By Charles Matthews

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1. "Saint Joan," by George Bernard Shaw, pp. vii-11

"On Playing Joan," by Imogen Stubbs. "Introduction," by Joley Wood. "Preface," by George Bernard Shaw, through "...and not as a different kind of animal with specific charms and specific imbecilities."
Imogen Stubbs is a charming actress, and so are her remarks about playing the part, specifically the point that Joan was a teenage girl -- and her cheeky comment that "the 47-year-old Sibyl Thorndike" is said to have played Joan "definitively."

Wood's introduction points out that Saint Joan is credited with being the play that won Shaw the Nobel Prize in 1925. "Joan's brash yet accurate critique of authority resonated with Shaw, and he realized that her canonization risked whitewashing this most Shavian quality of hers." In Shaw's vision of the character, "it is Joan's strengths, not her faults, that bring about her downfall."
Shaw saw the irony of how Joan, after four long centuries, was being brought into the fold of a suppressive authority she stood against. Thus when she is canonized a saint in the Epilogue, Shaw has Joan state ''But I never made any such claim.'' Joan's situation is ironically reflected in Shaw's winning the Nobel Prize for the play. In its own way the prize is a canonization of his spirit, yet it is hardly in keeping with the anti-establishment tone of his drama.
Wood characterizes the play as "a kind of absurdist social critique" in which Joan "is sent into an irrational situation" that only she sees as unsound "and this situation is then logically followed to it irrational conclusion."
Joan's desire to communicate directly with her god without an overly-bureaucratic clergy intervening reveals a church that has unknowingly placed itself above the deity.
Joan, Shaw says, "was pure upstart," so that "there were only two opinions about her. One that she was miraculous: the other that she was unbearable." He likens her to Socrates, also put to death for unconventional ideas:
His accuser, if born 2300 years later, might have been picked out of any first class carriage on a suburban railway during the evening or morning rush from or to the City; for he had really nothing to say except that he and his like could not endure being shewn up as idiots every time Socrates opened his mouth.
Unlike Joan and Socrates, Napoleon died in his bed, thereby "proving that it is far more dangerous to be a saint than to be a conqueror. Those who have been both, like Mahomet and Joan, have found that it is the conqueror who must save the saint, and that defeat and capture mean martyrdom."

The portrayal of Joan in "Henry VI, Part I" "grossly libels her." History has turned on her side, but Shaw thinks it is her judges who have continued to be libeled: "Joan got a far fairer trial from the Church and the Inquisition than any prisoner of her type gets nowadays in any official secular court; and the decision was strictly according to law."

Joan as genius and saint: "A genius is a person who, seeing farther and probing deeper than other people, has a different set of ethical valuations from theirs, and has energy enough to give effect to this extra vision and its valuations in whatever manner best suits his or her specific talents." Shaw, of course, thought of himself as this kind of genius.

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