Places: Saint Joan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1924

First produced: 1923

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Early fifteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Vaucouleurs castle

*Vaucouleurs Saint Joancastle (voh-kew-lewr). Castle of Robert de Baudricourt in which the play opens. A historical place, the castle stands near the Meuse River, between Lorraine and Champagne, not far from Joan’s home village of Domremy. The castle represents the first stage of Joan’s odyssey to fulfill her Lord’s commands; she must convince Robert to supply her with a horse and an escort to Chinon, where she wants to see the Dauphin, the heir presumptive to the French throne.

The seeming invulnerability of the Vaucouleurs stronghold is indicated by the furnishings of the first-floor room where Robert sits: a “plain strong oak table,” a “stout four-legged stool,” and a wooden chest. His position on a floor above Joan, which allows him to look down upon her in the lower courtyard, indicates his social superiority. A doorway leads to a winding stair to the courtyard, where Joan waits impatiently for an audience with Robert. When Robert’s knight Bertrand de Poulengy enters the castle, he places the stool between the table and the window, just as he acts as an intermediary between Joan and Robert.

Although he is weak-willed, Robert tries to be as imposing as his castle when he finally admits Joan, who easily deflects his arguments with her presumption that her miraculous mission and her logical reasons will enlighten him. This scene represents the triumph of human reason over class snobbery, and identifies Joan as the herald of democracy.

*Chinon

*Chinon (sheeh-NON). Town in Touraine where Joan meets the Dauphin. The curtain that separates the antechamber in which the second scene takes place from the Chinon throne room hints at the curtains that screen the realities of power from ostensible ones. Immature and perhaps illegitimate, the Dauphin is ignored by the real powers in France–his government ministers and the leaders of the Church. To test Joan’s claims that she has been sent by God, the Dauphin and Bluebeard exchange their clothing and their places in the ceremonial order. By immediately recognizing the disguised Dauphin, Joan inspires courage in him, and he gives her charge of the French army. Joan thus demonstrates that common sense may prevail over pretensions, and that places, even the throne room, fail to intimidate her, armed as she is with the sword of God.

*Battlefields

*Battlefields. In battles between the French and English on the banks of the Loire River, at Orleans, Joan demonstrates that her conception of warfare makes more sense than the prevailing view of war as a kind of game. The wind that changes direction in the favor of the French not only suggests Joan’s divine mission, but hints at a change in Joan’s fortune. Indeed, Joan is reported wounded in these scenes. In spite of her wound, she continues to fight, firming the resolve of her army, and firming the resolve of the Church’s leaders to burn her, as she places her own private judgments above the dictates of the Church.

*Rheims

*Rheims (reemz; now spelled Reims). Historic city in northeastern France whose cathedral was the traditional site of royal coronations. The play’s fifth scene is set in an ambulatory near the foot of the cathedral’s vestry, where Joan prays beneath a cross while the Dauphin is crowned King Charles VII. This ancient site of the crowning of kings parallels Joan’s fortunes, as she is at the height of her powers, the point at which her fortunes are about to change because she has incurred the indignation of the Church.

*Rouen castle

*Rouen castle (REW-ahn). Normandy city on the lower Seine, west of Paris, where Joan is tried for heresy in the stone hall of the city’s great castle. In scene 6, the elevated seating of the many ecclesiastical judges is juxtaposed with the plain wooden stool below on which she sits, indicating the extent to which the odds are stacked against Joan. Despite her good sense, the political intrigues and subtle theological sophistries of the Church overwhelm Joan’s youthful and unschooled naïveté, and she is condemned to be burnt in the adjoining courtyard, indicated by the reddening of the window of the castle.

King’s château

King’s château. The epilogue occurs on a restless night in 1456, the year Joan was officially rehabilitated. Now king for many years, Charles dreams of Joan and the other participants in the drama that had occurred some twenty-five years earlier. His bed is raised, and the canopy bears the royal arms, but other than that, nothing distinguishes this room from an ordinary bedroom, just as nothing inherent indicates the superiority of the man himself. A sudden darkness in the room indicates that, while Joan accomplished her goals with regard to Charles, neither he nor anyone else wants her to return, as saints are easier to tolerate dead than alive.

Sources for Further StudyAstell, Ann W. “Shaw’s Saint Joan: Judging Joan and Her Judges.” In Joan of Arc and Sacrificial Authorship. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. A reasoned reading of Saint Joan in the light of Shaw’s Marxism.Hill, Holly. Playing Joan: Actresses on the Challenge of Shaw’s Saint Joan. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987. Consists of twenty-six interviews with actresses who have played the role of Joan, sometimes in languages other than English. Partly anecdotal, the collection provides insight into the varied interpretations of the play.Holroyd, Michael. 1918-1950: The Lure of Fantasy. Vol. 3 in Bernard Shaw. New York: Random House, 1991. Part of Holroyd’s magisterial biography of Shaw. Provides a brief analysis of Saint Joan as well as a great deal of information on the circumstances surrounding its creation and production. Also includes an excellent analysis of the development of Shaw’s ideas.Nightingale, Benedict. A Reader’s Guide to Fifty Modern British Plays. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982. Considers Shaw and thirty-three other British playwrights and thus provides a historical, comparative context for Shaw’s work. Includes a concise analysis of Saint Joan and four other Shaw plays.Pharand, Michel W. “Part 4: Shaw and Jeanne d’Arc.” In Bernard Shaw and the French. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. The reception of Shaw’s Saint Joan in France, with reference to an inventory of more than a hundred plays about Saint Joan; indispensable for the world reputation of Shaw’s play.Tyson, Brian. The Story of Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” Montreal, Que.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1982. Examination of Shaw’s conception and composition of Saint Joan and its first reception and later influence on twentieth century drama.Weintraub, Stanley, ed. Saint Joan: Fifty Years After 1923/24-1973/74. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973. A treasure trove of positive and negative analyses from twenty-five distinguished writers on Saint Joan.
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