The Legend of Saint Joan of Arc

Bernard Shaw?s famous play Saint Joan recalls the legend of a young girl who leads her nation to an improbable victory against the English. Joan of Arc has since become a role model for girls and women everywhere as a woman who conquered seemingly indomitable odds in a world of men. But one must wonder: Would the legend of Saint Joan have the magnificence that it does had Joan not been burned when she was? Is the grandeur of the story of Joan of Arc found in her life or in her death?

The first step to learning the answer is by understanding the French and English opinions of Joan. When Joan defeats the English at Orleans, she earns the respect of her French peers as a competent general and an extraordinary person. She is not viewed as someone special or revered; she is simply a good, brave soldier. Then their opinions of her begin to change ? she is no longer seen as the unstoppable, driving force of the French military. The second time around, they expect her to meet defeat at the hands of the English, with or without God?s support. The French even begin to question her religious motivation: "When you first came you respected [the authority of The Church], and would not have dared to speak as you are now speaking. You came clothed with the virtue of humility; and because God blessed your enterprises accordingly, you have stained yourself with the sin of pride" (105-6) exclaims the Archbishop. The Church is the authoritative voice throughout France, as well as throughout England, and Joan?s dissension causes the French nobility to lose faith in her and in her abilities. "The voice of God on earth is the voice of the Church Militant; and all the voices that come to you are the echoes of your own wilfulness " (110). Even after her victories against the English and her crowning of the Charles as King of France, Charles distrusts the authenticity of Joan?s voices. "Why dont the voices come to me?" he asks. "I am king, not you" (106). The faith he had in Joan when he gave her complete control of his military and resources is depleted; the way that he speaks to her now is bitter and contains a hint of annoyance with her. Even Dunois, her friend and fellow general, feels that her assistance from heaven has run out; only the better tactician, the better army, and a little bit of luck can decide the outcome of her battles now. With the new lack of support among the French towards Joan, her popularity among the nobility is spiraling quickly downwards.

The English see Joan as an enemy of England, the feudal system, and The Catholic Church, as she is considered to either be a witch or a heretic. Cauchon has different worries about her existence than Warwick does; he is more concerned about the religious aspects of her being, while Warwick worries more about the temporal aspects. Cauchon sees the girl as an enemy of The Church for multiple reasons. Firstly, he believes that Satan inspires Joan to commit her heresy rather than God or saints; this diabolical influence threatens the well being of Joan?s soul. Secondly, Cauchon sees Joan?s attempts at Nationalism as anti-Catholic and anti-Christian because it splits up Christ?s kingdom. Thirdly, he feels that she creates a bad influence on other men and women, which could bring dire consequences in the future, because it spreads the idea of Protestantism. Cauchon asks, "What will the world be like when The Church?s accumulated wisdom and knowledge and experience, its councils of learned, venerable pious men, are thrust into the kennel by every ignorant laborer or dairymaid whom the devil can puff up with the monstrous self-conceit of being directly inspired from heaven?" (95). Warwick views Joan of Arc in a different light. While Warwick also regards Joan?s nationalism negatively, he does so for two secular reasons. First, obviously, England is losing land with every defeat to Joan. Secondly, as a lord himself, he has no wish to become a servant to the king; he prefers the power he already holds. As Warwick exclaims, "It is a cunning device to supersede the aristocracy, and make the king sole and absolute autocrat. Instead of the king