Art of Theatre and French Figure Joan of Arc

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Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) is an irish playwright, critic, and political activist. His influence on Western theatre started from the 1880s till after his death. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925 becoming the leading dramatist of his generation. Shaw's first play to bring him financial success was Arms and the Man (1894). The press found the play overlong, and accused Shaw of mediocrity, sneering at heroism and patriotism, heartless cleverness, and copying W. S. Gilbert's style. However, the public found a different view of the play and it became a huge success earning him 341 euros in royalties the first year, enough to make him quit his paying job of music critic and continue writing. 

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In the 1890s, Shaw’s plays were better known in print than on the West End stage. His biggest success of the decade was with the play The Devil’s Disciple (1897) which earned the author more than 2000 euros in royalties. During the first decade of the 20th century, more than 14 of Shaw’s plays were staged. The first being John Bull’s Other Island (1904) which was seen by Edward VII who laughed so hard he broke his chair. Man and Superman (1902) was a huge success in 1905 at the Royal Court and in Robert Loraine’s New York production. 

Other works of Shaw that were staged by J. E. Vedrenne and Harley Granville-Barker include Major Barbra (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), and Caesar and Cleopetra (1907). Shaw’s first major work to appear after the first world war was Heartbreak House, written in 1916-1917 and staged in 1920, was cooly received. Shaw's largest-scale theatrical work was Back to Methuselah, written in 1918–20 and staged in 1922. Shaw felt he had exhausted his remaining creative powers in the huge span of this 'Metabiological Pentateuch'. He was now sixty-seven, and expected to write no more plays. However, after Joan of Arc was proclaimed a saint, he decided to write a play about her. He wrote Saint Joan in 1923, and the play premiered on Broadway and was critically acclaimed. After Saint Joan, even the Nobel Prize committee couldn’t ignore Shaw and his works.

Saint Joan is a very well received play by Bernard Shaw about 15th Century French Military figure Joan of Arc. The play reflects Shaw's belief that the people involved in Joan's trial acted according to what they thought was right. This play was described as a “tragedy without any villians” and “Shaw’s only tragedy”. Saint Joan, chronicle play in six scenes and an epilogue, performed in 1923 and published in 1924. It was inspired by the canonization of Joan of Arc in 1920, nearly five centuries after her death in 1431.

Shaw attributes Joan’s visions to her intuition and understanding of her historical mission. The action of the play follows historical events. Shaw’s Joan leads France to victory over the English by dint of her innate intelligence and leadership and not through supernatural guidance. As in the historical record, she is captured and sold to the English, who convict her of heresy and burn her at the stake. Joan is the personification of the tragic heroine; her martyrdom embodies the paradox that humans fear—and often kill—their saints and heroes. The play’s epilogue concerns the overturning of the church’s verdict of heresy in 1456 and her canonization. The play ends with Joan ultimately despairing that mankind will never accept its saints:.

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Art of Theatre and French Figure Joan of Arc. (2022, February 23). WritingBros. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
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