Study Guide

Saint Joan Power

By George Bernard Shaw


STEWARD: "Oh, sir, you know you are a greater man here than the king himself." (1.13)

This isn't just flattery. It's kind of true under the feudal system. Individual lords had more power in their own lands than kings did.

JOAN: "We are all subject to the King of Heaven; and He gave us our countries and our languages, and meant us to keep to them." (1.152)

Joan was an early proponent of Nationalism, though she'd never call it that. This philosophy basically says the French people ought to be in France, English people ought to stay in England, and so on. Here we see her using her faith in God to justify her Nationalistic beliefs.

THE ARCHBISHOP [sternly] "I speak in the Church's name. […]"
CHARLES [intimidated but sulky] "Oh, if you make it an excommunication matter, I have nothing more to say, of course." (2.71-2.72)

Excommunication was one of the main powers that the Church had over kings. If they were excommunicated, that meant they were going to hell. Even if the King didn't believe in it himself, the people wouldn't follow someone who was "damned."

JOAN: "I tell thee that the land is thine to […] keep God's peace in […] The very clay of France will become holy […] the rebel dukes will be rebels against God." (2.175)

Joan is basically calling for the dismantling of the entire feudal system. She wants all he power to go to the King and be taken from all the lower nobility.

CAUCHON: "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." (4.120)

It's interesting that, while Joan uses her version of Christianity to support her Nationalistic views, Cauchon uses his version to attack them.

WARWICK: "Well, if you will burn the Protestant, I will burn the Nationalist." (4.121)

This quote is the one of the best summations in the play of why Joan is burnt. The Church fears her Protestantism because it challenges their power; the nobles fear her Nationalism for the same reason.

THE ARCHBISHOP: "The voice of God on earth is the voice of the Church Militant; and all the voices that come to you are the echoes of your own wilfulness." (5.98)

Even though the Archbishop has been on Joan's side, he is still disturbed by the way she's disrupting the Church's power.

CAUCHON: "If the Church lets her go, woe to the man, were he the Emperor himself, who dares lay a finger on her! The Church is not subject to political necessity, my lord." (6.32)

Is this empty posturing? Is the Church actually powerful enough to stop the English from burning Joan anyway?

THE INQUISITOR: "All secular power makes men scoundrels. […] Our own nobles are just as bad." (6.42)

Has it ever occurred to the Inquisitor that the power of the Church might be corrupt as well?

CAUCHON: "The mighty structure of Catholic Christendom […] may be […] brought to barbarous ruin […] by […] Protestantism." (6.43)

There you have it folks: the reason the Church had to destroy Joan. Her beliefs and popularity challenged their monopoly on God.