Jeanne D’Arc or Joan, the Original and Presumptuous…
The second in my series of Shakespeare’s “She Wolves” I have featured Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake in France in 1431. In his 1925 book of his play, “Saint Joan: A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and an Epilogue”, the author, playwright and philosopher, George Bernard Shaw writes:
“Joan of Arc, a village girl from Vosges, was born about 1412; burnt for heresy, witchcraft and sorcery in 1431; rehabilitated after a fashion in 1456; designated Venerable in 1904; declared Blessed in 1908; and finally Canonised in 1920. She is the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian Calendar, the queerest fish amongst the eccentric Worthies of the Middle Ages. Though a professed and most pious Catholic, and the projector of a crusade against the *Hussites, she was in fact one of the first Protestant Martyrs. She was also one of the first apostles of French Nationalism, and the first French practitioner of Napoleonic realism in warfare as distinguished from the sporting ransom-gambling chivalry of her time. She was the pioneer of rational dressing for women, and, like Queen Christina of Sweden two centuries later, to say nothing of Catalina de Eurauso and innumerable obscure heroines who have disguised themselves as men to serve soldiers, and sailors, she refused to accept the specific “women’s lot”, and dressed, fought and lived as men did. As she contrived to assert herself in all these ways with such force that she was famous throughout western Europe before she was out of her teens (indeed she never got out of them), it is hardly surprising that she was judicially burnt, ostensibly for a number of capital crimes which we no longer punish as such, but essentially for what we call “unwomanly and insufferable presumption”.
*Jan Hus came from Bohemia, an independent principality now known as Czechoslovakia and became a religious reformer and mystic who, along with other self-sacrificing martyrs pioneered the path to Protestantism in Europe and England. He was originally ordained as a priest in 1401 and later taught at the University of Prague. He became familiar with the literary pamphlets of Peter Valdez of Lyons and the English reformer John Wycliffe and soon began to criticise the orthodox ecclesiastical establishment for their immoral and corrupt interpretation of the scriptures. Like the ignominious leader of the Lollards, Sir John Oldcastle (Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff in the Merry Wives of Windsor), Jan Hus also rejected the traditional idea of transubstantiation in the Christian Catholic Mass. In 1415 he was lured to the Council of Constance under the pretext of discussing his strongly held theological views, and was arrested, tried and then condemned to death as a heretic. His followers and adherents accepted him as a martyr to their cause and were thenceforth known as the Hussites.
I read somewhere that at her trial, part of Joan’s defence was that she was pregnant, which, at the time would excuse women from execution, even if they were found guilty of witchcraft and communing with evil spirits. Well I don’t recall being there at the time, and so far as anything that has been written about Joan could categorically be said to “ring of truth” is anybody’s guess really. These speculations over Joan (La Pucelle) are of course numerous and in many cases the fabrication over the years of the historical legend may obscure the real facts. We know from several accounts of her lowly beginnings, her visions and the divine call to re-establish sovereignty for the French Catholic bloodline. In those days the practice was to secure young nubile women and girls from the rural areas, who unlike the syphilitic whores from the towns posed no threat to their rich clients. In fact prostitution was a popular feature in the churchyard where wealthy clients succumbed to temptation as it was the non-salubrious urban streets. It seems Joan’s introduction to the military and the court by a courtesan might have followed such a scenario. Indeed the most likely result was that she might have become involved quite innocently at first, but being bright soon realised her mission there might be a suitable compensation for an otherwise relatively undistinguished birth and bucolic life as a shepherdess. Indeed she might even have become involved in sexual rituals reminiscent of those of the Knight Templars (Western Christian Tantrism). I believe there was some extraordinary controversy over her supposed pregnancy because the child in fact may have been the Dauphin’s.
And hark ye, sirs; because she is a maid,
Spare for no faggots, let there be enow:
Place barrels of pitch upon the fatal stake,
That so her torture may be shortened.
Joan la Pucelle
Will nothing turn your unrelenting hearts?
Then, Joan, discover thine infirmity,
That warranteth by law to be thy privilege.
I am with child, ye bloody homicides:
Murder not then the fruit within my womb,
Although ye hale me to a violent death.
Now heaven forfend! the holy maid with child!
The greatest miracle that e’er ye wrought:
Is all your strict preciseness come to this?
She and the Dauphin have been juggling:
I did imagine what would be her refuge.
