By Charles Matthews

Friday, May 7, 2010

7. "Saint Joan," by George Bernard Shaw, pp. 86-100

Scene 4
We meet the English parallels to the Archbishop and La Trémouille, the chaplain John de Stogumber and the Earl of Warwick, who get right to what Shaw sees to as Joan's greatest threat to the English: exalting nationalist sentiment over feudal loyalty. The introduction to this theme is designed to get a laugh:
THE NOBLEMAN [i.e., Warwick] Oh! you are an Englishman, are you? 
THE CHAPLAIN. Certainly not, my lord: I am a gentleman. 
Shaw goes on to develop the theme in their dialogue:
THE NOBLEMAN. ... Are these Burgundians and Bretons and Picards and Gascons beginning to call themselves Frenchmen, just as our fellows are beginning to call themselves Englishmen? They actually talk of France and England as their countries. T h e i r s, if you please! What is to become of me and you if that way of thinking comes into fashion? ... Men cannot serve two masters. If this cant of serving their country once takes hold of them, goodbye to the authority of their feudal lords, and goodbye to the authority of the Church. That is, goodbye to you and me.
Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, enters, and a dispute over whether Joan is a witch follows -- the Englishmen convinced that they could not have been defeated except through witchcraft.
CAUCHON [fiercely] She is not a witch. She is a heretic.
THE CHAPLAIN. What difference does that make?
CAUCHON. You, a priest, ask me that! You English are strangely blunt in the mind. All these things that you call witchcraft are capable of a natural explanation. The woman's miracles would not impose on a rabbit: she does not claim them as miracles herself.
THE CHAPLAIN. ... Her prayers and confessions are endless. How can she be accused of heresy when she neglects no observance of a faithful daughter of The Church?
CAUCHON [flaming up] A faithful daughter of The Church! The Pope himself at his proudest dare not presume as this woman presumes. She acts as if she herself were The Church. She brings the message of God to Charles; and The Church must stand aside. She will crown him in the cathedral of Rheims: s h e, not The Church! ... Has she ever in all her utterances said one word of The Church? Never. It is always God and herself.
In other words, Joan is a Protestant, like Hus and Wycliffe -- or worse, like Muhammad:
CAUCHON. ... [A]n Arab camel driver drove Christ and His Church out of Jerusalem, and ravaged his way west like a wild beast until at last there stood only the Pyrenees and God's mercy between France and damnation. Yet what did the camel driver do at the beginning more than this shepherd girl is doing? He had his voices from the angel Gabriel: s h e  has her voices from St Catherine and St Margaret and the Blessed Michael.... What will the world be like when The Church's accumulated wisdom and knowledge and experience, its councils of learned, venerable pious men, are thrust into the kennel by every ignorant laborer or dairymaid whom the devil can puff up with the monstrous self-conceit of being directly inspired from heaven?
 So the case against Joan boils down to, as Warwick puts it: "I and my peers represent the feudal aristocracy as you represent The Church. We are the temporal power. Well, do you not see how this girl's idea strikes at us?... It is a cunning device to supersede the aristocracy, and make the king sole and absolute autocrat." Cauchon sees it this way:
When she threatens to drive the English from the soil of France she is undoubtedly thinking of the whole extent of country in which French is spoken. To her the French-speaking people are what the Holy Scriptures describe as a nation. Call this side of her heresy Nationalism if you will: I can find you no better name for it. I can only tell you that it is essentially anti-Catholic and anti-Christian; for the Catholic Church knows only one realm, and that is the realm of Christ's kingdom. Divide that kingdom into nations, and you dethrone Christ. Dethrone Christ, and who will stand between our throats and the sword? The world will perish in a welter of war.
Which it almost did in the seventeenth century.

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