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Dramatic criticism on the play by George Bernard Shaw

Cutting through the carapace of legend, Shaw depicts Joan as a spiritual heroine and an "unwomanly woman." She is both practical and passionate by nature, a woman whose virginity stems from strength, not from mere Victorian purity. As she exercises her individual will and insists on her private vision, she becomes a conduit of evolutionary thought and behavior.

SALLY PETERS, "Shaw's life: a feminist in spite of himself"

Without that last scene, Saint Joan would hardly be a Shaw play. The deed has been done. They had dragged the Maid from the gloomy courtroom to the square in Rouen. You have heard the murderous jabber of the waiting mob, the shrieks of those who saw too late how cruel and how bestial a thing was done that day in the name of God. You even have heard the executioner return complacent to the waiting Warwick and speak as ironic a line as ever playwright put on paper. "You have heard the last of her," he says. And then suddenly the scene shifts to a vision of a later day and Joan's spirit walks the earth to learn with mingled feelings what has become of the France she served and what great mirations of herself the world had made. It is the implication of that scene that the very generation which has canonized Joan would burn her like at the stake again if her like were to come again on earth. It is as though Shaw were to step out into the audience and shake that fat fellow in the front row whom the play has worked up into such a glow of sympathy, such a flutter of easy pity--shake him and whisper in his ear: "If you had been in Rouen that day are you sure you would not have voted with the Bishop of Beauvais and run with the witch-burning mob to see the torch applied!"

ALEXANDER WOOLCOTT, New York Herald, Dec. 1923

From the epilogue of this drama on Joan of Arc we may gather almost explicitly the reason for which Shaw wrote it. This world, he seems to say, is not made for saints to live in. We must take the people who live in it for what they are, since it is not vouchsafed them to be anything else.

LUIGI PIRANDELLO, New York Times, Jan. 1924

In Saint Joan, history, or rather character historically conceived, weighs a bit too heavily on the living fluid objectivity of the chronicle, and the events in the play somehow lose that sense of the unexpected which is the breath of true life. We know in advance where we are going to come out. The characters, whether historical or typical, do not quite free themselves from the fixity that history has forced upon them and from the significant role they are to play in history.

LUIGI PIRANDELLO, New York Times, Jan. 1924

In his preface to Saint Joan, which is so good that it almost makes the play superfluous, Shaw stripped bare the scientific superstition of our times, insisting that the theories of our physicists and astronomers and the credulity with which we accept them would have dissolved the Middle Ages in a roar of sceptical merriment. That sets the style. Yet not only does Shaw, the essayist, speak in this way. He often, indeed for the most part, has his characters speak in similar fashion, and it should be noticed in passing that his figure of speech about 'dissolving an audience in a roar of sceptical merriment' precisely describes his own effect on his spectators.

THOMAS MANN, Listener, Jan. 1951

Mr Shaw's Saint Joan is one of the most superstitious of the effigies which have been erected to that remarkable woman.

T.S. ELIOT, Criterion, Apr. 1926

If Saint Joan brought Shaw the highest literary accolades, paradoxically, it was almost his undoing. Shaw considered literary awards almost as stifling as censorship. Popular and critical acclaim meant that his ideas were no longer treated as revolutionary and therefore were becoming part of the very conventional reality that he sought to subvert. Saint Joan subsequently brought Shaw's muting, not by suppression but, conversely, by glory.

LAGRETTA TALLENT LENKER, Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw

From its first performance, Saint Joan was recognized as a masterpiece. More than any other of Shaw's plays, it made Shaw the obvious choice for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Throughout the decades since its debut, Saint Joan has received respect and admiration almost akin to Shakespeare's great tragedies because, as in the tradition of great tragic heroes like Hamlet and Lear, Joan's suffering is not merely imposed and passively accepted. She incurs it by her own decision. Critics and audiences have found that although evil is temporarily triumphant in Saint Joan, the young woman conquers because her spirit remains unbroken.

SANFORD V. STERNLICHT, Masterpieces of Modern British and Irish Drama

Shaw was 65 when he wrote Saint Joan, and it is a remarkable work for a man that age--or any age. But it is not all of a piece, and in order to function it needs a unifying vision and a forceful star.... with the best of personnel Saint Joan can never be more than a vast and talky ego projection in the guise of a tragedy.

STEFAN KANFER, New Leader, Feb. 1993

Amid the multitude of new dramatic genres in the past hundred years, _Saint Joan_ has seldom been recognized for the odd ghost it is. Anomalous as it presents issues of religious faith to a largely secular era, atavistic as its roots lie in medieval drama, it resurrected the miracle play, otherwise known as the saint's play, proving that despite a lapse of five hundred years a major play about a saint and miracles could have life beyond Sunday school.

CHARLES A. BERST, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire: The Saints and Poetics of Shaw and T.S. Eliot"

Saint Joan is a consequence of Shaw's own personal contention with the world and his own affective mythmaking as a Fabian Socialist of Protestant Anglo-Irish stock. The achievement of the play is that we are able to see all this and yet believe that somehow we are being given access to the historical Joan, the Joan whose death was perhaps not in vain, the Joan whose legend is still meaningful at the time that the Catholic Church, now the Roman Catholic Church, can at last get round to canonizing her. Shaw the unbeliever turns her into a secular saint, even while he is managing to tug the heartstrings of all those members of the audience who still want to believe.

C.C. BARFOOT, "By Way of an Introduction: The Case of Saint Joan," Ritual Remembering

Superhuman or not, during her lifetime Joan appears to be anything but a saint, and I suggest that the word in Shaw's title is ironic. The play asks a riddle: When is a saint not a saint? The answer is: when she's alive.

ALBERT BERMEL, Contradictory Characters

A sturdy Yorkshire lass with no doubts, no equivocations, no one she can't outtalk ... dauntless and hyperarticulate ... Shaw's Joan seems to suffer for less than twenty-five lines in a 125-page script.

MARY GORDON, Joan of Arc: A Penguin Life

Not even the fact that in Saint Joan, as in other plays of Shaw, the aria sometimes turns into an editorial, can keep this dramatic chronicle from remaining the most fervent thing Shaw ever wrote--the play that is poetically the most moving, that comes closest to high tragedy, a work inspired with a truly elating sense of justice; a work in which the mature rationality of en esprit fort that has outgrown the confines of the eighteenth and even the nineteenth century, bows before sanctity; a work fully deserving its world fame.

THOMAS MANN, Listener, Jan. 1951

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