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ST. JOAN (PENGUIN PLAYS & SCREENPLAYS) by…
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ST. JOAN (PENGUIN PLAYS & SCREENPLAYS) (edition 1985)

by GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,452105,157 (3.78)31
jrgoetziii's review
Would be 5 stars but anyone who writes a preface of 50 pages (in very small print) for a play of 100 pages (in normal print) is absurdly arrogant, and especially when they try to claim that this particular story is a melodrama and not a tragedy.

The play itself is, in fact, clearly a tragedy--St Joan is a noble character (a chaste teenage girl who leads armies in a faltering independence movement and inspires them to victory), brought down by a fatal flaw (burned after insisting, through pride and obstinacy, that she should go take Compeigne even when King Charles, the Archbishop, and her co-captain Dunois say they will offer no protection, then refusing, during her trial, to comply with the demands made of her by the English and the Church), with pity and catharsis cleansing the audience's emotions at the end (where everything about her burns except her heart, she is given two sticks with which to make a cross by an English soldier, she saves a life by not letting a cross burn in a man's hands when he brings it near her, and her ghost appears to a bunch of apologetic characters twenty-some-odd years later).

I would say it's one of the best plays I've read, and I've read many of them, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Milton (Samson Agonistes), Moliere, Addison, Chekhov, Sheridan, Goethe, Synge, O'Neill, Williams, Kushner (ugh!), and so on and so forth...I highly recommend it for 8th-10th grade students, and I know that it was assigned when I was in high school (don't tell anyone I didn't read it then!). ( )
2 vote jrgoetziii | May 28, 2012 |
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"The most inevitable dramatic conception, then, of the nineteenth century is that of a perfectly naive hero upsetting religion, law and order in all directions, and establishing in their palce the unfettered action of Humanity . . ." (GBS writing in The Perfect Wagnerite.)
In Saint Joan Shaw attempted, and perhaps achieved, a masterpiece based on this conception. The play is a perfect example of the hero as victim transformed into savior. In the first scene the Robert de Baudricourt ridicules Joan, but his servant feels inspired by her words. Eventually de Baudricourt begins to feel the same sense of inspiration, and gives his consent to Joan. The servant enters at the end of the scene to exclaim that the hens, who had been unable to lay eggs, have begun to lay eggs again. De Baudricourt interprets this as a sign from God of Joan's divine inspiration. It is with this simple beginning that the spirited spirituality of the seemingly innocent young Joan begins to take over the play to the point where she is leading the French troops against the British. Her voice exhibits a lively purity that is augmented by an unlimited imagination. Both her voice and her visions are inspirational, but cannot protect her from ultimate betrayal. The result of that betrayal leads to the end that we are all familiar with.
Shaw's play features Joan as an outsider who seems lonely only when she is among those who voiced the common opinions of the day. Her multi-faceted personality is hidden behind her single-minded pursuit of a vision of god's design for her life. Saint Joan is a tragedy without villains. The tragedy exists in a view of human nature where the incredulity of intolerance of both religious and secular forces battle each other. It is made even more interesting by Shaw's epilogue that brings the play into the current time and provides an opportunity for Shaw to discuss the play with the audience. Whether this play is truly great or almost great it is definitely Shaw at his dramatic best. ( )
  jwhenderson | Feb 22, 2014 |
I enjoyed the lengthy preface, which should by all rights be its own work. Shaw's arguments about "toleration" and the relationship between genius society were especially thought-provoking. Why should we take exception to what seemingly contradicts or overturns our preconceptions, if not because we simply don't understand? Feels like I've heard this argument so many times, but never phrased like Shaw puts it. ( )
  amelish | Sep 12, 2013 |
Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, of Protestant stock, in 1856, and died at Ayot St. Lawrence, Herts., in 1950.
  Roger_Scoppie | Apr 3, 2013 |
Would be 5 stars but anyone who writes a preface of 50 pages (in very small print) for a play of 100 pages (in normal print) is absurdly arrogant, and especially when they try to claim that this particular story is a melodrama and not a tragedy.

The play itself is, in fact, clearly a tragedy--St Joan is a noble character (a chaste teenage girl who leads armies in a faltering independence movement and inspires them to victory), brought down by a fatal flaw (burned after insisting, through pride and obstinacy, that she should go take Compeigne even when King Charles, the Archbishop, and her co-captain Dunois say they will offer no protection, then refusing, during her trial, to comply with the demands made of her by the English and the Church), with pity and catharsis cleansing the audience's emotions at the end (where everything about her burns except her heart, she is given two sticks with which to make a cross by an English soldier, she saves a life by not letting a cross burn in a man's hands when he brings it near her, and her ghost appears to a bunch of apologetic characters twenty-some-odd years later).

I would say it's one of the best plays I've read, and I've read many of them, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Milton (Samson Agonistes), Moliere, Addison, Chekhov, Sheridan, Goethe, Synge, O'Neill, Williams, Kushner (ugh!), and so on and so forth...I highly recommend it for 8th-10th grade students, and I know that it was assigned when I was in high school (don't tell anyone I didn't read it then!). ( )
2 vote jrgoetziii | May 28, 2012 |
Certainly not my favorite Shaw. I found this play quite dull and for some reason was very annoyed with the main character, even though she is the heroine. Seems very dated somehow and not terribly relevant. ( )
  kishields | Aug 16, 2010 |
Contains an Extensive Preface - most notable is page 44
  mosemann | Dec 31, 2009 |
An ingenious play in beautiful language. The key to the appeal of the piece lies in its initial moral ambiguity. ( )
  TheoClarke | Oct 22, 2009 |
Joan of Arc, born in 1412, was burned at the stake in 1431, canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920, and, like most saints, whitewashed by history. Canonization tends to strip a saint of supposedly un-Christian attributes such as rebelliousness, pride, and intolerance. And Joan, despite having been a stubborn, haughty, naive, even foolish girl, has for much of history been remembered only as a pious martyr. However, George Bernard Shaw's play, Saint Joan, completed in 1925, began the modern rehabilitation of the icon as a fully human, fallible character--not to mention a poster girl for teenage rebellion and feminism. Shaw's Joan, like the real Maid of Orleans, leads the fight to drive the English out of her native France, insists on direct communication with her God instead of submitting to the mediation of Catholic priests, and refuses to dress, speak, or act according to traditional notions of how women were expected to behave. Until the closing scene of Shaw's play, however, neither Joan nor her foes are cast in neatly heroic terms. Both are earnestly pursuing their partial visions of the truth. In the play's famous epilogue, Shaw suggests that even 400 years later, most of us are so limited by our own perspectives that we are unable to tell the difference between a saint and a heretic. "O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints?" Joan asks, preparing for her death. "How long, O Lord, how long?" ( )
1 vote Helger55 | Apr 27, 2008 |
The play 's the thing. Saint Joan is an excellent example of Shaw's work and, I think, that excellence coupled with the time of Joan's becoming a saint gave Shaw the Swedish Merit Badge.

Shaw's preface is too clever by half and the self important lecture can be skipped with no real harm to understanding the play. The play itself is notable for a lack of villians. That makes it extraordinary and much of the dialouge is skilled and thoughtful. ( )
  Smiley | Aug 4, 2007 |
I did not know much about Joan of Arc before I read this. The book really made her real for me. Of course Shaw did not "know" Joan, but he portrays her in such a real and believable way that I was continuously comparing the character to people I have met in my life. I realized that whether or not Shaw was close to the mark or not, Joan had to be an exceptional person. One who I would have liked to have met. ( )
  pickwick817 | Jan 15, 2007 |
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