St. Joan By George Bernard Shaw Summary and Analysis Scene I

Summary

The scene takes place in the spring of the year 1429 A.D. in the castle of Captain Robert de Baudricourt, a "handsome and physically energetic" man with "no will of his own." Sir Robert is blustering about because there are no eggs. His steward maintains that it is an "act of God" and that the hens will not lay because "there is a spell on us: we are bewitched . . . as long as The Maid is at the door." Sir Robert is thunderstruck that The Maid from Lorraine is still outside because he dismissed her two days ago, but we hear that she will not leave ("she is so positive") until Sir Robert grants her an interview. In a blustering manner, he goes to the window and orders her to come up.

When Joan enters, she is seen to be a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old able-bodied country girl. She immediately informs Sir Robert that he is ordered to give her a horse, armor, and some soldiers, and that he must send her to the Dauphin. Sir Robert is offended that anyone would dare to give him orders, and he is astonished to find out that the "lord" who sent the orders is the "Lord of Heaven." He immediately assumes that the girl is mad. She then tells him exactly the costs of the armor and the horses and that she will not need many soldiers because the Dauphin will provide her with enough soldiers to "raise the siege of Orleans." The voices of Saints Catherine and Margaret have spoken to her and told her that this is to be so. Furthermore, she lets Sir Robert know that some of his noblemen, such as Bertrand de Poulengey (Polly) is anxious to go with her. Hearing this, Sir Robert dismisses The Maid and sends for "Polly."

Sir Robert first chastises Polly about a possible sexual liaison, but he is completely assured that nothing of the sort exists. Nevertheless, The Maid, states Sir Robert, is a "country girl," a "bourgeoise," and is apparently mad. Poulengey, however, reviews the military position: The English (along with their French allies, the Burgundians) hold over half of France; the Dauphin is trapped "like a rat in a corner" and does nothing; even The Bastard (Dunois) cannot save Orleans; thus, what is needed is a miracle: As Poulengey says, "We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!" When Poulengey volunteers to pay for the horse, Sir Robert begins to waver and thus sends once more for The Maid.

When questioned, Joan maintains that she is following the instructions of her "voices" (which she will not further discuss) which tell her that the English "are only men" and that they must be forced to return to "their own country and their own language." She asserts that Sir Robert will live to see the day "when there will not be an English soldier on the soil of France" and when there will be one king — "God's French one."

Sir Robert is finally convinced; he believes that the troops and, ultimately, the Dauphin "might swallow" Joan's conviction and her dedication; maybe even the Dauphin might take courage from Joan's determination. At least, it is worth a try. He thus orders Joan to go to Chinon under Poulengey's escort; she is given a soldier's armor, and she dashes off ecstatically. Sir Robert then admits that "There is something about her." The scene ends with the hens "laying like mad."

Analysis

In the opening scene, some very important aspects of Joan's character are revealed. First, she is seen as a strong-willed person who goes straight to the heart of matters. In contrast, Sir Robert de Baudricourt is described as a person "with no will of his own"; thus, this opening scene shows Joan being able to firmly assert her own will in a direct, forthright, and candid manner. In other words, Joan is an iron-willed woman who very easily dominates Sir Robert, who is seen as a man of many doubts and no strong convictions. As the Steward says of Joan: "Sir, she is so positive." Second, immediately after Joan speaks of her mission as being from God, Sir Robert immediately declares her to be mad. Thus, until her death, the matter of Joan's voices are connected with her sanity and will, of course, become the instrument of her death at the stake. Furthermore, Joan's seeming connection with the supernatural is seen in a rather comic (melodramatic) use of Sir Robert's hens not laying eggs until The Maid has her way. Also, in the discussion between Sir Robert and Polly, we are told that sex has no part in The Maid's demeanor. Since many of Joan's detractors have insinuated a sexual attraction and since, later on, Joan is accused of sexual perversion by wearing men's clothes, Shaw immediately let us know that his Joan does not rely upon sex for her basic appeal. In contrast, Shaw's Joan is essentially asexual throughout the drama.

The subject of miracles is also introduced. A saint is one who is most often associated with a miracle of some sort, and when the situation in France is evaluated, then only a miracle can save France. But, again, the question of Joan's sanity is raised. The irony here is that a saint, by very definition, is not a normal person — a saint is indeed an exceptional (or abnormal) person. Thus, Shaw is very careful to introduce many of his main themes into this first scene. For example, Joan is later to be tried and condemned upon the validity of the "voices" which she hears, and, here, Sir Robert introduces the first skepticism about the voices:

JOAN: . . . you must not talk to me about my voices.

ROBERT: . . . How do you mean? Voices?

JOAN: I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.

ROBERT: They come from your imagination.

Consequently, Joan must be abnormal: She is a country girl of seventeen who hears voices which tell her to shed her female clothing and live with and lead an army of men against the powerful English forces. Her duty is, thus, to drive the English out by uniting the French forces which, until now, have lacked discipline, direction, and inspired leadership. It is this very inspiration which will ultimately make Joan so successful — even though later it is often iterated that she could instinctively grasp battle tactics and strategic placements of artillery. At the end of the scene, even Sir Robert takes up the general statement, "There is something about her."

Theatrically, Shaw opens and closes the scene with the melodramatic device of the absurd pseudo-miracle of the eggs. This is ultimately a true comment because most people, once convinced that a person is a saint, will then attribute all sorts of "miracles" to the person.

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