Scene IV of Shaw’s Saint Joan and Joan’s Opposition

June 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

“My Lord is the King of Heaven” (633; sc. 1). With these words, Joan of Arc, heroine in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, declares her allegiance to God. But with these words, she also implies their corrolary: Joan yields to no other authority. The Maid believes she possesses a personal relationship with God which the Church cannot mediate. Her voices tell her to liberate France and entrust the entirety of French-speaking lands to one king, crowned and anointed before God. Her goal of France for the French, however, threatens the existing feudal system. Joan’s seemingly innocuous plan to oust the English and crown the Dauphin in fact threatens two of the most powerful forces of her time: the Catholic Church and the feudal lords. Representatives of these two forces align and conspire against Joan in Scene IV of Shaw’s play. This scene crystallizes the complex motivations of the Church and its secular counterpart and the threat The Maid poses to both. Joan acts devout and religious. Although some accuse her of sorcery and witchcraft, these deeds seem trivial to Cauchon, the Church’s representative in scene IV. “All these things that you call witchcraft are capable of a natural explanation,” he chides. “The woman’s miracles would not impose on a rabbit [… ]” (652; sc. 4). Her heresy, he explains, does not derive from acts against God but rather acts against the Church. Joan acts as if she possesses the ability to interpret God’s will and execute it on earth, a power reserved for the Church. She writes letters to the English king admonishing him to leave French soil, claiming she speaks God’s will and threatening to enforce His decree. “[…T]he writing of such letters was the practice of the accursed Mahomet, the anti-Christ,” Cauchon explains (653; sc. 4). Joan also intends to crown the Dauphin herself, acting as God’s representative at the holy coronation. Cauchon argues, “Has she ever in all her utterances said one work of The Church? Never. It is always God and herself” (653; sc. 4). Joan represents a new form of religion which thrives on an individual relationship with God rather than the edicts of the Church. According to Cauchon, the devil “is spreading this heresy everywhere” (653; sc. 4). He compares Joan to John Huss and John Wycliff, forerunners of Martin Luther’s Protestant revolution. Thus, not only does Joan act as if she possesses the Church’s power, but she rejects the need for the Church entirely.Joan also unintentionally threatens the feudal system. She says that God meant for France to be occupied by French-speaking people and England by English-speaking, but in her crusade to roit the English, she seemingly attempts to unite France as one nation state. The Earl of Warwick, the feudal system’s representative in scene IV, frets over the dissolving ties between peasant and feudal lord, lamenting, “Are these Burgundians and Bretons and Picards and Gascons beginning to call themselves Frenchmen […]? They actually talk of France and England as their countries” (650; sc. 4). Joan’s ideas would elevate the status of the King with respect to the feudal lords. If the people consider themselves French first, then their allegiance necessarily goes to the French king first and their lords second. As Warwick explains, “Her idea is that the kings should give their realms to God, and then reign as God’s bailiffs” (655; sc. 4). Cauchon believes this to be “sound theologically” (655; sc. 4), but Warwick strongly disagrees. “It is a cunning device to supersede the aristocracy […]. Instead of the king being merely the first among his peers, he becomes their master. […] By The Maid’s doctrine the king will take our lands […] and make them a present to God; and God will then vest them wholly in the king” (655; sc. 4). Joan’s aspiration to free France thus disrupts the pervasive hierarchy within the feudal system and makes her an enemy of the feudal lords.Joan’s heresy carries two labels. Warwick declares, “I should call it Protestantism […]” (655; sc.4) while Cauchon explains, “[…T]he French speaking people are what the Holy Scriptures describe as a nation. Call this side of her heresy Nationalism […]” (656; sc. 4). But, as Warwick observes, “These two ideas of hers are the same idea at the bottom. […]It is the protest of the individual soul against the interference of priest or peer between the private man and his God” (655; sc. 4). Joan threatens to integrate allegiance to God with allegiance to King, belittling the secular and the religious intermediaries in the process. Her ideas challenge the roots of the fifteenth century power structure and place her directly in opposition to these dominant forces. She is doomed to incur their wrath. As Warwick observes, “Well, if you will burn the Protestant, I will burn the Nationalist […]” (656; sc. 4). And this is exactly what they do.

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