Saint Joan's Tragic Flaw: The Epilogue
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Saint Joan\'s Tragic Flaw: The Epilogue
Saint Joan is considered to be one of George Bernard Shaw\'s greatest works. In the play, Shaw avoids many problems identified by critics as prevalent in some of his other writing. Some have criticized Shaw, claiming that he tends to portray unrealistic archetypal characters, rather than well-rounded believable individuals. His plays have also been described as lacking action and being too didactic. In Saint Joan, Shaw reduced the intensity of these previously criticized typically Shavian elements and thus, met with much critical success. However, in my view, the play\'s epilogue is redundant and unnecessary. It essentially repeats and reinforces the events of the play without enhancing the drama. and serves to add historical facts which are either familiar to the audience or which could have been inserted skillfully into the body of the play with greater dramatic effect. It seems almost as if Shaw was afraid that his audience would not understand the play and he felt compelled to make his ideas clearer in the epilogue.
The action of the epilogue takes place 25 years after Joan has been burned. King Charles has a dream in which many of the characters of the play appear. These characters, including Joan, either explain their behavior that we\'ve seen throughout the play or relate some historical fact that Shaw must have seen as necessary for the audience to be aware of. The first character that appears at Charles\' bed is Brother Martin Ladvenu, who in Scene VI participated in the trial of Joan. During the examination, Ladvenu makes every effort to save Joan from being declared a heretic and tries to give her the opportunity to be "saved." He praises Joan when she answers a question well. In addition, he says to her, "Joan: we are all trying to save you. His lordship is trying to save you. The Inquisitor could not be more just to you if you were his own daughter." He shows that he is earnest in his desire for the truth to come out, and for Joan to be saved. After Joan has been burned, he is one of the first to recognize that a mistake has been made. Describing her burning, he says "...she looked up to heaven. And I do not believe that the heavens were empty. I firmly believe that her Savior appeared to her...This is not the end for her, but the beginning."
In the epilogue, Ladvenu\'s main function is to relay the fact that Joan has been absolved and rehabilitated and that he was a primary mover toward such absolution. He says, "Twenty-five years have passed since [Joan\'s burning]: nearly ten thousand days." This is pure exposition necessary only to orient the audience. He continues, "And on every one of those days I have prayed God to justify His daughter on earth as she is justified in heaven." This just illustrates that Ladvenu believes that Joan was unjustly burnt, repeating the same information that was conveyed with greater dramatic effectiveness in Scene VI. He goes on to give more historical information; the judges of Joan were declared corrupt and malicious. Having conveyed these facts, Ladvenu leaves and his entire appearance in the epilogue seems unnecessary and does not add dramatically to the play.
After Ladvenu\'s departure, Joan herself appears to Charles, informing him (and the audience) that she is only in his dream, and not an actual ghost. Like Ladvenu, Charles announces historical data about himself; he has turned into a great fighter and he is called Charles the Victorious. In their conversation, Joan spells out information about herself that has been clearly illustrated throughout the play, without adding anything substantial. She says, "I was no beauty; I was a regular soldier. I might almost as well have been a man. Pity I wasn\'t...But my head was in the skies; and the glory of God was upon me..." She continues on to state the obvious. "I shall outlast the cross. I shall be remembered when men have forgotten where Rouen stood." Anyone reading or seeing the play knows that this is true.
Shaw\'s pattern of giving historical information and explaining and summarizing characters\' behaviors continues throughout the epilogue. The next character to arrive in the scene is Peter
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