Saint Joan

By George Bernard Shaw


Welcome to the enchanting world of Saint Joan, a remarkable play penned by the illustrious George Bernard Shaw 📚✨. Nestled within the rich tapestry of literature, this work stands out as a compelling examination of martyrdom, nationalism, and the complexities of heroism. Written in 1923, amidst the backdrop of post-World War I reflection, Shaw introduces us to the legendary figure of Joan of Arc, reimagined through his insightful and often witty perspective.

George Bernard Shaw, a titan of the literary world, was not just a playwright but a fervent critic, polemicist, and political activist. His sharp wit and critical eye turned towards society’s most pressing issues, earning him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925. Saint Joan is one of Shaw’s later works, showcasing his matured thought process and literary prowess.

Diving into the genre, Saint Joan is categorized as a historical drama, yet it transcends traditional boundaries. Shaw infuses the play with elements of tragedy, comedy, and historical documentary, weaving a rich narrative that challenges and entertains. The play’s unique blend of genres mirrors the complex nature of its heroine, Joan of Arc, who, despite the passage of centuries, continues to captivate and inspire.

So, buckle up as we embark on this journey through time and thought, exploring the life of a young woman who changed the course of history with her faith, courage, and conviction. Welcome to Saint Joan! 🌟🛡️

Plot Summary

Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw unfolds in a series of vivid scenes that bring to life the tumultuous journey of Joan of Arc, from her humble beginnings to her tragic demise and eventual canonization. Let’s break down the main events of the play:

Exposition — The play opens in the castle of Vaucouleurs in 1429, where a young peasant girl, Joan, convinces the local commander, Robert de Baudricourt, to support her mission to drive the English out of France and crown the Dauphin, Charles VII.

Rising Action — Joan gains followers and leads French troops to lift the siege of Orléans, showcasing her remarkable leadership and military prowess. Her victories and the crowning of Charles VII in Rheims solidify her reputation as a divinely inspired warrior.

Climax — Despite her successes, Joan faces opposition from the French nobility and church authorities, who view her as a threat to their power. Her insistence on continuing the fight against the English and her rejection of traditional gender roles lead to her capture by the Burgundians.

Falling Action — Joan is sold to the English and put on trial for heresy and witchcraft. Despite the ecclesiastical court’s attempts to intimidate her, Joan remains steadfast in her convictions, refusing to renounce her visions or her mission.

Resolution — Joan is convicted and burned at the stake, a martyr to her cause. However, the play concludes with an epilogue set in 1456, where a posthumous retrial clears her of all charges, and in 1920, reflecting her canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church.

Throughout the play, Shaw masterfully blends historical fact with his unique interpretation, emphasizing Joan’s courage, her challenge to societal norms, and the complex political and religious dynamics of her time. The journey of Saint Joan, from a determined peasant girl to a condemned heretic, and finally to a canonized saint, offers a profound commentary on faith, nationalism, and the power of individual conviction.

Character Analysis

Saint Joan features a cast of characters that are as complex as they are captivating, each contributing to the intricate tapestry of the play’s narrative. Here’s a closer look at the main characters and their development throughout the story:

  • Joan — A young, determined peasant girl who believes she is on a divine mission to save France from English domination. Her faith, courage, and unconventional tactics not only change the course of the war but also challenge the societal and religious norms of her time. Joan’s character evolves from a naive and earnest girl into a formidable and visionary leader, ultimately becoming a martyr and a saint.
  • Robert de Baudricourt — The commander of Vaucouleurs who initially dismisses Joan’s claims but eventually becomes one of her first supporters. His transformation from skepticism to belief underscores the compelling nature of Joan’s conviction.
  • Charles VII — The Dauphin of France, portrayed as weak-willed and indecisive. Joan’s influence helps him gain the confidence to be crowned King of France. His character’s development highlights the impact of Joan’s faith and determination on those around her.
  • Bishop Pierre Cauchon — Represents the church’s authority, leading the trial against Joan. His character embodies the conflict between institutional religion and personal faith, demonstrating the complexities of power, belief, and justice.
  • Earl of Warwick — An English commander who views Joan as a threat to the English occupation of France. His pragmatic approach to dealing with Joan contrasts with the spiritual and emotional motivations of other characters.
  • Dunois, Bastard of Orléans — A French commander who becomes one of Joan’s staunchest allies. His character development from skepticism to admiration for Joan emphasizes the transformative power of her leadership and conviction.

