The Maiden and the Nation: Joan of Arc at Orléans — a short play

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Characters:

Joan of Arc
An English Soldier
St. Margaret
St. Catherine

The scene is the English fortress of the Augustinians, near Orléans in France, May 6, 1429. A battle has just ended. Joan tends to a dying English soldier. Behind her hover two saints, Margaret and Catherine.

SOLDIER.  I’m thirsty.

JOAN.  You’re dying.

ST. MARGARET.  Give him a sip of water.

ST.  CATHERINE.  Sprinkle some on his forehead.

JOAN  (to SAINTS as she sprinkles water from a flask).  Don’t tell me how to help him. Save your wisdom for when I need it.

SOLDIER.  Who are you talking to?

JOAN.  My Council—St. Catherine and St. Margaret. They talk to me. Sometimes they talk too much.

SOLDIER.  Oh—you are La Pucelle.

JOAN. You know my name?

SOLDIER. We all do. Every English soldier. The witch of the French. The whore of the dauphin. Your banner, your amulets—laden with black spells. Hot wax—you pour upon the faces of children. You opened your veins—offered your blood—for fiends to drink. Your body—you gave it to Satan for his pleasure.

ST. MARGARET.  Such lies!

ST. CATHERINE.  Tell him that none of it is true.

ST. MARGARET.  Tell him what you really are.

JOAN  (to SAINTS).  Let the English think I’m evil. For now, anyway. They dread me and that’s good. We won this battle and we’ll drive them from France. They’ll soon know God righteously condemned them. They’ll know Jesus fought for us. (to SOLDIER) But poor boy—you must confess! And all the priests, busy with dying Frenchmen!

SOLDIER.  Take my confession.

JOAN.  You’d trust a witch with your eternal soul?

SOLDIER.  You’ve been close to God. You spat in his face. That’s closer than a priest.

ST. MARGARET.  A sensible lad!

ST. CATHERINE.  A practical lad!

SOLDIER. My last confession—it’s not been long. I’ve only one sin—just one—it troubles me. Marching through France, I saw a shepherd girl. All alone with her flock she was. Her sheep were scared—our troops’ trudging—it scattered them. But the girl didn’t move. My eyes met hers. Her eyes were frightened. She feared me. Her fear filled me with lust. I gazed at her with lust.

JOAN.  You did not act upon that lust?

SOLDIER.  No.

JOAN.  The Lord forgives you. But you came to a land that wasn’t yours. You gazed on it with lust. You acted upon that lust. You troubled people who never troubled you. That is the greater sin.

SOLDIER.  I obeyed my king. He rules by God’s grace. How can that be a sin? A sin to be English?

JOAN.  Many things we do not choose are sins. Our greatest sin was being born. I beg forgiveness every day. I repent that I weigh down my soul with flesh and bone. But ridding myself of flesh and bone would also be a sin. Freedom is scarce in this world.

SOLDIER.  And so—it is holy for you to kill.

JOAN.  God keeps me chaste, and he keeps me from killing. God preserves my innocence. (Showing him her sword) This sword—it has a secret. At Tours, before I joined the fighting, I needed a weapon. I asked my saints, where could I find one? St. Catherine told me to look in her church. My followers found it hidden there, a miracle.

SOLDIER.  The devil can work a miracle.

JOAN.  But that’s not the secret. I wouldn’t tell it to you if you weren’t dying. It’s dull as sandstone. It’s no good for fighting. The Good Lord gave me a weapon that can’t draw blood. It’s fit only for a schoolmaster’s paddle. And that’s how I use it. To smack knuckles and backsides. To send you Englishmen crying home to your mothers like naughty schoolboys.

SOLDIER.  And so—the men who follow you—you leave killing to them. You march at their head—face English ranks—they have no choice but to kill—kill to save your life. You deliver them into temptation—into evil—yet keep your innocence—your chastity of blood. (With a groan) Oh, I hear a voice! High and clear it rings—like a trumpet!

JOAN.  Surely it’s a demon.

ST. MARGARET.  And how would you know?

ST. CATHERINE.  Who are you to judge?

ST. MARGARET.  You of all people!

ST. CATHERINE.  Hear the boy out.

