1. What influence do Darwin's theory of evolution and associated
schools of thought have on Shaw's interpretation of Joan's story? Cite specific
examples from the text to support your argument.
Essays should discuss the preface's contention that Joan
manifests a "superhuman" "evolutionary appetite," as well as Shaw's
classification of Joan as "what Francis Galton [Darwin's cousin and founding
eugenicist] and other modern investigators of human faculty call a visualizer."
The identification of the law of change as the law of God also reinforces the
importance of evolutionary theory in Shaw's play. One of its overall messages
is that, if human society is to avoid stagnation, it must be sufficiently
tolerant to accommodate those individuals, like Joan, who rise above what Shaw
calls in the preface the "average" humanity. Responses might also point to The
Gentleman from 1920 in the epilogue who, no different from his medieval
counterparts, rejects Joan.
2. In what ways is Joan a Christ-figure in Shaw's play, and
in what ways is she not?
Joan might be regarded as a Christ-figure in Shaw's
drama, as she often has been throughout history and art. The allusion to John
11:50 in Scene IV, for instance, invites such comparisons, as do her claims of
an intimacy with the divine not shared by others, and the fact of her martyrdom-her
rejection at the hands of her own people: "O God," she cries out in the
epilogue, "when will [the earth] be ready to receive Thy saints?" The reactions
of others to her judgment also reinforces a view of her as Christ-like; for
example, Ladvenu's taunting question, "You wicked girl: if your counsel were of
God would He not deliver you?"-high reminiscent of the taunts hurled at Christ
as he hung on the Cross-and in the epilogue, when Joan is rejected by "her own"
(cf. the Prologue to the Gospel of John). Joan seems to have, in Shaw's eyes, a
salvific function, as she represents the "evolutionary appetite" driving
humanity forward. True, Shaw does not portray Joan as perfect; her stubbornness
is a large contributing factor to her death. However, it is the "stubbornness"
of one who is right, and may be viewed on a par with Christ's insistence,
according to the New Testament, on obeying God's will at all costs.
3. Discuss the direct and indirect ways in which Shaw
develops Joan's character throughout the play.
Shaw uses both direct and indirect techniques to develop
Joan's character. He shows us Joan in action and allows us to hear her speech;
thus, for instance, we see her bold approach to people of power in Scenes I,
II, and III, and we hear her talk of her love of France and of God. He also
allows us to "eavesdrop" on others' conversations about Joan, and to hear the
stories and rumors that others tell about her. For example, the discussion the
nobles have in Scene II about the drowning of Foul-Mouthed Frank tells us much
about Joan's power to strike awe into others, just as the arguments about Joan
in Scenes IV and VI do-although in those instances, we learn of Joan's power to
inspire opposition as well as support.
4. Captain Robert de Baudricourt appears only in the first
scene of Saint Joan. How does he, and Scene I in general, establish what
In Shaw's stage directions, we learn that Baudricourt has
"no will of his own," and attempts to compensate for that lack by acting as a
blustery, bellowing bully toward his servants. When confronted by Joan,
however, he becomes almost docile: Shaw's stage directions state, in fact, that
the "sensation" of having "lost ground" before a more forceful personality is
"unwelcome and only too familiar." Whatever the historical Baudricourt may have
been like as a man and a squire, for Shaw's dramatic purposes, he dramatizes a
contrast between an individual of great purpose-Joan-and one of little or no
purpose at all. He epitomizes the effect Joan has on many people throughout the
play. And not only the positive effects: consider his words, "I wash my hands
of it," once he agrees to have his servants escort Joan to the Dauphin. These
words echo those of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus, and represent the
first of many instances in the play where characters attempt to "was their
hands" of the "messiah" they "crucify." Baudricourt is a man of authority and
power who lacks the will, and perhaps even the desire, to use it
positively-anticipating the questions raised in the play as a whole about the
use and abuse of power.
5. As a consequence of his approach to his subject, is
Shaw's Joan ultimately more or less than human?
Although students may focus on any portion of the play in
their response, the preface yields some directly relevant information for
answering this question, in both directions. On the one hand, Shaw goes to
great lengths to "deconstruct" the whitewashed, stained glass construct called
"Joan" that he finds in other writers' and dramatists' works. On the other, he
forcefully argues-how persuasively, individual readers must decide-that Joan
was a "visualizer," a visionary who exemplifies the "evolutionary appetite,"
the force that drives humanity forward into progress and advancement. Surely, Shaw
does not shrink from calling her a "genius" (although just as surely he does
not mean in the strictly intellectual sense). "There was nothing peculiar about
[Joan,]" Shaw declares, "except the vigor and scope of her mind and character,
and the intensity of her vital energy." In this respect, Joan is more than
human. In their essays, students will want to argue whether they believe the
human or more-than-human Joan is ultimately predominant.