Here’s a summary of their character analysis in a table format:

JoanCourageous, visionaryTo save France and obey her divine callingEvolves from naive girl to national hero
Robert de BaudricourtSkeptical, pragmaticTo maintain his position and powerTransforms from skeptic to believer
Charles VIIIndecisive, insecureTo secure his throneGrows in confidence due to Joan’s influence
Bishop Pierre CauchonAuthoritative, conflictedTo uphold church authority and doctrineStruggles with the challenge Joan poses to the church
Earl of WarwickPractical, ruthlessTo maintain English control of FranceRemains pragmatic throughout
DunoisSkeptical, loyalTo liberate Orléans and FranceBecomes inspired by Joan’s faith and courage

Joan’s journey through the play dramatically impacts each character, prompting them to confront their beliefs, loyalties, and motivations. Shaw’s rich character development offers a deep dive into the human psyche, exploring themes of faith, power, and the struggle for authenticity in a conflicted world.

Themes and Symbols

Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw is a treasure trove of themes and symbols, each contributing to the play’s rich tapestry of meaning and the exploration of its historical and ideological landscapes. Let’s delve into the major themes and symbols Shaw presents:


  • The Nature of Heroism and Martyrdom — Joan represents a new kind of heroism that transcends traditional military victories to include moral and spiritual triumphs. Her martyrdom further elevates her status, challenging the conventional notions of victory and sacrifice.
  • The Conflict Between Individualism and Authority — Joan’s personal convictions and her direct communication with the divine put her at odds with the established authorities of the church and state. This theme underscores the tension between personal integrity and the demands of social conformity.
  • The Fluidity of Historical Truth — Shaw suggests that history is not a fixed narrative but a series of interpretations influenced by the victors, societal norms, and the passage of time. Joan’s varying receptions, from heretic to saint, highlight the subjective nature of historical legacy.
  • Gender and Power — Joan’s defiance of gender roles, as a woman leading men in battle and challenging male-dominated hierarchies, speaks to the themes of gender and power dynamics. Shaw examines how gender expectations influence social and political power structures.


  • Joan’s Armor — A symbol of her defiance of gender norms and her role as a protector of France. It also represents the merging of her spiritual purity with her martial prowess.
  • The Sword — Found at Joan’s insistence in the church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois, the sword symbolizes divine approval of Joan’s mission. It also represents the intersection of faith and action in her life.
  • Fire — Used during Joan’s execution, fire symbolizes both destruction and purification. In her death, Joan is purified by her faith and sacrifice, leaving behind a legacy that would burn away the injustices of her time.
  • The Crown — Symbolizes legitimate authority and divine right. Joan’s mission to crown Charles VII serves as a symbol of her divine mandate as well as the restoration of proper leadership to France.

These themes and symbols weave together to form a complex narrative that questions and celebrates the human spirit in the face of adversity. Shaw’s Saint Joan is not just a historical drama but a profound exploration of faith, identity, and the struggle for justice in a changing world.

Style and Tone

George Bernard Shaw’s writing style and tone in Saint Joan are as dynamic and nuanced as the play’s iconic protagonist. Through his masterful use of language, Shaw crafts a narrative that is both historically grounded and strikingly modern, reflecting the timeless relevance of Joan’s story. Let’s explore how these elements contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the play:

