Saint Joan

Definition

Theater

  • G. B. Shaw's historical drama about Joan of Arc,often regarded as his masterpiece. It was first performed in 1923in New York and opened the following year at London's New Theatre,becoming Shaw's greatest commercial success. Sybil Thorndikeplayed the title role for 244 performances at the New Theatre withanother 321 at the Regent Theatre. The critic James Agate describedher characterization of Joan as "boyish, brusque, inspired,exalted, mannerless, tactless and...a nuisance to everybody."

    Shaw wrote the play for Thorndike and read it to her in hisroom. "Shaw himself was a perfect Saint Joan," she saidlater. "He could have played it far better than any of us."He wrote on her rehearsal book, "To Saint Sybil Thorndike fromSaint Bernard Shaw." Other actresses to appear in the role includeKatharine Cornell (1936), Joan Plowright (1963), Lynn Redgrave (1977), andAnne-Marie Duff (2007).

    Shaw was fascinated by Joan of Arc's genius. "She hadan unbounded and quite unconcealed contempt for official opinion,"he said. The play climaxes in the scene of Joan's trial, which Shawbased on actual court records. It concludes with a dream epilogue that sets outto explore the issues arising from Joan's canonization in 1920.

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