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« a tragedy without villains »
The story of Saint Joan has inspired various biographies, novels and poems, not because of the mere fact that Joan of Arc succeeded in changing the history of France and England during the Hundred Years‟ War, but more importantly she has played a vital role in the creation of French national consciousness. George Bernard Shaw followed precedent writers and wrote the play of Saint Joan which Michael Holroyd has characterized it as « a tragedy without villains » or Shaw„s « only tragedy ».In this essay, I am going to follow this statement by defending its thesis in the first place, then negotiate it in the second, but before all I will start with a classic view of the tragic building. Tragedy, in its most basic definition, depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake (hamartia). The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition (anagnorisis--"knowing again" or "knowing back" or "knowing throughout" ) about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition "a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate." "Tragedy, then, is a process of imitating an action which has serious implications, is complete, and possesses magnitude; by means of language which has been made sensuously attractive, with each of its varieties found separately in the parts; enacted by the persons
” Aristotle also establishes that the hero has to be “virtuous” that is to say he has to be „a morally blameless man. “He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous. yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity.” 2 . Aristotle suggests that a hero of a tragedy must evoke in the audience a sense of pity or fear." He establishes the concept that the emotion of pity stems not from a person becoming better but when a person receives undeserved misfortune and fear comes when the misfortune befalls a man like us.” Aristotle contests that the tragic hero has to be a man “who is not eminently good and just.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » themselves and not presented through narrative. Aristotle adds another qualification to that of being virtuous but not entirely good when he says. saying." Aristotle established his view of what makes a tragic hero in his Book Poetics. from good to bad. Being eminently good is a moral specification to the fact that he is virtuous. but. but by some error or frailty. Aristotle is not contradicting himself saying that the hero has to be virtuous and yet not eminently good. reversely. through a course of pity and fear completing the purification (catharsis.” He is not making the hero entirely good in which he can do no wrong but rather has the hero committing an injury or a great wrong leading to his misfortune. “the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity. sometimes translated "purgation") of such emotions. “The change of fortune should be not from bad to good. He still has to be to some degree good. This is why Aristotle points out the simple fact that.
Renaissance scholars understood this passage to mean that tragic characters must always be kings or princes. Likewise. however. . one who succumbs through some miscalculation". a person of action whose decisions determine the fate of others and seems to shake the world itself. exists "between these extremes ." literally means "missing the mark." taken from the practice of archery. but Aristotle was not talking about social or political distinctions. the common man is a potential subject for tragedy (in the sense that one need not be a king or a demigod to act nobly). 3 . while comedy is peopled with the working or servant classes.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » Aristotle distinguishes between tragedy which depicts people of high or noble character and comedy which imitates those of low or base character. as Arthur Miller argued. which Golden translates as "miscalculation. . nor one who falls into misfortune through vice and depravity. Ordinary humanity belongs on the sidelines in tragedy. Tragic characters are those who take life seriously and seek worthwhile goals. To witness a completely virtuous person fall from fortune to disaster would provoke moral outrage at such an injustice. the one thing a tragic protagonist cannot be is common. according to Aristotle. The term hamartia. The hero of tragedy is not perfect. represented by the Greek chorus. The best type of tragic hero. A noble person is one who chooses to act nobly. but rather. The tragic protagonist is always larger than life. a person who is neither perfect in virtue and justice. the downfall of a villainous person is seen as appropriate punishment and does not arouse pity or fear. While it may be true that. while comic characters are "good-for-nothings" who waste their lives in trivial pursuits. For him character is determined not by birth but by moral choice.
