St. Joan By George Bernard Shaw Summary and Analysis Epilogue

Summary

The setting in this scene is King Charles' bedchamber, twenty-five years after the last scene. Charles (the former Dauphin) puts aside his book, rings for his servant, and Ladvenu enters, carrying the same cross which he held when The Maid perished at the stake. Now he announces that twenty-five years later, at the court of inquiry for rehabilitation, Joan has been declared innocent of all charges for which she was burned as a heretic. Likewise, her judges have been declared "full of corruption, cozenage, fraud, and malice." Charles, however, is not interested in The Maid, but only in removing the troublesome rumor that he was crowned by a witch and a heretic. Furthermore, he points out that were Joan to return, "they would burn her again within six months . . . so, let The Maid rest." Ladvenu, shocked at this attitude, hastily retreats.

The king again rings for his servant, but the candles go out, and in a flash of lightening, a silhouette is seen and the voice of Joan is heard. She assures Charles that he is dreaming, and she wants to know what has happened in the last twenty-five years. Charles is pleased to report that Joan forced him to become a man; he is now Charles the Victorious, and furthermore, just today, Joan has been vindicated and her judges have been condemned. Joan accepts the information without emotion, saying ironically, "They were as honest a lot of poor fools as ever burned their betters." Charles thinks The Maid should thank him for bringing about justice, but suddenly Peter Cauchon appears between them, contradicting the king. Cauchon complains bitterly of the dishonors done to him: He was excommunicated, and his body was dug up and flung into the sewer — all in order to praise Joan. Cauchon claims that he was "pure of heart" and that he was just, merciful, and faithful. King Charles merely observes that "it is always you good men that do the big mischiefs," whereas he, the king, has simply been serving France. Joan wonders then if the English are really gone, and immediately Dunois, The Bastard, appears to assure Joan that he kept his word: The English are gone. Dunois tells Joan that the French forces won by fighting by Joan's strategies, and he is sorry that he didn't come to her defense and prevent "the priests from burning her."

As the clock strikes, a rough, strange voice is heard "trolling an improvised tune," and a coarse, ruffian-like English soldier appears. He announces that he has come straight from Hell where they give him one day off each year because of one good deed which he has performed. He is about to call it "the silliest thing you ever heard of" when Joan breaks in to explain that this is the soldier who gave her two sticks tied together as a cross when she was about to be burned. The soldier then explains that Hell is not so bad — some "tip top company . . . emperors and popes and kings and all sorts" are to be found there.

Again the door opens, and an old, white-haired priest enters. It is de Stogumber, who has never recovered from witnessing Joan's burning at the stake. He now wanders around aimlessly, exhorting people to be kind to one another. When de Stogumber fails to recognize Joan because he thinks Joan is burnt and dead, the Executioner appears, announcing that Joan is more alive than de Stogumber because Joan's heart would not burn and her spirit is "up and alive everywhere." Warwick then suddenly enters to congratulate Joan on her rehabilitation and explains that the burning was nothing personal, but only a purely political necessity.

Suddenly, a stranger appears, dressed in the fashion of 1920, and therefore eliciting uncontrollable laughter from others for his comic dress. He ignores their frivolous behavior, however, and reads from a recent proclamation that Joan The Maid has now been canonized and elevated to sainthood and that a memorial service to Saint Joan shall be celebrated every thirtieth of May, on the anniversary of her burning. Suddenly, visions of statues of Joan are seen in front of cathedrals, and all kneel to offer Joan praise; then, one by one, each of them tells of how various sectors of society praise her.

Joan interrupts their praise by reminding them that as a saint, she can effect miracles; therefore, she asks them whether or not she should come back to life as a living woman and return to them. This very thought causes immense consternation, and with apologies and excuses, they all state that they prefer that she remain dead. Then they all slip quietly away, leaving her alone with the soldier who gave her the crude cross made of two sticks. As the soldier begins to try to comfort Joan, the stroke of midnight summons him back to Hell. As the rays of white radiant light enfold Joan, she asks God when the world will be ready to receive His saints: "How long, O Lord, how long?"

Analysis

The Epilogue takes place twenty-five years after the main events of the play and is called an Epilogue (and not Scene VII) because it exists in the world of dreams or fantasies, and it projects certain views of Joan after her death and her reactions to these events.

During the twenty-five years, actions have been underway to reverse Joan's conviction, and the scene opens on the day that the reversal has finally been accomplished. Thus, the Epilogue confirms only what the audience has long known. However, the Epilogue is encompassed by a single idea — first, King Charles VII maintains in his opening remarks that were The Maid to return to life, she would be burned again within six months. And the final closing remark of The Maid, after each person has totally rejected the idea of her reappearance, is her question: "How long, O Lord, how long?" — that is, how long will it be before the world will be ready to accept its saints (and its geniuses).

Furthermore, what is not dramatically stated but implied is the reason behind Joan's "rehabilitation." Part of the matter must be accredited to the secular arm of the nation — that is, the Dauphin was crowned by Joan, and now he has become King Charles the Victorious; consequently, it is a sore spot, a blotch on his kinghood that he received his crown from the hands of a convicted witch and a burned heretic. How much, then, the reversal of Joan's conviction was due to political expediency is not solved but, instead, only intimated.

What is also implied in this scene is that in addition to Joan's innocence is the fact that her death could have been avoided. But the world is never willing to accept the distracting aspects of the saint or the genius, and only after that genius is dead does the world realize what it has rejected. Ultimately, Shaw is criticizing his own society for not accepting his own rather radical ideas, ideas that were radical during Shaw's time, but ideas that are now more readily accepted.

As each of the people who once praised Joan for her actions during her life now desert her when she offers to return to earth, we hear the above idea reiterated. Cauchon maintains that Joan is better off dead because, even today, "mortal eyes cannot distinguish the saint from the heretic." The others also find ways of convincing Joan to avoid returning to this world. And, finally, Joan is left alone with the English soldier, ironically the one whom she was left alone with at the stake, and he cannot fully understand her plight and, instead, must return to Hell. Joan, then, is still alone, as she was when she spoke of the loneliness of France and the loneliness of God in Scene Five. The final implication is that the world will never be ready to accept its saints or its geniuses.

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