Don’t miss the Chicago debut of the renowned Shaw Festival of Canada! Combining his most refined and provocative political thinking with fiercely poetic, passionate writing, Shaw retells the story of Joan of Arc, who ignited a nationalism that dictated the make-up of Europe until World War I. The production features acclaimed Canadian actors Tara Rosling and Ben Carlson, last seen as CST’s Hamlet (2006).
Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (including intermission)
"Profoundly moving and thought-provoking...
the great Shaw acting ensemble is here in force."
– The Globe and Mail
"Rosling [as Joan] frequently brings tears to your eyes
and shivers down your back."
– Toronto Star
"Articulate, potent, indeed shattering theater."
– The Detroit News
"Clear, compelling and gripping."
– Canadian Broadcast Corporation
Funding for Saint Joan provided by the Julius Frankel Foundation, The Rhoades Foundation and by a grant from the Governor's International Arts Exchange Program of the Illinois Arts Council.
Saint Joan is presented in the Jentes Family Auditorium.
“Joan of Arc, a village girl from Domrémy, was born in about 1412; burnt for heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery in 1431; rehabilitated after a fashion in 1456; designated Venerable in 1904; declared Blessed in 1908; and finally canonized in 1920.
She is the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.”
These are Shaw’s words to describe Jeanne d’Arc, a woman about whom Shaw said there were only two opinions: “One was that she was miraculous; the other that she was unbearable.”
The play begins in 1429 (two years before her execution) and depicts the sixteen-year old Joan as a young woman whom the soldiers, despite themselves, are drawn to. They stop swearing in her presence and eventually find themselves swayed by her fierce passions and draw strength from her bold courage. Shaw describes her upon her first entrance as “very confident, very appealing, very hard to resist” and her first line of dialogue speaks to all three qualities:
Joan: Good morning, captain squire. Captain: you are to give me a horse and armor and some soldiers, and send me to the Dauphin. Those are your orders from my Lord.
She patiently explains to the flabbergasted Robert De Baudricourt that she requires these items so that she may convince the Dauphin to recapture Orléans from the English invaders. Joan tells him that the blessed Saints Catherine and Margaret speak to her every day and they will bless him and assist them all. When the squire asks the men who have agreed to fight with her how they can follow this woman, the only explanation they can provide is to say that there is “something” about her. Something.
She makes her way to the court of Charles, the soon-to-be King of France, and persuades Dunois, a brilliant soldier, to join her in battle at Orléans. Charles gives her command of his army:
Joan: Who is for God and his Maid? Who is for Orléans with me?
The men: For God and his Maid! For Orléans!
Stories of her unbelievable courage lead some to believe she is a cunning warrior and some to believe she is an instrument of the devil. Her devotion to her native country has also spawned a new feeling amongst the people, a potentially dangerous feeling, a love which may usurp the authority of feudal lords, of the Church—a love of country called Nationalism. She is also called a Protestant and an enemy of the Catholic church. And she is accused of being rebel. A rebel against nature for dressing as a man, a rebel against the Church by usurping the divine authority of the Pope and a rebel against God.
Joan is put on trial for heresy—for believing she has a direct connection to God, and her “diabolical pride”. And on May 30, 1431 she is burned at the stake. The Executioner tells us that amongst the ashes of her burned body, what remained, what refused to burn, was her heart.
For this production of the play, director Jackie Maxwell was inspired by the play’s epilogue. In it, a cleric appears to King Charles as a kind of ‘ghost of the future’ from the year 1920 and announces that Joan has been made a saint. For director Maxwell, this became the inspiration for her vision of the play: “I thought, that’s the beginning of the play: the end of World War One. Nationalism is what fueled European politics right through until the First World War.”
Nationalism then becomes the thread linking Saint Joan’s medieval world, to Shaw’s post-World War I world to our contemporary world. “I feel … that it’s time to produce Saint Joan again. The notion of nationhood is still tearing the world apart in various different ways, so again, let’s look at that; let’s look at how it all started.”
Written in 1923 and informed by Shaw’s horror over World War I, he wrote the play after reading the transcripts of Joan’s trial. In his introduction, Shaw writes about notions of tolerance, and questions whether modern societies would react any differently to the appearance of such a woman. What is the limit of our tolerance? How much rebellion can a society bear? What would happen today if a woman like Joan of Arc appeared and told us to fight?