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MonkeyNotes-Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
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PLOT (Synopsis)

The play relates how Joan, a simple and faithful French country girl, sees visions and hears voices that she believes come directly from God. Accepting the visions and voices as God's direction for her life, Joan successfully drives the English from Orleans and crowns the Dauphin as the King of France. She is burned at the stake for her efforts.

Throughout the play, Joan must endure difficulties. She is mocked for dressing up like a man, judged as incapable of defeating the English, and is considered mad for believing that God speaks directly to her. In spite of the criticism she receives, she remains true to the direction of the visions and faithful to her God, whom she puts above the Church and the State.

Through her efforts and persuasiveness, she convinces the Dauphin to give her a horse, armor, and soldiers so she can lead a siege against the English in Orleans. She is successful in her campaign against the enemy, freeing Orleans and winning the admiration of her soldiers and the common people. Encouraged by them and her faith, she plans to march onward to Paris and reclaim the city from the English. Joan is given courage by her belief that God wants her to restore order to France.

The nobility is fearful of Joan, for she is a threat to the power that they hold in the Church and the State. The Earl of Warwick is particularly afraid of her influence and offers a reward for her capture. As a result, she is dragged from her horse, sold to the English as a prisoner of war, imprisoned, tried, condemned as a heretic, and burned at the stake. None of her supporters come to her aid. Although she feels alone in the world, she clings to her faith.


At her trial, Joan is pictured in chains and worn by the strains of long imprisonment. She can barely speak in her own defense and often gives incoherent answers to the Inquisition. She is finally worn down and recants her stories of the visions and voices, believing she can save herself to do God's work. When she learns that she will be imprisoned for life, she tears up the document of recantation. As a result, she is excommunicated by the Church and taken away to be executed. The people, even some of the conspirators, are greatly affected by the cruelty of Joan's burning at the stake and cannot believe her courage and composure. Only the executioner seems unaffected. He comes inside to report to the Earl of Warwick that the deed is done and that Joan's remains have been discarded in the river. He does report, however, that Joan's heart did not burn. It is symbolic of the fact that Joan's purity and goodness will never be forgotten, as evidenced in the fact that she becomes a martyr and is made a saint.

The epilogue takes place twenty-five years after Joan is burned at the stake. Joan's case has been reconsidered by the court, and she has been freed of all charges, totally clearing her name. On the day of the retrial, Charles VII, the previous Dauphin and now King of France, dreams about Joan and her accusers. When they learn that she is to become of saint, the men that caused her early death now praise her; Joan denounces their hypocrisy and threatens to come back to life to live among them. They all flee in terror at the thought, even Dunois, her best friend. Joan ends the play by asking God when mankind will ever understand and honor its saints.

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