Joan's earliest appearance on stage was in the mystery play, The Siege of Orléans. It was first performed as part of Orléans' public festival of thanksgiving for their delivery from the English soon after the event - by 1435 at the latest. The people of Orléans were apparently not impressed by the heresy conviction: the play makes it clear that Joan's instructions come directly from God. It is an epic pageant - 20,529 lines long, with 146 speaking roles, and 201 scenes; it probably took at least two days to perform in full. The version of the text shown is the first printed edition, based on the sole manuscript, Vatican Library 1022.
Joan has graced the stage in at least a hundred published dramatic works. Some are deservedly forgotten; some are examples of a great playwright's ability to make something that lives on. This is the earliest edition of Schiller's soaring drama, printed soon after it was first performed in Leipzig in September 1801. The work achieved iconic status as poetry, but is far removed from the facts: Joan has an enchanted helmet and falls in love with an English soldier. Captured by the English, she rips off her chains by (miraculous) main force and dashes back into battle, only to be wounded. Her apparently lifeless body is brought before the king, where she revives long enough to rise, raise her banner, and see the Blessed Virgin welcoming her to heaven before she finally falls.
D'Avrigni's tragedy, first performed at the Comedie Française in 1819, is only slightly more firmly bound to the historical facts. The Duke of Bedford tries to persuade Joan to go to England; the Duchess of Bedford and Talbot try to save her life. She is actually burned, although by mistake, but she manages several patriotic speeches while the confused arguments swirl around her. Bedford has the last word, bewailing the eternal blot on his honor.
George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan is probably the best known work on Joan for the stage. In this extraordinary drama centering on "the most notable Warrior Saint in theChristian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages," Shaw created a group of thoroughly human characters. With dialog, especially in the trial scenes,based to a great extent on historical records, Joan emerges as a pious patriot, struggling against both church and state. At right, Siobhan McKenna in the title role, 1956.
The Lark is the foremost drama about Joan since Shaw's. Her history is staged as a series of flashbacks out of sequence, to emphasize the message of her story, rather than its events. The execution is interrupted, for example, so the play can end with Charles' coronation, and Cauchon, the bishop who led the interrogation is given the last word, "Joan of Arc: a story which ends happily."
As well as presentation on the legitimate stage, Joan has a long history of appearing in plays and pageants mounted by amateur theatrical troupes. Bryn Mawr College is no exception: Joan, described as "Saint" before she was beatified, was the subject of the 1905 Junior-Senior Supper Play.