Charles the Dauphin and his court are at the central French town of Chinon. As the scene begins, four courtiers-Georges, Duc de la Tremouille, the Lord Chamberlain (the most important official in a royal household and counselor to the monarch); Regnault de Chartres, the Archbishop of Rheims (where the cathedral in which all French kings have been crowned is located); Captain Gilles de Rais, or “Bluebeard” for the “extravagance of a little curled beard dyed blue” which he sports, an aristocrat and military commander; and another commander, Captain La Hire-are discussing the accidental drowning of a solider whose death Joan supposedly prophesied because he was swearing. The Dauphin enters, interrupting the conversation, excited about the news he has received that Baudricourt is sending Joan to him: “[H]e is sending a saint: an angel. And she is coming to me. She knows the blood royal.” Archbishop de Chartres protests that Charles cannot have an audience with Joan: “This creature is not a saint. She is not even a respectable woman.” La Hire proposes finding out what Joan is by testing her: when she arrives, Gilles de Rais will impersonate the Dauphin. If she can see through the deception, she will be permitted to speak to Charles. All agree to the plan, though for different reasons. Charles, for instance, wants to know that Joan can, in fact, detect the royal blood in him; De Chartres, on the other hand-who knows full well that, because the Dauphins physical description is common knowledge, Joan will be able to reject Gilles de Rais as an impostor-hopes that her “miracle” of detection will “confirm or create faith.”
Joan, of course, does recognize that La Hire is not the Dauphin, and she is quickly introduced to Charles. They speak privately. Joan urges a reluctant Charles to accept his destiny: “[T]hou must face what God puts on thee.” Charles is loath to engage his enemies in combat, for “one good treaty is worth ten good fights.” Joan insists, however, that it cannot be Frances English invaders who are allowed to set the terms of any treaties. Charles further protests that he does not want to be king. Joan at last “tempts” him (Shaws word in the stage directions) by outlining for him her vision of a united France at peace. Charles calls his court back into session and announces that he has given command of his army to Joan-an announcement that sits well with neither La Tremouille nor De Chartres.
Scene II raises the question of how much Joan is actually commanding the situation around her, and how much others are using her to advance their own agenda. As did Baudricourt and Polly in Scene I, the character in this scene recognize that supporting Joans crusade is a pragmatic, common sense decision. General Jack Dunois-the so-called “Bastard of Orleans” because he was the natural son of Louis, Duke of Orleans, Charles father whom the Burgundians had assassinated-has been unable to take his troops across the Loire River to attack the English because the wind has been blowing against him; therefore, the characters ask, might not Joan, for all her talk of saints and angels and visions, be able to do some good? The tone of Scene II, however, is quite different. Whereas Polly seemingly expressed a genuine hope, the outlook expressed here is more marked by cynicism and weariness. Consider, for instance, La Tremouilles line: “Oh, let them have their way. Dunois men will give up the town in spite of him if somebody does not put some fresh spunk into them.” Also note how Archbishop de Chartres moves quickly from summary dismissal of Joan and her claims to a posture of asserting ecclesiastical authority over her: “The Church must examine the girl before anything is done about her.” La Tremouille and De Chartres conversation about Joan and miracles, in fact, emphasizes the degree to which Joan is vulnerable to being manipulated by others: the Archbishop views her as a potential “miracle,” not in any supernatural sense, but as “an event which creates faith,” even if the supposedly “miraculous” aspects can be rationally accounted for. Notice also how the Archbishop, who scoffed at the idea that Joan prophesied “Foul Mouthed Frank”s death, then makes a similar prophecy of his own regarding De Rais, invoking Joans authority with the soldiers as his own. In these and other ways, Scene II dramatizes the claim Shaw made in the preface: that Joan, for all her energy and positive action, was always at the mercy of institutional and social forces larger than she understood.
Joan adopts an almost maternal attitude toward Charles in Scene II: she calls him the diminutive and intimate “Charlie,” for example, and she calls him a “poor child” whom she will have to teach to pray. Yet she also seems childlike, especially in her attitude of absolute and immediate subjection toward De Chartres: “Oh, my lord, you have given me such strength, such courage. It must be a most wonderful thing to be Archbishop.” This tension, too, dramatizes statements Shaw has made about Joan in the preface, and illustrates the paradoxical nature of her character.
This scene reinforces the preface in a further manner. De Chartres recognizes that “a new spirit [is] rising” in the age. “We are at the dawning of a wider epoch,” he states-an epoch, readers can infer, in which rationalism will carry the day away from religion. As a result, the Archbishop acts with great pragmatism (as his discussion of “miracles,” referenced above, demonstrates). Not only does the Archbishops recognition of what we could call a new zeitgeist illustrate Shaws depiction of Joan as a proto-Protestant and -Nationalist, it also is one example of his practice of having his characters say “what they would have said” if they fully understood their own actions and socio-cultural setting.
In both his stage directions and in the exchange of dialogue between De Rais and the Archbishop about his destiny on the gallows, Shaw is alluding to the fact that the historical De Rais is considered a forerunner of the modern “serial killer.” For the murder of several young victims, de Rais was hanged; although he suffered this temporal capital punishment, he avoided the spiritual fate of excommunication by voluntary confession. Shaw does not fully develop the parallels he sees, if any, between Joans trial and de Rais, likely because most academic historians today do not dispute de Rais crimes (although some conspiracy theories persist, claiming that de Rais was framed). It is interesting, however, that both Joan and de Rais found themselves tried and executed, and that the one who died in the good graces of the Church-de Rais-was, history has shown, the true criminal, as opposed to Joan, who died a “relapsed heretic.”