  • Witty and Intellectual Dialogue — Shaw is renowned for his sharp wit and intellectual discourse, which shine through in the dialogues of Saint Joan. Characters engage in spirited debates on theology, politics, and morality, infusing the play with a lively and engaging tone that challenges the audience to think deeply about the issues presented.
  • Blending of Genres — Shaw seamlessly blends elements of tragedy, comedy, and historical drama, creating a multifaceted narrative that defies easy categorization. This eclectic style reflects the complexity of Joan’s character and her extraordinary life, offering a rich and varied emotional experience for the audience.
  • Modern Sensibilities — Despite its historical setting, Shaw imbues the play with a modern sensibility, addressing themes of gender equality, individualism, and the nature of heroism in ways that resonate with contemporary audiences. His use of modern language and ideas, juxtaposed with the historical context, enhances the play’s accessibility and relevance.
  • Empathetic Tone — Shaw’s portrayal of Joan is marked by a deep empathy for her and her mission. While he does not shy away from critiquing the institutions and individuals who oppose her, his overall tone is one of admiration and respect for Joan’s courage and conviction. This empathetic approach invites the audience to connect with Joan on a personal level, fostering a deeper understanding of her character and her historical significance.
  • Dramatic Irony — Shaw employs dramatic irony throughout the play, particularly in foreshadowing Joan’s fate and the posthumous reversal of her condemnation. This use of irony adds a layer of complexity to the narrative, highlighting the tragic disconnect between Joan’s purity of purpose and the misunderstandings and machinations that lead to her downfall.

Through these stylistic and tonal choices, Shaw crafts a work that is both a tribute to a remarkable historical figure and a nuanced exploration of themes that continue to resonate today. Saint Joan stands as a testament to Shaw’s literary genius and his ability to engage with historical material in a way that speaks to the human condition across the ages.

Literary Devices used in Saint Joan

George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan is a masterclass in the use of literary devices, each serving to deepen our understanding of the characters and themes while enhancing the play’s dramatic impact. Here are the top 10 literary devices Shaw employs:

  1. Irony — Shaw uses irony to highlight the contradictions between Joan’s perception by different characters and her actual motivations and actions. The stark contrast between Joan’s genuine spiritual convictions and the accusations of heresy against her is a poignant example.
  2. Symbolism — Various symbols, such as Joan’s armor and the crown of Charles VII, are used to represent broader themes of gender roles, divine mission, and authority.
  3. Foreshadowing — Shaw subtly hints at future events, particularly Joan’s martyrdom, through the dialogue and actions of the characters. This builds tension and prepares the audience for the play’s tragic conclusion.
  4. Metaphor — The play is rich in metaphors, such as comparing Joan’s mission to a spark that ignites the flame of French nationalism and resistance against the English occupation.
  5. Allusion — Shaw incorporates allusions to historical events and figures to provide context and deepen the narrative. References to the Hundred Years’ War and figures like Charles VII and the Duke of Burgundy enrich the story’s historical setting.
  6. Dialogue — The intellectual and witty dialogue not only showcases Shaw’s writing style but also serves to develop characters and advance the plot. The exchanges between Joan and her adversaries are particularly effective in revealing her unshakeable faith and courage.
  7. Pathos — Shaw evokes a deep sense of empathy for Joan, especially during her trial and execution. The emotional appeal is a powerful tool in connecting the audience with Joan’s plight.
  8. Satire — The play contains elements of satire, particularly in its critique of the Church and the social and political institutions of the time. Shaw uses humor and irony to criticize the hypocrisy and corruption within these institutions.
  9. Personification — Shaw personifies concepts such as nationalism and divine inspiration, giving them tangible presence in Joan’s motivations and actions, and in the reactions of those around her.
  10. Dramatic Irony — The audience is aware of Joan’s eventual canonization and vindication, a fact unknown to the characters within the play. This creates a layer of dramatic irony that adds depth to the narrative.

Each of these literary devices plays a crucial role in weaving the complex tapestry of Saint Joan, enriching the play’s thematic depth and emotional resonance. Shaw’s skillful use of these techniques contributes significantly to the play’s enduring appeal and its capacity to engage and provoke thought among its audiences.

