Joan of Arc in G.B. Shaw´s "Saint Joan" and Friedrich Schiller´s "The Maid of Orleans"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

19 Pages, Grade: 1.5


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Joan of Arc, the historical figure

3. Brief biography of Shaw and Schiller
3.1. George Bernard Shaw
3.2. Friedrich Schiller

4. Summary of the two plots
4.1 G.B. Shaw´s „Saint Joan“
4.2 Friedrich Schiller´s „The Maid of Orleans“

5. Analysis
5.1. Joan´s outward appearance
5.2. Joan´s voices and visions
5.3. Joan´s mission
5.4. Joan´s downfall

6. Shaw´s basic ideas and his criticism on Schiller´s play

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

I write this essay within the scope of the seminar „History, Religion and the Modern Drama”. The drama “Saint Joan” by George Bernard Shaw was one of the major works we took a closer look at in the course of the semester and analysed from different points of view. The tragic work, which has been considered one of Shaw’s greatest and most important ones, has been hailed as being intellectually exciting and praised for dealing with important themes as nationalism, war, and the relation of the individual to society. The play certainly solidified Shaw's reputation as a major playwright.

Without any doubt “Saint Joan” is a very complex work, which offers a wide range of aspects open to interpretation. I decided to focus on the way Shaw depicts the character of Joan, because - apart from the historically picture of her person and the circumstances of her time - Shaw manages to interlace his own ideas on progress, nationalism and religion into the character of Joan. Therefore analysing her person and the role she fulfils within the drama is of central importance to get access to Shaw’s main ideas. Aside from the analysis of Joan’s character in G. B. Shaw’s drama, I decided to draw a comparison between Shaw´s main figure and the way Friedrich Schiller portrays the character of Johanna in his work “The Maid of Orleans”, which appeared at the beginning of the 19th century. Even though these two works both deal with the historical figure Joan of Arc, there are some huge differences not only concerning the portrayal of the historical events, but excessively so concerning the depiction of Joan’s character. These distinctions can certainly be ascribed to the particular features of Romanticism on the one hand, which is at the core of Schiller´s work, and early Modernism on the other hand, which is at the bottom of Shaw’s drama.

As a first step I want to start with a presentation of the historical figure Joan of Arc since it was her who inspired Shaw and Schiller to make Joan the protagonist of their literary work. Secondly I want to present a brief biography of Schiller and Shaw to get an idea about their life and the circumstances which have influenced their literary work. As a next step I will give a summary of both plots, presenting the main events. This way we get a rough impression about the protagonist’s involvement in the play and have a basis for the further analysis, which is meant to compare some central ideas about Joan that each playwright interpreted in his very own style. Then I want to point out some of Shaw’s basic ideas and point out what he thought about Schillers tragedy and how he justified his criticism on the play. Finally I want to take a critical look on my findings and come up with my conclusion.

2. Joan of Arc, the historical figure

In order to understand the character Joan of Arc, it is inevitable to take a closer look at the political situation of France at the end of the 14th/beginning of the 15th century. The major focus at that time was the conflict between England and France, which were at war intermittently between 1337 and 1453 based on the fact that Edward III of England and later Henry V lay claim to the French throne. It was in 1428 that the English forces occupied the northern part of France and lay siege to Orleans. At this point the young country girl Joan of Arc arrived on the scene and took a majour role in lifting the siege by leading the Dauphin´s troops to Orleans.

St. Joan of Arc was born around 1412 at the village of Domremy. At the very early age of about thirteen years she started hearing voices: those of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. In May 1428 these voices told her to go to the king of France and help him reconquer his kingdom. After lifting the siege of Orleans, which proved a crucial turning point for the French forces, further significant victories followed. In July 1429 Joan was invited to attend the coronation of Charles VII at Rheims Cathedral. It was in May 1430 that she was captured by Burgundian soldiers and handed over to the Bishop of Beauvais upon payment of ten thousand francs. The trial took place at Rouen at the end of March 1431. After Joan had changed the initial declaration that she repudiated her heresies, she was condemned to death and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. 25 years later, the pope annulled the sentence passed on her and she was exonorated of all guilt. In 1920 she was ultimately canonised by Pope Benedict XV (see Cowley 2000, p. 102/103).

The character of Joan was a source of inspiration for many playwrights. Besides Schiller and Shaw, she became a central figure in the works of Shakespeare, Voltaire and Mark Twain.

3. Brief biography of Shaw and Schiller

3.1. George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856, but spent most of his adult life in England. He grew up in an Irish Protestant family living in a predeominantly Catholic community, which contributed to his distinct awareness of religious differences. He left Ireland in 1876 to join his mother and his two sisters, who had moved to London some years before. In 1882 he started to deal with the work of Karl Marx and became an ardent socialist. Two years later he joined the recently formed Fabian Society, a group composed of predominently middle-class socialists, who were convinced of the efficacy of democratic procedures. He produced a lot of pamphlets on behalf of the group. However, in time his faith in the efficiency of democratic procedures weakened and he backed out of his engagement in the group. In 1898 Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, a wealthy Irish socialist and moved to the village of Ayot St Lawrence. Meanwhile he was able to raise his reputation as a major writer. One of his best-known works became „Pygmalion“ (1914). In 1923 he released „Saint Joan“, two years before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Shaw was known for his determination to confront important social issues in a frank and critical manner. He died in 1950 at the age of 96. It is interesting to notice that, following his cremation, his ashes were scattered in the garden of his home surrounding a statue of Saint Joan (see Cowley 2000, page 98-100).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Joan of Arc in G.B. Shaw´s "Saint Joan" and Friedrich Schiller´s "The Maid of Orleans"
University of Hannover
History, Religion and the Modern Drama
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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431 KB
Kommentar des Dozenten: This is a good and convincing comparison!
Joan, Shaw´s, Saint, Joan, Friedrich, Schiller´s, Maid, Orleans, History, Religion, Modern, Drama
Quote paper
Alexandra Stoichita (Author), 2007, Joan of Arc in G.B. Shaw´s "Saint Joan" and Friedrich Schiller´s "The Maid of Orleans", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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