th centuries who is known for writing short stories, plays, novels, and even screenplays that explore gender, identity, and politics. Saint Joan was published four years after Joan of Arc was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church. The play follows the rise of Joan of Arc and those who engineered her downfall.

Just in case you're not up on your Middle Ages war history, here's some information you need to know: This play takes time during the 100 Years War between England and France. There has been no King of France for approximately seven years. King Charles VI died in 1422, leaving his son Charles VII to take the throne. Charles VII is referred to as the Dauphin, or 'the title of the oldest son of the King of France', but cannot become King, because the town, Orleans, where the King must be crowned, is held by the English. Without a central figure of power, the feudal lords, knights, and noblemen have gained power in their independent regions.

Summary: Scene I

The play opens in 1429 in the castle of Captain Robert de Baudricourt near Vaucouleurs, France. The captain is yelling at his steward because the castle's hens have not laid eggs and the cows have not provided milk for two days. The steward thinks the animals are not cooperating because, two days prior, Captain Robert threw a young country girl, who calls herself 'The Maid' from his castle after she sought audience with him. The Maid's name is Joan, and the steward brings her to Captain Robert. She tells him that God has sent her to him to obtain a horse, armor and soldiers to release the French town of Orleans from British control.

Captain Robert, at first, thinks Joan is crazy, but she uses logic, reason and political strategy to win him over. She leaves the castle escorted by a soldier named Bertrand de Poulengey (Polly). After she leaves, it's discovered that Captain Robert's hens has laid five dozen eggs.

Summary: Scene II

Scene II takes place at the Dauphin's castle in the late afternoon on the 8th of March, 1429. The Archbishop of Rheims and Lord Chamberlain, Monseigneur de la Trémouille, are impatiently waiting to see the Dauphin. Two soldiers, Gilles de Rais (nicknamed Bluebeard) and Captain La Hire join the men and tell them that an 'angel' dressed as a soldier is approaching. This 'angel' predicted the sudden death of a soldier. The Dauphin, a cowardly young man, enters with a letter from Captain Robert explaining who Joan is and that she has been sent by God. To test whether or not Joan is an angel, a saint, or if she's mentally ill, Bluebeard pretends to be the Dauphin. Joan immediately calls out the ruse and picks out the real Dauphin. Joan tells the Dauphin that her mission is to win back Orleans so that he can become king. The Dauphin does not want to be king, but Joan uses reason and compassion to boost the Dauphin's self-esteem and he gives her permission to continue with her quest.

Summary: Scene III

Scene III takes place on April 29th, 1429 on the bank of the Lorie river, across from Orleans. At the riverbank, Joan encounters Jean de Dunois, the leader of the French troops. Dunois informs Joan that his strategy is to sneak up on the English guards on the other side of the river on rafts, but has not been able to attack, as the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. As Joan begins to leave to pray for the wind to change, it does. Dunois is now a believer in Joan and her mission, gives her control over the troops, and they all raft off to liberate Orleans.

Summary: Scene IV

Three men meet in a tent on the English side. They are a Chaplin (De Stogumber), a nobleman (Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick), and a Bishop of Beauvais, (Cauchon), and are plotting to defeat Joan. Joan and her men have succeeded at winning back Orleans, have taken back five other French towns, and now the Dauphin will finally be crowned King of France.

The Chaplin does not like Joan's denial of traditional gender roles, such as being a military leader and dressing like a man. The nobleman has it out for Joan for political reasons. He believes that her goal to unite France under one King will undermine the feudal system that gives him power and that this idea of nationalism will spread to England. The bishop sees Joan as a threat to the Catholic Church, because if the common people can commune directly with God, there will be less need for the clergy (Protestantism).

The Nobleman and Chaplin want the Bishop to use his power to burn Joan as a witch, someone working with Satan. The Englishmen are on a literal and metaphorical witch hunt. The Bishop decides that if Joan is turned over to the church, she will be tried her as a heretic, the church will try to save her soul, and then she would be turned over to the church to be burned. The nobleman puts a price on the capture of Joan.

Summary:Scene V

Scene V takes place in a cathedral in Rheims just after the Joan's coronation of the Dauphin. Denois finds Joan praying alone and tries to convince her to go greet the waiting crowds. Joan does not care for the celebrity she's obtained, but misses battle and craves to liberate Paris next. Joan has little support in the King's court, so she considers going home. Charles, who has nothing but complaints about his coronation, would be happy to see Joan go. The new King only wants to sign a peace agreement, so he can avoid work.

The Archbishop warns Joan about the Inquisition and the Bishop's passionate hatred of heretics. He tells Joan that if she is captured in battle, neither the crown, nor the military will save her. Joan musters up her courage and says that even though she is alone, she will have God's strength and the love of the common people to push her through battle until she dies.

Summary: Scene VI

Scene VI takes place in a castle in Rouen, in northern France on May 30, 1431. Joan has been captured, sold to the Nobleman, and has been under a strenuous inquisition for three months. She has been through fifteen examinations, but the Bishop believes that her soul has not yet been saved. Joan and the church find themselves in a bind. She does not lie about her voices and mission, but her honest confessions continue to define her as a heretic.

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