On the other hand she might have made the story up to evade torture at the hands of her persecutors. Her entire life seems to be confounded with ambiguity – A Protestant martyr later canonised by the Catholic Church? It seems she had enemies on both sides of the fence, both Church and state were suspicious of her messianic approach and radical feminism. George Bernard Shaw goes on to analyse the various aspects of Joan’s personality in the light of the circumstances to which she was subjected throughout her short life. Strangely enough, as if there are no female precedents, he compares her life to that of Socrates, and to Napoleon, seriously questions her guilt and culpability, applauds her good looks, acknowledges the failure of her visions and voices, her manliness and military zeal, whether she was prone to manic depression or suicide, her immaturity and ignorance, whether her diet and fasts were the cause of her visions, her role as a political offender, and her role as a French theocratic prophet. He ends by saying that “history is always out of date”, particularly when examining Joan’s iconic status, he writes:
“This I think, is all we can now pretend to say about the prose of Joan’s career. The romance of her rise, the tragedy of her execution, and the comedy of the attempts of posterity to make amends for that execution, belong to my play and not to my preface…..; but they all break down on the melodramatic legend of the wicked bishop and the entrapped maiden and the rest of it.”
In Henry VIth part one, Act one scene 2, Joan of Arc appears as a character for the first time and immediately proves her valour against Charles:
Joan La Pucelle
Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd’s daughter,
My wit untrain’d in any kind of art.
Heaven and our Lady gracious hath it pleased
To shine on my contemptible estate:
Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs,
And to sun’s parching heat display’d my cheeks,
God’s mother deigned to appear to me
And in a vision full of majesty
Will’d me to leave my base vocation
And free my country from calamity:
Her aid she promised and assured success:
In complete glory she reveal’d herself;
And, whereas I was black and swart before,
With those clear rays which she infused on me
That beauty am I bless’d with which you see.
Ask me what question thou canst possible,
And I will answer unpremeditated:
My courage try by combat, if thou darest,
And thou shalt find that I exceed my sex.
Resolve on this, thou shalt be fortunate,
If thou receive me for thy warlike mate.
Thou hast astonish’d me with thy high terms:
Only this proof I’ll of thy valour make,
In single combat thou shalt buckle with me,
And if thou vanquishest, thy words are true;
Otherwise I renounce all confidence.
Joan La Pucelle
I am prepared: here is my keen-edged sword,
Deck’d with five flower-de-luces on each side;
The which at Touraine, in Saint Katharine’s
Out of a great deal of old iron I chose forth.
Then come, o’ God’s name; I fear no woman.
Joan La Pucelle
And while I live, I’ll ne’er fly from a man.
Here they fight, and Joan La Pucelle overcomes Charles.
-Stay, stay thy hands! thou art an Amazon
And fightest with the sword of Deborah.
I have already written in Shakespeare’s Qaballah describing Shakespeare’s highly charged masculine/feminine dramatic and poetic narrative (Eros & Chaos) infused with a certain sexual imagery (eg: Venus & Adonis). Despite this polarisation of national icons England’s heroic male, Talbot and France’s divine heroine both die apparently for nothing, England losing the war and Joan of Arc being tried for witchcraft and being burned at the stake. Joan Pucelle, as she was known (a French word that means “whore” (ie; puzzel) is for the most part characterised as a “prophetic messenger” sent from God or a “diabolic whore sent from Hell”. And what is worse she actually dresses like a man, not unlike the boy players of Saint Paul’s who dressed like women in order to undertake their female parts on stage.
When France’s alpha female Joan of Arc takes Orleans to the surprise of the English forces, England’s alpha male, Talbot remarks:
My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel;
I know not where I am, nor what I do;
A witch, by fear, not force, like Hannibal,
Drives back our troops and conquers as she lists:
So bees with smoke and doves with noisome stench
Are from their hives and houses driven away.
They call’d us for our fierceness English dogs;
Now, like to whelps, we crying run away.
Similarly, (perhaps in imitation) Queen Elizabeth dressed in male armour and mounted a horse at Tilbury in order to rally the English forces against the Spanish invasion. But the most remarkable thing about Joan is that she speaks truth to power for example on the death of Talbot:
“Him that thou magnif’st with all these titles, stinking and fly-blown lies here at our feet.” Or when the Duke of Burgundy is persuaded to join the French: “Done like a Frenchman, [aside] turn and turn again”.
