An Analysis of Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
*No Works Cited
Saint Joan is considered to be one of George Bernard Shaw's greatest works. The play deals with subject matter pertaining to events after the Death of Joan of Arc. In the play, Shaw avoids many problems identified by critics as prevalent in some of his other writing. Some have criticized Shaw, claiming that he tends to portray unrealistic archetypal characters, rather than well-rounded believable individuals. His plays have also been described as lacking action and being too didactic. In Saint Joan, Shaw reduced the intensity of these previously criticized typically Shavian elements and thus, met with much critical success. However, in my view, the play's epilogue is redundant and unnecessary. It essentially repeats and reinforces the events of the play without enhancing the drama. And serves to add historical facts which are either familiar to the audience or which could have been inserted skillfully into the body of the play for
greater dramatic effect. It seems almost as if Shaw was afraid that his audience would not understand the play - he felt compelled to make his ideas clearer in the epilogue.
The action of the epilogue takes place twenty-five years after Joan of Arc was burned. King Charles has a dream in which many of the characters of the play appear. These characters, including Joan, either explain their behavior that we've seen throughout the play or relate some historical fact that Shaw must have seen as necessary for the audience to be aware of. The first character that appears at Charles' bed is Brother Martin Ladvenu, who in Scene VI participated in the trial leading to Joan’s conviction. During the examination, Ladvenu makes every effort to spare Joan from being convicted a heretic and tries to give her the opportunity to be "saved." In addition, he says to her, "Joan: we are all trying to save you. His lordship is trying to save you. The Inquisitor could not be more just to you if you were his own daughter." He shows that he is earnest in his desire for the truth to ultimately prevail, and for Joan to be saved. After Joan’s death, he is one of the first to recognize that a mistake has been made. Describing her death, he says "...she looked up to heaven. And I do not believe that the heavens were empty. I firmly believe that her Savior appeared to her...This is not the end for her, but the beginning."
In the epilogue, Ladvenu's main function is to relay the fact that Joan has been absolved and rehabilitated and that he was a primary mover toward such absolution. He says, "Twenty-five years have passed since [Joan's burning]: nearly ten thousand days." This is pure exposition necessary only to orient the audience. He continues, "And on every one of those days I have prayed God to justify His daughter on earth as she is justified in heaven." This just illustrates that Ladvenu believes that Joan was...