Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw, 1924
Shaw, the Irish playwright, essayist, and commentator, wrote over 60 plays, and this is considered his masterpiece. The only person to be awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award, Shaw undertakes to rescue Joan of Arc from a historical maelstrom. Her successful efforts in leading the French to overthrow the siege of Orleans turned the tide in the war with the English in 1429 after Henry V was victorious at Agincourt in 1415. The teen-age Joan, hearing voices and dressed in the armor of a common male soldier, succeeds in rallying the French and effecting the coronation of Charles VII. Despite or because of that, she is tried for heresy, convicted, and burned at the stake (choosing death rather than life in prison) in 1431 only to be exonerated 25 years later by the Vatican. Her reevaluation continued with Napoleon, the publication of the trial transcripts in 1841, beatification in 1909, and canonization in 1920. In telling her story, Shaw takes every opportunity to display the venality and corruption of both church and state and the purity, though likely nuttiness as well, of Joan. Shaw’s introduction to the play in this edition (Bobbs-Merrill-Shaw, 1971) is superb and made me want to read more by and about this fascinating man.