A quarter-century after Joans death, King Charles VII is falling asleep over a book in bed when Ladvenu enters his chambers to tell him that Joan, in a new ecclesiastical inquiry, has been rehabilitated and judged innocent. Ladvenu reflects on the irony: at Joans first trial, justice was administered fairly and truth was told, and yet she was burned; at her second, falsehood prevailed in testimony and procedure, and yet the Maid has been justified. Charles sole concern is that he is now no longer open to charges that he was crowned by a witch and a heretic. He also talks about the hypocrisy of Joans latter-day judges: “If you could bring her back to life, they would burn her again within six months, for all their present adoration of her.”After Ladvenu leaves, Charles sleeps and dreams. Joan appears to him in his dream. Joan reacts to news of her rehabilitation with typical commonsense: “I was burned, all the same. Can they unburn me?” Charles admits, “If they could, they would think twice before they did it.”
More figures from the past-some dead, others who are also asleep, elsewhere, but whose spirits have been mystically summoned by the spirit of Joan-enter Charles dream. Cauchon manifests himself, relating how, as a result of the second inquest into Joans case, he is not allowed to rest in peace; his corpse has been unearthed and flung into the sewer, so great is the publics hatred of him, so thoroughgoing has the vilification of him been. Dunois appears, telling Joan that he has kept his word and has rid France of the English. And the soldier who fashioned the cross for Joan at her burning makes his entrance, also making the rather startling announcement that he is in hell, but receives one “day off” each year for that good deed that he did for Joan. Charles and the others also glimpses the future canonization of Joan as a saint, thanks to the entrance of a gentleman from the 1920s who announces the news of Joans elevation to sainthood.
The epilogue and play end with a striking contrast of “litanies.” One by one, the characters in the dream offer their praises to Saint Joan, reciting the various reasons why she is to be lauded. Joan then declares, “Woe unto me when all men praise me!” She asks who among her chorus of admirers would want her to return from the dead. One by one, each character rejects her. No one, given, the choice, would have her back. Only the anonymous solider stays with her, until he, too, leaves, summoned back to Hell at the stroke of midnight. The last line of the play echoes biblical language of lament as Joan cries out, “O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?”
When the anonymous soldier who made the cross for Joan tells her that his fifteen years service in the French wars was worse than his eternal damnation in Hell, Joan flings up her arms, a gesture, the stage directions inform us, of “despair of humanity.” That phrase could be seen as an apt summary of Shaws epilogue. Repeatedly, the playwright makes the point, through his characters, that Joan would be no more welcome in the modern world than she was in the medieval one. The litany of rejection that follows immediately after the litany of praise makes this point in a dramatic fashion, as does the plays famous final line. Some readers may feel that Shaw exercises a heavy hand, but he does not want the moral of his version of Joans story to go unnoticed and unheeded. Joans lamentation in the face of mens praise makes the point-as the Archbishop warned her in Scene V-that Joan is alone. alone in death, even as she was in life. Shaw leaves his audience and his readers with a vision of Joan as imaginative genius, one of those singular members of the human race who embody its super-personal drive for evolution, for advancement, for change. and who also embody the resistance to such development that is inevitably encountered. The plaintive question on Joans lips as the curtain falls, surely, is Shaws own.