- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 25 January 2001
- Plays, playscripts
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Would be 5 stars but anyone who writes a preface of 50 pages (in very small print) for a play of 100 pages (in normal print) is absurdly arrogant, and especially when they try to claim that this particular story is a melodrama and not a tragedy. The play itself is, in fact, clearly a tragedy--St Joan is a noble character (a chaste teenage girl who leads armies in a faltering independence movement and inspires them to victory), brought down by a fatal flaw (burned after insisting, through pride and obstinacy, that she should go take Compeigne even when King Charles, the Archbishop, and her co-captain Dunois say they will offer no protection, then refusing, during her trial, to comply with the demands made of her by the English and the Church), with pity and catharsis cleansing the audience's emotions at the end (where everything about her burns except her heart, she is given two sticks with which to make a cross by an English soldier, she saves a life by not letting a cross burn in a man's hands when he brings it near her, and her ghost appears to a bunch of apologetic characters twenty-some-odd years later).I would say it's one of the best plays I've read, and I've read many of them, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Milton (Samson Agonistes), Moliere, Addison, Chekhov, Sheridan, Goethe, Synge, O'Neill, Williams, Kushner (ugh!), and so on and so forth...I highly recommend it for 8th-10th grade students, and I know that it was assigned when I was in high school (don't tell anyone I didn't read it then!).
I enjoyed the lengthy preface, which should by all rights be its own work. Shaw's arguments about "toleration" and the relationship between genius society were especially thought-provoking. Why should we take exception to what seemingly contradicts or overturns our preconceptions, if not because we simply don't understand? Feels like I've heard this argument so many times, but never phrased like Shaw puts it.
The play 's the thing. Saint Joan is an excellent example of Shaw's work and, I think, that excellence coupled with the time of Joan's becoming a saint gave Shaw the Swedish Merit Badge. Shaw's preface is too clever by half and the self important lecture can be skipped with no real harm to understanding the play. The play itself is notable for a lack of villians. That makes it extraordinary and much of the dialouge is skilled and thoughtful.
I did not know much about Joan of Arc before I read this. The book really made her real for me. Of course Shaw did not "know" Joan, but he portrays her in such a real and believable way that I was continuously comparing the character to people I have met in my life. I realized that whether or not Shaw was close to the mark or not, Joan had to be an exceptional person. One who I would have liked to have met.
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