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‘The Trial’ is a short extract taken from the play ‘Saint Joan’ written by George Bernard Shaw. Here, the extract details on the trial of Joan, the French peasant girl who claimed to hear the ‘voices’ of the saints, by the unfair British who captures her in the war.
About the Author:
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was a prominent Irish playwright. His plays touched upon a variety of themes including politics, poverty, and women’s rights. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Famous works of his include ‘Saint Joan’, ‘John Bull’s Other Island’, and ‘Major Barbara’.
The theme of this excerpt is, as all of Shaw’s plays, politics and women’s rights. The Church and its members can be seen to be the wielders of power here, abusing it in their game of politics. Joan, who refused to be cowed down by their threats and punishments can be taken a symbol of women’s empowerment.
The scene begins on a ‘fine sunshiny May morning’ on which Joan’s trial takes place, with the Bishop and the Inquisitor presiding over as the judges. A chained Joan is marched in to be questioned, or rather, as D’Estivet, the chief Prosecutor puts it, she is the one who questions them. To the seemingly kind Inquisitor, she states how the English tried to poison her and brand her a witch, which was followed by weak protests from them. She demands why she is chained and not under the Church for which they continue calling her a witch, owing to her jumping off a tower as a means of escape. She scornfully dismisses them calling her a ‘heretic’ and a believer of heresy, calling her admitting to jumping off the tower as ‘confession’. They justify calling her thus because she, in their eyes, has turned her back on the church and is thus a witch.
The Inquisitor and Cauchon both try to dissuade her attempts to not divulge the full truth to the court, resorting to levying threats even as they maintain their image of purity and kindness. Joan staunchly asserts how God does not will her to state so, upon which she was threatened further on physical harm. Joan, obstinate, does not relent. The argument that follows, that is whether she ought to be tortured or not, highlights on the blurred boundries between law and violence inflicted for pleasure.
In the end, Cauchon declares that forced confessions cannot be taken into regard, upon which Courcelles, the Canon of Paris, remarks that it would become out of the usual practice then. Joan calls him a ‘rare noodle’ for this, questioning whether he would always follow what happened previously no matter what. Courcelles is deeply disgruntled by this, with the Inquisitor cautioning a nonplussed Joan, calling her sharp tongue ‘vanity’. Joan refused to be budged however.
One final time, Cauchon implores her to submit and accept the terms of the Church, which Joan refuses boldly. This extract thus concludes with a resigned court pitying Joan for her decision. The note following however elaborates on how Joan was burned at a stake in 1431, branded a ‘witch’ before being hailed as the ‘saint’ that she was in 1920. Almost 500 years is thus what it took for Joan, a fearless woman, to be recognized for what she was.