Saint Joan Summary

The play starts in the castle of one of the French commanders, Captain Robert de Baudricourt. It is spring of 1429. We see the owner of the castle lecturing his servant, because he wasn’t able to serve eggs for breakfast. De Baudricourt is sure that someone stole hens and cows, because there is no milk either. He accuses the servant of it, but the servant says that hens and cows are here, they have just stopped laying eggs and giving milk since the moment de Baudricourt refused to let the mysterious “Maid” talk to him. “The Maid” haven’t left yet though, waiting for the Captain’s final decision. The servant also praises the girl for being very kind and caring to everyone in the castle. Irritated, de Baudricourt finally agrees to grant her an audience.

The name of “The Maid” is Joan. She greets the Captain and asks him to give her armor and a horse. Moreover, Joan demands his troops to come with her to Orlean, to help the besieged Dauphin (the Prince). De Baudricourt thinks that the plan is insane: the English army sieging the castle outnumbers the French forces greatly. Moreover, the plan is presented by the woman who claims that God commanded her to do so. Then Joan shocks him even more: she has already negotiated with Bertrand de Poulengey, John of Metz and all the troops and servants of the castle. They all support her plan.

De Baudricourt can’t believe his ears. He orders Joan to leave and summons de Poulengey, interrogating him about Joan and thinking that she is simply his lover. But de Poulengey says that his interest isn’t romantic, the mysterious girl is just radiates confidence and inspires hope with her mere presence much more than any commander. De Poulegey says that he at least partially believes that supporting Joan may save France. Her plan is logical, though risky, and, moreover, no one expects it. De Baudricourt blatantly states Joan is insane, and de Poulengey replies that the actions of the sane people got their country to current uneasy situation, so maybe they might try listening to the mad one.

Summoning Joan again, de Baudricourt finds himself listening to her words and finally, to his own surprise, agrees to give her everything she asks for. He gives her some tactical advice, saying that the English army is tougher than she thinks, but Joan is so confident, replying that she is going to teach them that they belong in England and French army belongs in France, and God approves her intent. When she leaves, the servant comes with the report that the cows give milk and hens lay eggs again. De Baudricourt concludes that The Maid is really a messenger of God.

In the second part we see the Dauphin with his court in Chinon. His chief officers: The Lord Chamberlain, the Archbishop of Rheims, Captain Gilles de Rais and Captain La Hire, discuss the unfortunate accident that caused the death of one of the soldiers. They said that he had a conversation with Joan and she made a prophecy that he would die if he didn’t stop swearing. The soldier ignored her warning and now he is dead. The Dauphin enters and encourages them with the news about Joan’s arrival with reinforcements from de Badricourt. He calls her an angel, but the Archbishop protests, saying that Joan is a woman of low origin and dubious morals, so it would be disgrace for Dauphin to meet with her. La Hire offers to test her: the Dauphin will hide amongst the rest of the noble and de Rais will pretend he is the Dauphin. If Joan finds the real heir it will mean that she is indeed sent by God. Dauphin gladly agrees, he wants some show. De Chartres also agrees. Knowing that Dauphin’s appearance is well-known, he doesn’t believe in miraculous clairvoyance, but he decides that the case will “confirm or create faith” which is good for morals.

Joan easily passes the test and is allowed to speak to the Dauphin privately. She scolds him for avoiding his fate of becoming a King and fighting for France. The Dauphin thinks that the peace treaty is much better than war, but Joan replies that for now the English invaders who set terms of the treaty and they are harmful for France. The Dauphin still hesitates, but then Joan tells him about the beautiful vision of the united and peaceful France under his rule and the Dauphin finally agrees to stand against the English army. He calls his commanders and announces that he is going to fight and from now on Joan is the commander of his army. Neither Lord Chamberlain nor Archbishop take it well.

The time of narrative shifts to April 29, 1429. The forces of Joan are attacking Orleans. She talks to Captain Dunois, who is clearly dissatisfied with her order to attack immediately. He mildly berates her for her impatience, explaining that the rafts with heavy artillery can’t proceed until the wind changes to the favor of the French troops. He offers Joan to go to the church and pray, asking for the change of the wind. While he says these words, Dunois’ page sneezes and it appears that the wind has just changed to the one the French troops need. Dunois, now sure that Joan just expressed the God’s will, joins her, leading the army into battle. After some heavy battles Joan is victorious.

Then we see Earl of Warwick and Chaplain Stogumber negotiating with the English army. Stogumber is worried because of the series of defeats of the English army. Warwick accuses Stogumber of pursuing his own goals and endangering the authorities with his uncertain actions. To prove his loyalty, Warwick says that he has a plan of defeating Joan: some of the French people consider her not a divine messenger, but a witch, so they are eager to trade her to the Burgundians and the Burgundians will pass it to Englishmen. Another man joins the two: Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais. They again discuss the possibility to give Joan away to the Inquisition and accuse her of witchcraft and burnt. The chaplain tells the two the story about Joan’s miraculous resurrection from mortal wound right on the battlefield at Orlean and her incredible tactical talent, impossible for a peasant girl. Cauchon believes that he isn’t only a witch, but a heretic, the tool of Devil, used to lay down not only the English army but all the Catholic church if not the souls of all the humanity.

Warwick believes that the Bishop is ready to participate in their plan, but he refuses with dignity, saying that he isn’t a puppet and the church considers people equal, so they all are not more important than a single soul of a peasant girl. Yet he agrees that if her heresy will be proven she could be excommunicated from the Church and given to the secular court for a trial. After the long discussion they agree that, heretic, witch or someone else, Joan has to die.

The next scene takes place in Rheims Cathedral. The Dauphin has just been crowned King Charles VII. Joan is here, praying. Enters Dunois and says that the huge number of people outside wants to see her. Joans thanks him for his care and sincerity. She wonders why so much aristocrats and priests hate her if everything she does is a will of God. Dunois replies that they can’t stand being bested by the woman of low origin. Joan says to him that her next goal is Paris, but Dunois says that no one will allow her this operation. Enters Charles, who arrived with La Hire. After listening to Joan’s plan, he indeed rejects it: he has just signed a peace treaty with Burgundians and decided that it is enough war for him. Joan says that the will of God says otherwise, but Archbishop warns her to know her place. Dunois, despite his friendship with Joan, takes his King’s side. He explains that Joan is willing to expose her to grave danger and no one will help her in case of her being captured. Joan is content, though. She says that being alone is empowering, because both God and her country are alone, so who is she to complain? She goes to greet the crowd waiting for her, while King and the others pity her for rushing to her grim destiny.

The Scene V shows us Joan’s trial in the castle of Rouen. Cauchon is the judge, Canon John D’Estivet is the prosecutor and Brother John Lemaetre is a special representative of Inquisition. He thinks that Joan is one of the most and complicated cases he ever saw. Warwick strongly hints that he wants her executed, but Cauchon reminds him that the Church isn’t a tool of politics, so Joan will get what she deserves and what it is is up to trial. D’estivet agrees with Lemaetre that Joan just condemns herself with her words every time. Some other members of the trial express their opinions too. Chaplain de Stogumber and De Courcelle saying that the Inquisitor is too forgiving to her. But Lemaetre replies that he only cares for the major cases of heresy, letting himself to skip the lesser ones. He says that Joan’s heresy is unforgivable and irredeemable, so he is just giving her the possibility to confess by herself. Cauchon adds that her heresy is Protestantism and is directed against all the Catholic Church.

Finally enters Joan, guarded by the English soldiers. She wears heavy shackles and complains about it, but is told that it is a necessary measure, because she tried to escape jumping from the window of the tower she was imprisoned. Joan replies that, as every other prisoner, she did try to escape and the fact that she managed to jump and stay unharmed isn’t the sign of her witchcraft, but a mere exaggeration of the height of tower. The court demands her to swear an oath to tell the whole truth, but Joan replies that God doesn’t allow her to tell the whole truth. She says, though, that her voices and visions never told her to betray the church or go against the authorities, but she believes that the will of God Himself shall prevail.

The trial goes on and gradually Joan realizes that she is going to be burned alive. Terrified, she agrees that the voices misled her just to avoid excommunication from the church and dreadful death. Joan signs a paper of recantation given to her by the Inquisitor. The English members of the court are enraged - they expected Joan to be dead. Still, instead of execution Joan is condemned to the life sentence in prison with only bread and water to eat and drink. Understanding that she was tricked and her new fate is not much better than death, Joan tears apart the document in anger. As a relapsed heretic, she is immediately excommunicated and taken away to be burnt. The Inquisitor though still expresses pity for her.

Joan is burnt. De Stogumber, who watched the execution returns to Warwick, confused and lamenting that he was wrong. He says that the only thing Joan asked before her gruesome death was a cross, and one of the soldier tied two sticks together to give to her. She clutched the cross, but it was taken away from her. When the fire was set, she saw Ladvenu, one of the court officials, coming too close to the fire and warned him to stay away, because he could also burn. Even in terrible pain she thought about the others. The chaplain repents, crying that he will go to Hell for executing a saint. Ladvenu says that it isn’t an end for Joan, but only the beginning. The executioners report that the body of Joan burned whole, nothing is left except her heart, not touched by the fire.

Twenty five years pass since Joan’s death. King Charles, now a mature man, is gradually falling asleep in his bed. Ladvenu enters and reports that Joan’s name was cleared. The new ecclesiastical inquiry deemed her innocent. Ladvenu ironically says that the first judgement was fair and honest, but Joan was condemned. The second one was false to the core, but The Maid is proven innocent. Charles doesn’t care about Joan’s reputation: he just wants to avoid accusations of being crowned by a witch - that’s why he initiated the second trial.

Ladvenu leaves and Charles finally falls asleep. In his dream Joan comes to him and snarks that she still was burned. Can her rehabilitation unburn her please? Charles replies that if the church authorities could burn her twice they would gladly do this.

Other characters, alive and dead, join Joan in King’s dream. Cauchon comes and complains that after Joan’s rehabilitation the hatred of people turned onto his corpse: it was dug out and thrown into the sewers. Dunois comes to tell Joan that he was faithful to their friendship and kept the word given to her, driving off the English invaders. The soldier, who made a cross for Joan, also enters, saying that for assisting in her execution he is thrown to Hell, but granted one day without torments for the good deed he did to Joan that day. A strange man, looking like a person from twentieth century also comes and says that Joan will be canonized and honored as saint.

We see all the characters praising Saint Joan for her deeds. But Joan only asks who of her new admirers would stand for her and return her to the world of living. One by one the characters refuse and leave her. The only one who stands by her side is the soldier, who made her the cross - but then, on dawn, he is summoned back to Hell and Joan stands alone, lamenting her fate and asking God when the Earth will be ready to accept His saints.