But she is depicted by the playwright as someone who freely and willingly consorts with “demons”; who nevertheless reject her wishes and pleas for mercy because she is pregnant with child. Furthermore, two other powerful French aristocratic women, in contrast to the peasant shepherdess, threaten the “manhood” of the English court; the Countess of Auverne and Margaret of Anjou. The former has the task of incarcerating the ferocious English hero, Talbot in his cell, guarded 24 hours, while the latter conquers the English King and divides his forces with her grace and beauty. Even in the list of dramatis personae the actors are divided into the “English” and “The French”. This play could have been a remarkable dramatic epic but resigns itself merely to familiar tropes of national pride on both sides which, in the end, is unjustified. Rather it seems to sum up a typical English national characteristic to applaud the guy who tried but ultimately failed and to denigrate the gal who succeeded by being canonised as a saint. “Divided we stand, united we fall” could very easily be the motto contained in this play where a woman, with her courage, modesty and innocence is able to unite an entire country against a common foe. Perhaps the play intended to leave an audience polarised in their views of what it means to be English. I have already written about the prevalence in the widespread belief and practice of witchcraft around the late 1590’s in my review of Macbeth and in what context witches were taken seriously in Elizabethan England. I recently discovered that in the 15th-16th centuries that King James IVth of Scotland killed the largest number of women throughout Europe who were accused of witchcraft, tried and tested in peculiar ways and finally burned at the stake. A greater number than were killed in the Spanish Inquisition apparently.
There is also some speculation to propose that she did not really die at the stake and was in actual fact spirited away at the eleventh hour by her judge and arch rival the Bishop of Beauvais – Pierre Cauchon. That being the case one is therefore tempted to ask why the bishop would have done such a thing? It has been suggested that another female heretic was burnt in her place, no doubt the French dungeons were full of suitable candidates at the time. The twist is that there may in fact have been secret partisans of the French King at the trial of Jean d’Arc who would have been happy to see her burn. That she was rejected by the French court suggests that she might have been considered useful for political or propaganda purposes by the French against the English. In that case we should detect in her character how easily she would have succumbed to the role of victim or scapegoat. Perhaps a martyr to a cause is more fitting to her than victim, however, according to documentary evidence it seems her allegiance to France and her King were two of her most unalterable convictions. The third of these proclamations to the English clergy was of course her belief that she was the popular voice or messenger of God. In the opinion of the Orthodox Church for both the French and English clergy this was the most unbearable of Joan’s blasphemies or “sins”. Bernard Shaw mentions Joan’s brief appearance in Shakespeare’s Henry VIth, Part One but makes an interesting observation about the popular and civic reactions to Joan and other similar evangelical figures throughout history. It was not only the final betrayal by those in authority but the fear of the avatar or genius by the orthodox state and Church…….but strangely enough this is a typical reaction even today.
George Bernard Shaw wrote;
“Socrates had to drink hemlock, Jesus had to hang on a cross, and Joan to be burnt at a stake, while Napoleon ended his life in exile but at least died in his bed….”
With reference to the use of messianic magical volition:
“Be that as it may an occultist has the right, if he also has the Love and Will, to detach themselves from the mainstream of reactions……..To pursue one’s vision or divine mission perhaps…..”
In Joan’s case she seems to have ridden on the wave of her visions, prophecy and naïve presumptions using them magically to good effect. Perhaps in some instances not even conscious of her supra-personal powers, who can say. This is the archetypal image of the inspired warrior working with the “Ray of Harmony through Conflict” (Theosophical types). The synchronicity of human precognition and external reality is in some cases like a drug, the danger of delusion and addiction is always nearby and consequently one which should be handled with caution. She intuitively anticipated the reformation and by her example demonstrated the sacrifice that humanity would experience in the process of this evolutionary change. Her visions were archetypal energies surfacing from her subconscious expressed visually as divine personalities or “archangels” as they are known in spiritual circles. Archetypes of this kind are psychic vehicles for spiritual evolution working through the natural inclinations and appetites such as personal ambition, social status, recognition as well as political or theocratic power. She demonstrated that the Law of God inferred the acceptance or embrace in change by the provision of reforms to the status quo, which if the Catholic Church had been sufficiently aware enough to recognise would have spared humanity the Inquisition and persecution of the reformists.
Joan’s arrival to the court of the French King was probably the product of more than mere spontaneous missionary zeal or the fulfilment of an oracular prophecy. Any more than Vladimir Putin, Sadam Hussein or Adolf Hitler were, at least at the beginning, the fulfilment of a popular prayer. This is the propaganda of church and state. There are several references to oracular consultations by the court of the King of course because they were the losing side, but the means or methods employed, as far as I know, have not been ascertained.
There are narrative echoes of Joan’s circumstances in Shakespeare’s play All’s Well That Ends Well, Helena professes to cure the King of a fistula, and restore him to good health.
I will tell truth; by grace itself I swear.
You know my father left me some prescriptions
Of rare and proved effects, such as his reading
And manifest experience had collected
For general sovereignty; and that he will’d me
In heedfull’st reservation to bestow them,
As notes whose faculties inclusive were
More than they were in note: amongst the rest,
There is a remedy, approved, set down,
To cure the desperate languishings whereof
The king is render’d lost.
Furthermore, in the play Measure For Measure with Isabella when a corrupt Lord, (Angelo) offers to spare the life of her accused brother, Claudio if she would be secretly inclined to have sex with him.
