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

Summary

This scene is set inside the door of the Cathedral at Rheims, where the Dauphin has just been coronated King Charles VII. Joan is seen kneeling before one of the "stations of the cross." Dunois enters, hoping to bring Joan outside and present her to the masses who are calling for her, but Joan says that she wants Charles, the new king, "to have all the glory." In a discussion between them, Dunois reveals that Joan, while adored by the common soldiers and the masses, does not have many friends at Court. When Joan fails to comprehend the Court's animosity toward her, Dunois explains that she has constantly proven herself superior to important and influential men, and now she, and not the Archbishop, is responsible for crowning Charles; these important personages resent being revealed as incompetent. If this be the case, Joan says, she will return to her farm after she has taken Paris. When Dunois warns her that many would prefer that Paris (that is, the enemy) would take her, Joan explains that it is this type of wickedness which makes her rely on her voices, which gives her the confidence to keep going. Her discussion of her voices tends to unnerve Dunois, who would think that she were crazy were it not for her very sensible and logical reasons for her battle strategy.

Bluebeard and La Hire enter as Charles complains about the weight of his coronation robes and the rancid smell of the holy oil. When he hears that The Maid plans to return home, he is greatly pleased, which, in turn, discourages Joan. As she is talking with the others, she suddenly tells Dunois: "Before I go home, let's take Paris." This deeply distresses and horrifies the king, who wants an immediate treaty and no more fighting. As Joan becomes impatient with the king, the Archbishop enters and tries to restrain Joan's impetuosity. When Joan speaks rather sharply to the Archbishop, he reprimands her for disregarding the authority of the Church and for having clothed herself in the "sin of pride," inviting just punishment for her excessive pride. Joan asserts that her voices are her own authority, and she recalls the many triumphs which she has effected. She asserts simply: "You don't know how to begin a battle, and you don't know how to use your cannons. And I do."

Dunois interrupts to acknowledge that while God was on her side earlier, the time of miracles is now over; it is now time to rely on military experience. Furthermore, Joan never concerns herself with costs, supplies, and manpower. Dunois then points out that if Joan is captured, there is no one who will come forward to ransom or rescue her, that even he himself will not sacrifice one soldier's life for her, but she asserts that France (that is, the Crown) will ransom her. Charles immediately denies this, especially since expenses of this dreadful coronation which she forced on him have taken his last cent. When she puts her trust in the Church to aid her, the Archbishop warns her that "they will drag you through the streets and burn you as a witch," that Peter Cauchon knows his business of convicting a heretic. Joan is dumbfounded. She has acted only as God has instructed her to act; she cannot believe that the Church will not protect her now. When the Archbishop accuses her of being "proud and disobedient," Joan protests, asking how she could be disobedient when she has faithfully obeyed her voices — the voices that "come from God." When the Archbishop asserts that the "voices" are only the "echoes of your own willfulness," Joan simply points out one basic truth: Her voices have always been right, and all of her earthly counsels have always been wrong. The Archbishop ignores this fact and gives her a last warning: If Joan continues to follow her judgment rather than the Church's, she will be disowned by the Church (the Archbishop), by the Crown (King Charles), and by the Army (Dunois): "You will stand alone: absolutely alone."

Joan then confronts her earthly compatriots and plaintively cries out that she has always been alone on this earth — in the same way that France is alone and bleeding, and in the same way that God Himself is alone. She hoped to find friends of God in the court of France because God is a friend of everyone, but she now knows that as the loneliness of God is His strength, so too, shall her loneliness be her strength. In God's name, she says, she now has the strength to confront the enemy until she dies. She will go to the common people who love her and, there, will gain enough strength from their love to comfort her for the hatred which these men of power hold for her; then, if she is indeed burnt at the stake, she will go through the fire to the hearts of the common people forever and ever. She departs, saying: "God be with me."

At first, all are silenced; then Bluebeard remarks that The Maid is "quite impossible." Dunois says that, personally, he would jump into a river fully armored to rescue her, but if she were caught by the enemy in a foolish campaign, he would "leave her to her doom." La Hire, however, is inspired to follow her — even to Hell. The Archbishop is disturbed in his judgment, and Charles wishes only that Joan would be quiet and go home.

Analysis

After Scene Four set up the intellectual ideas and forces working against Joan, Scene Five returns to the personage of Joan herself and presents her at the decisive turning point in her life — her determination to rely upon the authority of her voices rather than accept the authority of the Church and the other earthly advisers or counselors.

In the opening of this scene, we see Joan refusing to accept the accolades of the crowd and, instead, being submissive and praying for guidance. When Dunois speaks of Joan's enemies, we see into the mind of a genius who is unable to comprehend the animosity which others feel toward her — especially since she is simply trying to help them. Like Socrates of ancient Greece who questioned people so as to show them their ignorance and was thus resented and put to death, so Joan cannot understand it when the people whom she has helped now resent her help; even after Dunois explains to Joan that most people do not like to be shown up as being incompetent, she cannot comprehend other people's hatred for her. Joan, in her innocence, has done only what is good for France. But note that even her strongest defender is troubled when Joan speaks of her "voices"; she can only justify the voices because, through them, she is able to give perfectly logical reasons for her many victories. She has proven over and over again to be a better general on the battlefield than is the most experienced professional, but then she states simply, "You don't know how to begin a battle and I do, and you don't know how to use your cannons. And I do." This is a simple statement of fact, but the Archbishop interprets this to be a sin of excessive pride (or the Greek hubris), and the others condemn her for this type of statement. They refuse to acknowledge that Joan has superior military acumen.

Shaw, in emphasizing Joan's sin as being a sin of hubris, as the Archbishop constantly reiterates, seems to be implying that Joan is of the stature of the ancient Greek subjects of tragedy, people such as Oedipus, or Agamemnon, and others. And whereas such great tragic figures as Oedipus and Hamlet had to stand alone against overwhelming odds, thus Joan too knows that she must now stand alone. Her refusal to listen to the earthly counsels (which have always been wrong) and her insistence upon listening to her own private voices (which have always been right) cut her off from France, from the Church, and from the Army. Whereas the Archbishop and others see her as proud and disobedient, yet her pride lies in the fact that she believes absolutely in her voices and in the very common-sensical reality of her own victories. As she told Dunois earlier, her voices come to her as a sort of poetry through the bells of the churches at times when she is silent and receptive to the voices; likewise, they could come to others if only others would also be receptive to them. In this point, Joan is the true mystic, believing that what is mystic to herself is available to everyone — if only they would be receptive.

In her powerful and climactic speech on being alone and on the subject of loneliness itself, Joan realizes that her responsibility is to a higher power than is represented by any of these earthly counselors. As is always the case with the genuine saint, Joan realizes that she is "alone on earth." In asserting her aloneness, Joan has now cut herself off from all of the powers of France, and she must now stand alone, with only the love of the common people to give her strength.

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