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Constructing a Cultural Icon: Nomos and Shaw's Saint Joan in Paris CRAIG HAMILTON 'George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan quickly became a play without a passport. Shaw began writing the play in England in late April 1923 and completed it in Ireland in August of that same year. After its production in New York in December t923 and in London in March 1924, the play appeared on the Continent . In Paris, it ran at the Theatre des Arts from 28 April to 30 June 1925. The director in Paris, Georges Pitoeff, staged the play with his wife, Ludmilla, in the heroine's role. While Shaw's Joan is usually seen as the "foremothe. of Protestantism and of French nationalism" (Kiberd 434), the play can be read in many other ways, as Saint Joan lends itself easily to several approaches and parallels. With an eye to Ireland, the play can be read as a gloss on the Charles Parnell story referred to in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the Irish are seen as having betrayed their own MP. Joan's words to Dunois, "If the goddams and the Burgundians do not make an end of me, the French will" (102), would be one place to begin such an analysis. The play could also be seen as a parable for Irish nationalism on the troublesome Protestant question in a society run by Catholics (Kiberd 428). Additionally, it could be viewed as a running political diatribe on British imperialistic tendencies overseas. However, as its reception in 1925 Paris suggests, Saint Joan may also be read as an allegory for a France undergoing a painful period of reconstruction after being shattered by World War I. While most critics are aware that Shaw's play was very popular in Paris (the Pitoeffs kept it in their repertory for several years), the reasons behind its popularity have yet to be adequately explained. Betrayal, sacrifice, dogmatic strife, and nationalist power plays fully overlap in the play to historicize the well-known story in terms contemporary audiences, particularly in Paris: found highly compelling. As I argue in this essay, the popularity of Shaw's Saint Joan in 1925 Paris involves three factors seldom discussed: the cultural semiotics of constructing an icon like Joan of Arc, the historical and political context of 1925 France as Modern Drama, 43 (Fall 2000) 359 CRAIG HAMILTON it relates to the play's reception, and the brash display of nomos (i.e., governance ) in the trial scene.' . Exactly why Shaw's play was successful when so many other versions of the story were available is not at first clear. By 1925, more than a hundred plays about Joan had been presented in France since 1890 (Gerould 210), and by the time Shaw wrote the play seven films on Joan had already been made (Harty 241). The critic Sheila Stowell recently suggested in these pages that one inspiration for the play, apart from Shaw's trip to Orleans in 1913 and the saint's canonization in 1920, was the use of Joan as an emblem for the Women's Social and Political Union during the suffragette marches in pre- .World War I London (422). Be that as it may, Shaw's inspiration probably mattered little to audiences, given the omnipresence of the Joan story in the 192os. For French audiences. connections between its saint and British suffragettes such as Christabel Pankhurst and loan Annan Bryce were probably not obvious. Of course, in choosing such a well-known historical figure as his play's protagonist, Shaw dove straight into waters highly familiar to his audiences . One of his reasons for doing so was that he was so disgusted with "lohannamania" (in Louis Crompton's words) that he desired to strip "loan's legend of its supernaturalism and I".J the accretions of popular romance" (Crompton 37). To do this meant revising or recovering wholesale the story of loan. As Shaw explained in his lengthy "Preface" to the play, the strong and sophisticated Joan he wished to represent accurately was the heroine who had plotted and directed the "military and political masterstrokes that saved France" during the Hundred Years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 359-375
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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