SOLDIER.  “You French!” it cries. “We’ve struck your cheek—now offer the other. We’ve stolen your coat, now give us your cloak. Love us, your enemies—bless us who curse you—do good to us who hate you—pray for us who despise you—persecute you!”

ST. MARGARET.  Tell him.

ST. CATHERINE.  Tell him that war is holy, just as peace is holy.

ST. MARGARET.  Tell him that the Prince of Peace Himself brought the Sword of War into this world, setting man against father and daughter against mother.

ST. CATHERINE.  Tell him that war must have its saints, the same as peace.

ST. MARGARET.  Tell him that the King of Heaven has chosen you as France’s Saint of War.

ST. CATHERINE.  Tell him.

ST. MARGARET.  Tell him now.

JOAN.  It is too late.

ST. CATHERINE.  He is gone, indeed.

ST. MARGARET.  I see his soul fluttering from his breast, darting across the fields like a butterfly.

ST. CATHERINE.  Where is it bound, I wonder?

ST. MARGARET.  But look—though his heart is stilled, it glows.

ST. CATHERINE.  Some other soul has lighted there, taking the departed one’s place.

ST. MARGARET.  Who might it be—an angel or a demon?

SOLDIER  (in a strange and powerful voice).  I am he who slew the dragon.

ST. MARGARET.  Oh, wonderful!

ST. CATHERINE.  Oh, splendid!

JOAN  (to SOLDIER).  Who are you?

ST. MARGARET.  Didn’t you hear?

ST. CATHERINE.  It is St. George, our brother in Christ!

ST. MARGARET  (to SOLDIER).  So it was you who spoke to the boy just now.

SOLDIER  (as before).  And ’twas I who brought him to Orléans; I who whispered to him all the evils of La Pucelle; I who filled his loins with lust for a maiden and a nation; I who thrust him in the path of a crossbow dart, so he might know an English hero’s blissful death. His mother shall rejoice that the sacrificial offering of her womb was deemed worthy of God. His father shall weep glad tears that his boy followed his footsteps into wayward France. For ’twas I who summoned that father to the field of Agincourt, where the English won a mighty victory. ’Twas I who guided that father’s ax to hack a score of Frenchman.

JOAN.  You speak for hell!

ST. MARGARET.  Silence, girl!

ST. CATHERINE.  How dare you blaspheme!

SOLDIER  (as before).  But this dead tongue grows stiff. I can speak no more. I must hasten myself to other English breasts, fill up their hearts and lungs with the eternal cry, “God for Harry, England, and St. George!”

ST. CATHERINE.  Farewell, our brother!

ST. MARGARET.  Godspeed in all you do!

JOAN  (to SOLDIER).  No! Don’t pass, you devil! Listen to me! Listen to my Council! (to SAINTS) Tell him, wise friends! Tell him the truth you told me! Tell him that the English are marked for disgrace! The King of Heaven wills it!

ST. CATHERINE.  That is your truth.

ST. MARGARET.  That is France’s truth.

ST. CATHERINE.  The English have their truth also.

ST. CATHERINE.  They read your Bible.

ST. MARGARET.  They pray to your God.

ST. CATHERINE.  They invoke His aid against you.

JOAN.  How can God answer both their prayers and mine?

ST. MARGARET.  Would you deny them the truth of their saints?

JOAN.  Two truths from one God?

ST. MARGARET.  With God all things are possible.

ST. CATHERINE.  You do not understand but you shall.

ST. MARGARET.  In betrayal you shall be blessed.

ST. CATHERINE.  In persecution you shall find wisdom.

ST. MARGARET.  In death you shall find peace.

ST. CATHERINE.  In paradise you shall grasp all mysteries.

ST. MARGARET.  But now your soul is weighted down by flesh and bone.

ST. CATHERINE.  You have earthly work to do.

ST. MARGARET.  Therefore, arise and win glory!

ST. CATHERINE.  Defeat the English and fulfill your sainthood!

ST. MARGARET.  Be God’s instrument, the archer by His side!

ST. MARGARET and ST. CATHERINE  (together).  Your foes are already killed by Him!

END OF PLAY

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play © 2008, Wim Coleman

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