Saint Joan is a historical play in the sense that this drama is based on the facts of history and its chief characters and events are taken from history. But as ‘Saint Joan’ is a drama, it is not a mere transcript of history, but an imaginative treatment of the facts of history blended with fiction. In spite of much authenticity, there is much modification in details and minor matters, much shifting, ordering, condensening and compressing of material. In this way this historic play is a blend of fact and fiction.
“Joan of Arc, a village girl from Domrémy, was born in about 1412; burnt for heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery in 1431… declared Blessed in 1908; and finally canonized in 1920. She is the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.” These are Shaw’s words to describe Jeanne d’Arc. She was a teenage peasant girl who crowned a reluctant king, rallied a broken people, reversed the course of a great war, and pushed history onto a new path. Both warrior and mystic, reviled as a heretic and witch, revered as a savior and eventual as a saint, Joan of Arc strikes a chord in history that reverberates across the centuries and calls out to us even today. She is a woman about whom Shaw said there were only two opinions: “One was that she was miraculous; the other that she was unbearable.”
Life and Career of Joan: In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the presentation of the Maid ends in mere scurrility, Schiiller’s account of her has no contact with history and Voltire has made her ridiculous. But as for Saint Joan of Shaw, she was gifted with sound commonsense, and her cuccessful plans were rational and wise; but her faith is religion was mystical. “Her powers were human, but her confidence was devine.” “ The romance of Joan’s rise, the tragedy of her execution, and the comedy of the attempts of posterity to make amends for that execution,” have been presented with rare fidelity.
Medieval Atmosphere: In the preface, Shaw says, “to understand Joan’s history, it is not enough to understand her character; you must understand her environment as well.” It is true that the truth to history has been achieved by medieval atmosphere. He himself has taken care, “to let the medieval atmosphere blow through my play freely.” He brought the medieval institution like the church, the Holy Inquisition, the Feudalism, the divine inspiration, the torture, the executioner etc. the medieval atmosphere has been further accentuated by light skillful touches . The credulity of the Middle Ages, their superstitions, as belief in witchcraft and magic, their faith in religion, God and miracles, have all been emphasized.
Shifting and Ordering of Material; Character- Creation: Saint Joan is not a mere transcript or photographic reproduction of history. It is a work of art and as such in the interest of dramatic effectiveness, the dramatist has restored to much ordering and selection of material. While the records of the trial mere accurate and elaborate, and so very helpful, the dramatist could not get much help from history as regards his characters. They are all historical figures, no doubt, but not much could be known about their character and personality. The dramatist has himself to fill up and amplify the barest hints that he could get from history. As he himself tells us, "But I really know no more about there men...for them Shakespeare's manner." the minor characters specially are, therefore, admirable pieces of character -creation. Besides this, he was limited by the facts of stage-representation. It was for this reason that he has indulged in much condensation and compression of material. The trial of Joan and her burning at the stake have been presented in the drama as the business merely of half and hour or so, while in reality the trial of the Maid dragged on for more than a year
Shaw used the records of the original trial and appeals preserved by the Roman Catholic Church as his primary sources for the play. Saint Joan’s story has been told in poetry, novels, plays, and films in many different ways and with many different views of her as a person. Very little was known about her even in her own time and no pictures remain or perhaps ever existed. Her story has often been romanticized. Shaw’s play may very well be closer to the truth than most other versions were.
Colbourne said, “Saint Joan is a model for all historical plays”. It is not enough to give merely the facts of history. The facts must also be interpreted and made intelligible to the readers, this is Shaw‘s achievement in the play.
However, in the concluding part... (write on your own)