The Legend Of Saint Joan Of Arc

Essay, Research Paper

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 being merely the first among his peers, he bocomes their master" (97). As an enemy of the nation, Jane is obviously disliked amongst the English.

With this lack of popularity around both England and France, it appears that Joan?s execution came with her last chance at leaving on a high note. Four years after her death in 1431, Charles took his army into Paris, the capital of his empire. Though the war is considered to have ended with the capture of Bordeaux in 1453, the war essentially ends with the taking of Paris. Had Joan lived, she most likely would have lost control of the army because of Charles?s lack of faith in her and would have lost even more of the king?s trust and respect because of her recent defeat in battle. These things would have effectively ending the war for her just a short time later, and her fifteen minutes of fame would be over, along with her place in history. With her death, however, she retained the magic and mystique that surrounded her life, thereby making her a legend and a saint. Warwick?s claims in the epilogue are completely founded: "when they make you a saint, you will owe your halo to me, just as this lucky monarch owes his crown to you" (154).

The end of the epilogue affirms these facts to an even greater extent. After all the different characters apologize to Joan for what they had done and praise her for their respective reasons, Joan explains that, as a saint, she can rise from the dead. In this situation, rising from the dead is no different from never having actually died, and thus, will have the same results. The thought apparently frightens the others; they are all, excluding the soldier, able to give reasons as to why she is better off dead, often contrary to what they have just finished apologizing for. Cauchon, after explaining that he was fair and just during the trial, rationalizes that heretics are better off dead, and since humans cannot tell the difference between heretics and saints, she is better off deceased. Dunois simply explains that the world is not good enough for her. Warwick, after apologizing to Joan as "the burning was purely political" (154), now exclaims that even though he is sorry, it had to be done for those same political reasons. The Archbishop, after praising Joan for helping The Church come to its senses, still refuses to bless her but hopes to be blessed by her when he is dead. Like the Archbishop, the inquisitor, after praising Joan for helping the law come to its sense, believes that the trial and upholding the verdict is still important. The chaplain, happy with his humble life, still fears Joan and her power. The gentleman insists that her sainthood could be removed with her resurrection; the executioner says that, because it is his job, it must take place for his family?s sake. Even Charles, after explaining that she has made him independent, says that he should do what Dunois does. Ironically, the only one left is the English soldier from hell whose only comforting remarks are that they will all end up in hell with him. Even those closest to Joan can?t handle the thought of her coming back; all the praise that they have bestowed upon her, including her sainthood hundreds of years later, are reconsidered at the prospect of her return.

The plight of Saint Joan is like that of many celebrities of the modern era, but it can be best compared to a man who died almost two thousand years ago. Her story is much like that of Jesus Christ. Had the Romans not executed Jesus, it is hard to say how his story may have turned out. Much like Joan, Jesus brought forth miracle after miracle, but the higher powers at the time found him to be a heretic and political troublemaker. Had Jesus not been executed, Christianity would not be the world power that it has become, and the legacy of Jesus, like that of Joan?s, would have been diminished greatly. It is likely that the Romans or more powerful Sephardic Jews of the time would have brought him down before the eyes of the public. In fact, had he not "died for his people?s sins," there would probably have hardly been a record of him at all, past that of a great religious figure of the time. And a world without the legend of Jesus Christ would be completely different than one with it ? past, present, and future. The same can be said of Saint Joan; though not nearly as significant as Jesus, there still may have been many different changes in gender equality in the world.

It is hard to say what would have happened to Joan had she lived, as there is no way to tell for sure. When all of the facts are put together, however, they bring about the point that Joan of Arc was nearing her downfall within the political infrastructure of France. She was losing her leverage on King Charles; she was not his only solution any longer. As a stronger, more independent king, he had the option of taking over himself or even negotiating a peace treaty. Therefore, Saint Joan?s death is the only thing that kept her in the limelight for so long. During these recent years, Joan has played an important part as a role model and example for feminism and equal rights speakers everywhere. She has inspired them and leaders of the past to pursue equality as one of the most influential women in the history of the world. As a member of the lists "100 Women Who Shaped World History" and "The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time: A Ranking Past and Present," we can only wonder as to how the world would be today had Joan not been burned at the stake and had not become the legend that she has.


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