Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The protagonist of the play is Joan of Arc. She believes that she has been chosen by God to save her country from confusion and destruction. Her faith is the result of the purity of her conscience and her firm belief in her Maker and his purpose for her.. She does not give up her pursuit even when she knows that she will be condemned and burned at the stake. She dies as a martyr for her cause. After she dies, she is glorified as a Saint.
The antagonists in this play are both the church and the state. The wily and treacherous triumvirate of cowardly conspirators -- the Earl of Warwick (Richard De Beauchamp), the Bishop of Beauvais (Peter Cauchon), and Chaplain De Stogumber -- represents the church and the state, both of which are characterized by set and rigid beliefs. Shaw believes that the church and the state feared any voice of truth that might inconvenience them and would conspire to crush these threatening elements. The Bishop and the Earl of Warwick really have no personal malice towards Joan but condemn her because she is seen as a supreme threat to the systems that they represent.
The play represents a clash of Joan's conscience, faith, and belief in God's truth with the rigid pre-set judgements of the church and state.
The climax of the play occurs when Joan, victorious in battle, is tricked and captured by her enemies as she is trying to return to England.
The Earl of Warwick has offered a reward for her capture. As a result, she is dragged from her horse and imprisoned. There are no miracles to save her, and nobody considers her worthy enough to pay her ransom. In spite of her treatment and the anger of the archbishop, she clings to her faith in her visions and voices.
In the end, she recognizes that she stands alone, but her loneliness gives her strength.
There are two outcomes to this play. The more immediate outcome is Joan's being condemned and burned at the stake in 1429. This is a tragic end because it shows that the conspirators have triumphed over Joan, which is the triumph of evil over good.
The second outcome, which takes place twenty-five years later, has a basically comic end. By 1456, the courts have decided to reconsider Joan's case, for both friends and foes now praise her efforts. She also appears in a dream to Charles VII, the former Dauphin. In addition, a strange apparition from the future appears and announces Joan's canonization, which occurs in 1920.
Joan proposes that she should return to earth; but her closest friends, including Dunois, hesitate over this suggestion and flee from her. She wonders when earth will be ready to receive its saints and asks God, "How long, how long?" As a result, even the epilogue, where Joan is recognized as a Saint, has a tinge of bitterness.