Saint Joan: Character Profiles

Average Overall Rating: 5
Total Votes: 125

The Dauphin, later King Charles VII, is a reluctant ruler, more eager for a lack of hostility than he is to govern the kingdom that is rightfully his. He seeks to avoid responsibility and decision-making, and, in Shaw's play, he is all but forced by Joan into his royal position. Perhaps the playwright is contrasting those who are called "great" by the world and those are truly great, those who imagine, the "Galtonic visualizers" (see the preface). Imagination is not a quality Shaw's Dauphin can be said to possess! He is weak and easily bullied-including, readers note, "bullied" by Joan his own greatest champion. (He says as much when he complains to Joan in Scene V that his coronation was her fault.) Charles does not seem to grow any as a character during the course of the play. By the epilogue, he does lead his own troops into battle, but he is still self-centered, concerned only that Joan's rehabilitation twenty-five years after her death will lay to rest any questions about the legitimacy of his reign.

 
Captain Jack Dunois is described by Shaw in the stage directions as "a goodnatured and capable man who has no affectations and no foolish illusions." Shaw depicts him as both friendly with and respectful of Joan. Indeed, he seems to be the only true friend she has. He is a true military man who shares his expertise with the Maid: "Come! let me begin to make a soldier of you." He urges her not to press on to Paris, not out of fear (as seems to be King Charles' motivation), but out of concern for her. Yet even he abandons Joan in the epilogue's dream sequence, although he does so out of what seems to be a genuine awareness of his own status compared to her: "Forgive us, Joan: we are not yet good enough for you."
 
Chaplain de Stogumber typifies one medieval religious reaction to Joan: that she was a witch. Stogumber's objection to the Maid is that she is "unnatural"-leading armies into battle, wearing male garb, and so forth. Yet even as Stogumber is fully medieval in this aspect of his thinking, he is, paradoxically, modern in another: he is a burgeoning Nationalist: "I was born in England," he proudly declares, "and it makes a difference." Ironically, in his love of his native country, he is not unlike Joan, whom he regards as his enemy. In that sense, nationalism unites them.
 
The Earl of Warwick exemplifies the pragmatism of which Shaw writes in his preface-a pragmatism, readers will recall, that Shaw credited Joan with having as well. Upon Warwick's introduction in Scene IV, however, the audience will realize how such pragmatism, such realism, such "commonsense" becomes a double-edged sword that can work against Joan as well as for her. As a pragmatic man, the Earl of Warwick is not truly concerned with the Church's condemnation or rehabilitation of Joan: he is concerned only that Joan undercuts his authority as a feudal lord, and therefore she must be destroyed.
 
Bishop Cauchon emerges in Shaw's play as a man who wants to do what is right, but who is unable to do so. Indeed, readers should consider the possibility that Shaw establishes Cauchon as a "foil" in many ways to Joan herself. Like Joan, he is a person of principle, even if his principles serve the interest of the Church and not of the individual conscience or imagination (for instance, his repeated insistence that the Church is not subject to political necessity). As Joan is (literally) sanctified after her death, Cauchon, we learn in the epilogue, is (virtually) demonized after his. And yet his words in the epilogue could just as easily have come from Joan's mouth: "I was faithful to my light: I could do no other than I did."
 
Joan is, of course, the focus of the play. There can be little doubt that Shaw honestly attempts to present a human Joan. But readers will have to conclude if he has truly done so, especially given the drama's famous final line: "O God. when will [the world] be ready to receive Thy saints?" Surely, Joan is not a "saint" for Shaw in the medieval sense of a miracle-worker. Yet she is a "saint" of the imagination, and, for all the ways in which she may be like us, she may remain, even for Shaw, fundamentally of a different order.

Quotes: Search by Author

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z