" This definition of tragedy and the tragic hero in Aristotle‟s theory of tragedy is referential. the Archbishop and even the executioner seem to be innocent of the horrible act of the burning.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » Much confusion exists over this crucial term. Some critics went further in discussing the presence of villains announcing that Saint Joan is a “tragedy without villains”. so it must be someone's fault.This confession was of serious heresy at that time regarding to the importance of the church as a crucial religious institution at that time and the role it plays in 4 . has received a lot of critical essays consisting its tragic building and the contribution of the characters in the tragedy. What makes Saint Joan described as a tragedy without villains. Critics of previous centuries once understood hamartia to mean that the hero must have a "tragic flaw. as it is done with George Bernard Shaw„s Saint Joan which has been classified one of the best books of the 20 „th century. in fact. but this does not mean that all tragedies are built the same way Aristotle suggested as many followers may modify some aspects and keep their touch on their books. This interpretation comes from a long tradition of dramatic criticism which seeks to place blame for disaster on someone or something: "Bad things don't just happen to good people." a moral weakness in character which inevitably leads to disaster. indeed. However Joan of Arc played the rule of the heretic bravely with her insisting that she is visited by voices and her neglecting of the church as a medium between God and people . It is obvious throughout the book that Shaw was trying to justify the trial of Joan insisting on the fact that Peter Cauchon was just applying the law and defending religious principles as an Archbishop of the church. is that all characters of the play including the inquisitor. Saint Joan.
tried hard to convince the girl to end up her unreasonable thoughts and go back to her sanity. On the 5 . Peter Cauchon. who is supposed to be the first responsible of the trial as an Archbishop and a member of the Ecclesiastic. I quote “her alleged offences were not political offences against England nor against the Burgundian faction in France.” Shaw strongly defends Bishop Peter Cauchon . However. those values were meant to produce order and meet the needs of the era they were introduced.the judge who condemned Joan D‟Arc to death for heresy and witchery-against charges of corruption raised by the XX century scholars. she broke all orders and did not acknowledge anything out of her voices. Shaw criticizes earlier writers for saying Joan‟s judges were corrupt scoundrels. Shaw argues that the judge‟s decision was conform to the values of his time. Even though absurd for the modern man. She challenged the church‟s power and put its religious staff into a serious trouble in which they had not many choices. I quote from the preface a statement by which he defended the Archbishop saying that:”The truth is that Cauchon was threatened and insulted by the English for being too considerate to Joan”. but against God and against the common morality of Christendom. Shaw says that Cauchon was not that bad with Joan and made important efforts trying to save her from death but it went in vain as the girl did not trust anyone around and did not believe anything out of her thoughts and reasoning. Joan of Arc is presented as a practical woman. Joan of Arc challenged by her confessions the Christian society as a whole.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » religious and political life. The events presented constitute the birth of the great changes that would hit the middle-aged Europe in the forthcoming decades. a harbinger of radical change who was condemned not by the vices of her time but its virtues as personified by Bishop Cauchon. expression of the middle-aged culture. The drama is not to be seen a fight between good and evil. So.
in vain. he says. my lord. we have held 15 examinations of the Maid.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » contrary.She played the role of both. but.the criminal and the judge and even the executioner because she sent herself to death by 6 . Saint Joan was condemning herself by her own as she wanted always to be . I quote from scene 6 as Cauchon was justifying the long time he took in the case of Joan of Arc:”We have not been idle. that would have meant tolerating a danger to society. I am a poor girl. and so ignorant that I do not know A from B”. It is worth mentioning here to say that Joan was burnt just as dozens of less interesting heretics were burnt at that time and the problem with her is that she was over self sufficient to the point that makes her believe that she can do anything by herself without need of anyone else and this is very obvious in her speech . he tried even hard. Shaw says if the church had merely excommunicated Joan and allowed her to continue to promote her views outside the church. Her simplicity and over self sufficiency were behind her tragic destiny.she is not even in need to the help of the king when she decided to carry on fighting without the approval of King Charles and this may be justified by her young age and luck of strong mind. that would have been a reasonable punishment. her trial was as fair as modern trials. She did not even recognize what they were accusing her of.Shaw argues that since Joan refused to accept the authority of the Catholic Church. and societies have the right to refuse to tolerate such dangers. six public and nine private. perhaps even more fair. in brief. the church was within its rights to excommunicate her.Archbishop Peter Cauchon was aware of that fact actually and he gave her too much time trying to change her attitudes. Her unawareness of serious trouble she was put in is very clear through her own words:”Oh why will you go on saying things like that? I am not proud and disobedient.” So.