Literary Devices Examples

To illustrate how George Bernard Shaw skillfully employs literary devices in Saint Joan, let’s examine specific examples for each of the top 10 devices mentioned:


Example 1

  • Device: Verbal Irony
  • Example: When Joan claims to hear voices that guide her, those in power mock her divine guidance, yet they themselves often act on less noble advisements.
  • Explanation: This highlights the irony of Joan’s sincere spiritual experiences being dismissed by those who are supposed to be spiritual leaders.

Example 2

  • Device: Situational Irony
  • Example: Joan fights for the French crown, only to be abandoned by the king she helped crown.
  • Explanation: This situation is ironic because the very authority she restores betrays her, showcasing the fickle nature of political alliances.


Example 1

  • Device: Symbol
  • Example: Joan’s armor represents both her strength and the challenge she poses to gender norms of her time.
  • Explanation: The armor symbolizes her role as a warrior, which defies the traditional gender roles expected of her.

Example 2

  • Device: Symbol
  • Example: The fire at Joan’s execution symbolizes both her martyrdom and purification.
  • Explanation: Fire, which destroys, also purifies, reflecting the dual nature of Joan’s legacy – condemned in her time, yet sanctified in history.


Example 1

  • Device: Foreshadowing
  • Example: Early references to fire and burning hint at Joan’s eventual fate.
  • Explanation: These references prepare the audience for her martyrdom, adding a layer of inevitability to her story.


Example 1

  • Device: Metaphor
  • Example: Joan is often referred to as a “spark” that will ignite France.
  • Explanation: This metaphorical language illustrates her role as a catalyst for change and revolution in French history.


Example 1

  • Device: Allusion
  • Example: References to biblical figures and saints.
  • Explanation: These allusions place Joan’s actions within a broader context of divine intervention and historical destiny.


Example 1

  • Device: Dialogue
  • Example: The trial scenes, where Joan’s words showcase her unwavering faith and wit.
  • Explanation: Through these exchanges, Shaw reveals Joan’s character and the hypocrisy of her accusers.


Example 1

  • Device: Pathos
  • Example: Joan’s heartfelt speeches during her trial.
  • Explanation: These speeches appeal to the audience’s emotions, generating sympathy for Joan and her cause.


Example 1

  • Device: Satire
  • Example: Shaw’s portrayal of the church and state officials as corrupt and self-serving.
  • Explanation: This satirical depiction criticizes the institutions that betray Joan despite their professed values.


Example 1

  • Device: Personification
  • Example: The personification of France as a body in need of healing, with Joan as its savior.
  • Explanation: This gives the concept of national recovery a tangible form, making Joan’s mission feel more urgent and necessary.

Dramatic Irony

Example 1

  • Device: Dramatic Irony
  • Example: The audience knows of Joan’s eventual sainthood, even as characters in the play doubt her.
  • Explanation: This creates a sense of superiority in the audience, knowing Joan’s accusers are wrong long before they come to realize it themselves.

These examples highlight Shaw’s adept use of literary devices in Saint Joan, enriching the narrative and inviting deeper reflection on its themes and characters.

Saint Joan – FAQs

Q: What is the historical context of Saint Joan?
A: Saint Joan is set during the latter part of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), specifically focusing on Joan of Arc’s role in lifting the siege of Orléans in 1429, leading Charles VII to his coronation, and her subsequent trial and execution in 1431. The play was written by George Bernard Shaw in 1923, reflecting post-World War I sentiments and the questioning of traditional heroism and authority.

Q: Who was George Bernard Shaw?
A: George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and political activist known for his wit, satire, and social criticisms. A leading figure in the 20th-century theater, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925. His works often discuss societal issues, and he is remembered for his sharp social commentary and contributions to literature and the stage.

Q: How does Shaw portray Joan of Arc?
A: Shaw portrays Joan of Arc as a complex, strong-willed, and visionary leader, driven by divine inspiration and an unwavering commitment to her cause. He highlights her intelligence, courage, and unconventional tactics, as well as her challenges to the social and religious norms of her time. Shaw’s Joan is both a national hero and a human being, navigating the intricacies of politics, faith, and gender expectations.