Son, I have overheard what hath passed between you
and your sister. Angelo had never the purpose to
corrupt her; only he hath made an essay of her
virtue to practise his judgment with the disposition
of natures: she, having the truth of honour in her,
hath made him that gracious denial which he is most
glad to receive. I am confessor to Angelo, and I
know this to be true; therefore prepare yourself to
death: do not satisfy your resolution with hopes
that are fallible: tomorrow you must die; go to
your knees and make ready.
Abusing his power and temporary position, Angelo makes an indirect proposal to Isabella, viz: her virtue and hand in marriage for the life of her brother. Realising the reasons for his actions are without honour she reviles him and he leaves giving her another day to decide the final outcome. Isabella informs her brother Claudio of her encounter with Angelo and his indecent proposal and shortly afterwards he is again visited by Vincento, again disguised as a monk preparing him for his possible execution. Claudio pleads the case to Isabella of surrendering to Angelo’s demands but she is equally shocked at her own brother’s plan to escape death at the price of her feminine virtue. At this meeting Vincento overhears of Angelo’s intrigues and comforts Claudio saying that he is only testing Isabella’s sincerity and loyalties. He then informs Isabella of Angelo’s own rejected betrothed Marianna who on the night of the vile occasion could be substituted for her. Isabella agrees to this plot which will save her honour, release her brother, shame Angelo and have Marianna avenged.
The Legend of Joan is now mere mythic reflections, but her true story would have read more like that of a secret agent acting on behalf of a subversive religious cult. Other events suggest she might have suffered on occasions bouts of schizophrenia or manic depression. In my own personal view the popular myth of the “Maid” was partly re-configured by what took place at Vaucoleurs and subsequently taken up by the unsuspecting Dauphin who saw how the presumptuous Maid could rejuvenate him and his campaign against the English. Now this puts Joan into the mythic role of the 3-fold Goddess, as say the Morrigan, or as Brigit and from the Arthurian strand of legends that of Perceval, with the Dauphin as the Maimed King. The esoteric clan knew they had to unite a disintegrating France with a “big idea”, and Vaucoleurs saw the strange relationship between the *old prophecy (attributed to no less than the Venerable Bede and Merlin of the Arthurian Legend) that:
“France’s downfall was due to an evil woman, and her victory lay in the hands of a young girl”…….and the arrival of Joan with her visions or hallucinations. The synchronicity of the actual circumstances of the time with the old Celtic legends is clearly unmistakable.”
I realise that this sounds like a medieval conspiracy theory, but my mind is open to other possibilities and I am not prepared to swallow wholesale the popular legend and myth of Joan. All forms and manifestations of occultism, alchemy, black magic or witchcraft were prevalent in that time as evidenced for example in the apocalyptic paintings of “*Hieronymus Bosch” (aka; Jeroen, Anthoniszoon van Aken) – who was a member of a secret religious cult not dissimilar in actual fact to that of the Adamites. Bernard Shaw points out that Joan had a remarkable ability to visualise or dream, whether or not this extended into clairvoyant ability is uncertain. However, she was probably not naïve nor unintelligent, and neither was she a simple shepherdess unfamiliar with war or military endeavours. In my view all these spiritual or romantic portraits are stuff and nonsense, what we wish to believe becomes the acceptable truth of the matter. We need only compare the accounts of the life of Christ to what is really known about him to realise that we know more of what he was not than what he was. The same is true with respect to the Maid of Orleans. Anyway, as you might already be aware the mental asylums of the world are full of people who behave and act like Napoleon, Jesus Christ and Joan of Arc. So before we get entangled in all these numerous speculations and scientific theories on the process of their death, the life of these well known figures is in my mind more illuminating. Irrespective of the fine details of the death of either Napoleon or Saint Joan, I am aware there are three facets to this type of examination.
There is the real Joan, the mythical or legendary Joan and the Archetypal energy with which the mystical or militaristic arousal of these personalities engage. Bearing this in mind the facts or fictitious conclusions are relevant with respect to her as an entity, a human being and a fantasy. I am tempted to write more on Joan, because as I say I have been personally engaged with the energy of her archetype. If Joan had never been born, somewhere in the world another female would have taken her place in history. I think I was fortunate enough to determine albeit rather vaguely a psychic portrait of Joan’s life. Another factor is her “visions”, that is what caused them, when they started and when they ceased. I have heard that Hieronymus Bosch‘s visions were induced by the use of drugs – most probably Belladonna, Aconite, ergot or psilocybin mushrooms. Joan could easily have experimented with any of these “witches’ ointments” as they were known. A popular boiled concoction of the time being Belladonna, this apparently produces repeated and persistent experiences long after the drug has been ingested. These are known in popular parlance as “flash-backs”.
The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows: