What’s Up With the Title?
At first this may seem like a question that's not even worth asking. The play is titled Saint Joan. It's about a saint. Her name was Joan. There you go. If you think about it a wee bit longer, though, it becomes pretty clear that Shaw wasn't guilty of lazy titling. The fact is that Joan wasn't recognized as a saint in her lifetime. She had a lot of fans, though. Many admired her courageous leadership and even believed that she'd worked miracles. Unfortunately, her success made her a lot of enemies as well; not the least of which was the Catholic Church.
One of great ironies of Joan's story is that she was branded a heretic and burnt alive by the very same organization that would recognize her as a saint over 400 years later. In his book, Contradictory Characters, Albert Bermel suggests that the title itself is ironic. He says, "The play asks a riddle: When is a saint not a saint? The answer is: when she's alive." Is Bermel right? Did Shaw title his play Saint Joan to point out this irony? Was he suggesting that the world may never be able to accept extraordinary people like Joan while they're alive? The last line of the play would seem to support this theory. Joan appeals to God saying, "O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?" (E.170)