Q: What are the main themes of Saint Joan?
A: The main themes include the nature of heroism and martyrdom, the conflict between individualism and authority, the fluidity of historical truth, and the dynamics of gender and power. Shaw explores these themes through the lens of Joan’s life, offering commentary on faith, identity, and the struggle for justice.

Q: How does Saint Joan end?
A: Saint Joan ends with Joan’s execution by burning at the stake after being convicted of heresy. However, Shaw includes an epilogue set in 1456, where a posthumous retrial clears her of all charges, and in 1920, reflecting her canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church. The play thus concludes on a note of vindication for Joan, suggesting her lasting legacy and the eventual recognition of her sanctity and heroism.

Q: Why is Saint Joan significant in literature?
A: Saint Joan is significant for its innovative treatment of a historical figure, blending elements of tragedy, comedy, and historical drama. Shaw’s play challenges traditional narratives and perspectives on Joan of Arc, offering a nuanced exploration of her life and legacy. It stands as a testament to Shaw’s literary skill, his ability to engage with historical material in a thoughtful and provocative manner, and his contributions to modern drama.


Here’s a quiz designed to test comprehension of Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. It covers key plot points, characters, and themes, offering a fun way to review the play.

What motivates Joan to begin her mission to save France?Her family’s statusA dream of becoming queenDivine voices and visionsA desire for wealthC
Who initially supports Joan in her mission?The Archbishop of RheimsRobert de BaudricourtThe Earl of WarwickBishop Pierre CauchonB
What significant event does Joan achieve that proves her divine mission?She wins a duel against the English generalShe lifts the siege of OrléansShe convinces the Dauphin to abdicateShe finds a sacred sword buried in a fieldB
Why is Joan eventually captured and put on trial?She is betrayed by the French nobilityShe loses a battle against the EnglishHer visions are declared hereticalShe attempts to overthrow the kingC
What is the outcome of Joan’s trial?She is acquitted and becomes a nobleShe escapes from prisonShe is convicted and executedShe is declared a saint and releasedC
How does George Bernard Shaw portray the character of Joan?As a naive peasant girlAs a manipulative politicianAs a visionary leader and martyrAs a traitor to FranceC
What major theme does the play explore?The futility of warThe conflict between individualism and authorityThe power of loveThe importance of wealthB

This quiz offers a snapshot of the complex narrative and thematic depth found in Saint Joan, encouraging a deeper engagement with Shaw’s masterpiece.


In this exercise, you’ll practice identifying literary devices used in a paragraph from Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. Read the paragraph carefully, and then try to spot the literary devices present.

Paragraph for Analysis:

“Joan, the maid of Lorraine, stands alone in the English courtroom, her spirit unbroken by the chains that bind her. Around her, the air is thick with accusations of heresy and witchcraft, yet she holds her head high, a beacon of faith in a sea of doubt. Her words, sharp as the sword she once wielded, cut through the cacophony of voices, reaching for the truth that lies beyond the grasp of her judges. In this moment, Joan transcends the mortal confines of her trial, embodying the eternal struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood.”

Devices to Identify:

  1. Metaphor
  2. Personification
  3. Allusion
  4. Irony
  5. Symbolism


  1. Metaphor – “a beacon of faith in a sea of doubt” compares Joan’s unwavering faith to a guiding light amidst uncertainty.
  2. Personification – “Her words, sharp as the sword she once wielded, cut through the cacophony of voices” gives human qualities to her words, suggesting they have the power to penetrate and clarify.
  3. Allusion – “the maid of Lorraine” refers to Joan’s historical and cultural identity, linking her to her past and the divine mission she claimed to have.
  4. Irony – The irony lies in the fact that Joan, accused of heresy and witchcraft, exhibits more faith and moral clarity than her accusers.
  5. Symbolism – The “chains that bind her” symbolize not only her physical imprisonment but also the societal and institutional constraints against her beliefs and actions.

This exercise helps to deepen understanding of how literary devices enrich the text, adding layers of meaning and enhancing the reader’s engagement with the narrative.