there was no way for fair trial in these cases especially those condemned of heresy. my hair bristles on my head when I hear so young a creature utter such blasphemies”. was not tried by a national court. So. my lord. The trial of Saint Joan was not that fair the way it was introduced by Shaw.The trial was politically oriented and lucked fairness and transparency as many people influenced the trial of Joan of Arc as it is the case with Earl of Warwick who was urging the Archbishop to faster the persecution of the girl even without finishing the elements of a fair trial by a Catholic church . She was only 19 years old. but she was rather condemned in two Christian courts. “There are no villains in the piece…” this statement by Shaw may be heavily negotiated. because neutral tribunals were not available”.”That is perfectly true. Ecclesiastical court and the court of the Inquisition. All members of the Ecclesiastic council treated her as a woman and they were even using the term woman although she is not yet.She was all alone in front of a group of men coming with arguments and evidences against her as if they were trying their best to sentence her to death .Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » confessing and signing “blasphemous crimes which she does not deny”. ignorant girl who does not know A from B . Although the writer tried to convince the reader that all the characters of the play did not make any mistakes and defend their innocence of the horrible scene the play ended with.I quote here :”Such recent trials are those of Edith Cavell by a German tribunal and Roger Casement by an English one were open to the same objection. however. she is just a simple. Joan. but they went forward to the death nevertheless. She was trialed as a 7 . it is not so convincing that burning a 19 years old girl was out a fair judgment despite of all circumstances of the trial. it means that she is not mature yet to assume all heavy charges she was condemned of.
argued that Joan of Arc was a victim. she was the victim of her simplicity and ignorance which was well employed by the Archbishop Peter Cauchon who was described as a “vulgar villain». I quote from Earl of Warwick‟s speech:” Oh my lord you are very hard on us poor English. Joan of Arc was rebellious against all class and social traditions and challenged the feudal system as a whole. He answers Canon John D'Estivet who has been defending Joan saying that she has the right to fair trial and has an explanation about her case because she did not recognize what she is condemned of. and that the questions put to Joan were traps. Joan‟s over confidence in religious men makes her believe for a while that she was going to go back home after getting church men convinced of her divine voices. indeed.Cauchon was dug up.But. This may be shown through his insistence to send her to the stake. and idolater. Warwick has never follow legal measures in dealing with the case of Joan of Arc as he was continuously condemning her of political cases which have nothing to do with the accusation she was standing for. blasphemer.Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » heretic. and the inquisitor would have been a Sadist instead of a lawyer”. nothing was easier than to accuse him of cozenage. Many critics. I quote from the preface here:”Cauchon was a vulgar villain. sorceress. The reaction of Earl of Warwick was too severe and he has never taken mercy on her. we certainly do not share your pious desire to save the Maid: in fact I tell you now that her death is a political necessity which I regret but cannot help”. Earl of Warwick foreshadowed the danger the girl was about to make and tried hard to silent her forever. is that it has the support of the inquiry which rehabilitated her 25 years later . 8 . I quote again “To Shakespeare as to Mark Twain.Cauchon would have been a tyrant and a bully instead of a catholic. and declare the whole trial void on that account”.
com Articles: St Joan by George Bernard Shaw Jeanne d'Arc . Saint Joan has been subject for many interpretations as many literary works. it caused divisions among critics between some who classified it at the high level of tragedy and those who consider it more comic in regard to circumstances of her trial which drew their attention in terms of fairness and transparency as many critics strongly opposed the point of view considering Saint Joan “a tragedy without villains “or Shaw‟s “only tragedy”. Sources & References: Saint Joan:the book Aristotle‟s Poetics Wikipedia Dictionary.Joan of Arc (1412-1431) 9 .Wael Tounsi « a tragedy without villains » To conclude.