New Play Friday: THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF JOAN OF ARC by James F. Ross
Friday, June 26, 2015
About the playwright: Oakland resident James F. Ross grew up in the American Midwest before moving first to New York City, and eventually to California. He attended various colleges and universities, and even managed to obtain degrees from some of them. He acted during college, but was drawn away from it by life’s annoying details, such as earning a living. Retirement from business is letting him revive his connections to the stage: acting and writing. The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc is his first play, and he is working on another—or two or three others, depending on his mood. He is married and has two grown children.
About the play:
UPDATE, August, 2016: Revised and renamed version of this play now available on Amazon. Check out Death of the Maiden here.
Original text as follows: The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc relates Joan’s final days, and how her lonely ordeal—physical, psychological, and spiritual—affects those around her. The martyrdom of the historical Joan in 1431 had a dramatic impact on the course of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, but this play focuses on the small, the personal, and the intimate. In this scene, Joan’s enemy, the English Governor Warwick, visits her cell. Joan has been exhausted by cross-examination and torture, and has abjured her visions and her mission from God. Warwick thinks he has won.
The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc (Act II, scene 4) was given a staged reading in the Playwright Cabaret at the 2015 Theatre Bay Area Annual Conference. Original Playwright Cabaret cast: Mary Werntz (Joan), Ro Ambrosio Birco (Warwick), Alejandro Torres (Bishop Cauchon).
© 2015 James F. Ross. The play cannot be performed without obtaining a license from the playwright. Inquiries about performance rights for The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc may be addressed to: James F. Ross, firstname.lastname@example.org. All rights reserved. Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that performances of The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc are subject to royalty. It is fully protected under copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproductions, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved. Particular emphasis is laid upon the question of readings, permission for which must be secured from the author in writing.
The Trial and Death of Joan of Arc (Act II, scene 4)
Joan: female, 20s-40s
Warwick: male, 20s-40s
The Tower cell, Castle of Rouen
JOAN is kneeling beside her bed with her head on it. She is utterly exhausted. The cell is very dark around her.
Joan: I am so tired…so very tired. Why am I so tired? God grant me strength. God? (straightening up in panic) God? Father…where are you? Where have you gone? I seek you, but I can’t find you. I’m calling you, Father, but you’re not answering me.
Oh, I wish could rise up and go away from here. Too tired…too tired. Where would I go, even if I could? Would I go back to Domremy, to my village? Wasn’t there once a Joan who loved her little village with its meadows and streams? Wasn’t there a Joan who loved her family and her life there singing songs together in the twilight? Wasn’t she the girl who always had a smile for the boy who lived down the road? You know the one, he had curly, brown hair…red highlights in it when he stood in the sunshine. Father, why did You pick that Joan, who was happy, to become the me I am now? Is there anything left of that Joan? I can’t even remember the boy’s name. Joan, the happy, little village girl—she’s gone. Joan, the warrior girl—she’s gone too. Only this Joan is left. This Joan…alone…and tired…tired, so tired and sad. Even You, God, aren’t with me any more. I’m so alone. I don’t even know if there is a Joan any more.
JOAN weeps. Then she cries out.
Joan: Oh God, where have you gone?
Warwick: I do not think anyone is listening.
Joan wipes her eyes, rises, and bows.
Joan: God is always listening, your Excellency.
Warwick: Mmm, yes…God. Of course, God.
JOAN is silent.
Warwick (cont’d): Tell me, Maid, have you reconciled yourself to your fate?
Joan: I’m reconciled to whatever God decides for me, your Excellency.
Warwick: It must have been easy to reconcile yourself to…fame…victory…the company of princes.
Joan: You acknowledge that Charles of France is a prince.
Warwick: Oh, yes. If he is reasonable, then my liege, King Henry, may grant him some princedom somewhere. Charles is, after all, of royal heritage. The conflicts between kings are ever family disputes, and rulers will always rule. It’s our measure, you and I, to live as best we can in their shadow.
Joan: I hadn’t thought of my allegiance to my king as a shadow, Excellency.
Warwick: Call it what you will, Maid. And if it pleases you to think of yourself as serving God, do that also. But you have not answered my question.
Joan: All I have done has required reconciling myself to God’s will, Excellency. If I had followed only my feelings, I’d still be a simple girl on my parents’ farm…feeding the chickens, herding the pigs to the forest for acorns, singing songs with my mother. I miss these things desperately.
Warwick: Don’t you miss the glory of winning battles?
Joan: A battle may be a necessary thing, Excellency, but the slain are still the slain.
Warwick: And are of no further account.
Joan: They are yet of account to God, Excellency.
Warwick: Do you miss it?
Joan: Sometimes I miss the simplicity of it. At first it’s all audacity and energy. Then either victory or defeat. So simple.
Warwick: What of fear?
Joan: I’m still that simple peasant girl, Excellency. I was always afraid.
Warwick: Yet you always led the charges.
Joan: Fear is the first enemy, Excellency. One must vanquish fear before anything else.
Warwick: Is that what your angels did? Take away the fear?
Joan: No, Excellency. They just told me what I had to do. I had hope.
Warwick: You saw the victories in advance?
Joan: No, Excellency. I hoped for them, but I couldn’t see them.
Warwick: (restless, pacing around the cell) I don’t see how…how without knowing…the fear, it had to have been very great.
Joan: It was. It is.
Warwick: Death or capture. You said you knew in advance of your capture. Yet you continued to lead the charges.
Joan: Surely, Excellency, you know what a soldier’s duty is. Even a soldier who is a girl can know what her duty is.
Warwick: (pacing, agitated) A soldier has his duty. I have mine. Victory. Always victory. The risk. The danger. Are you not telling me something? Tell me!
Joan: Nothing you’ve asked has been contrary to my oaths, Excellency. Therefore, I’ve answered you honestly and with an open heart. What are you seeking?
Warwick: (pacing) Ah…how can it …? what …? It cannot, yet…What’s this?
WARWICK sees the straw crown lying in a corner of the floor. As he picks it up, JOAN gasps and touches her head with both hands.
Warwick: How curious. A straw crown. Might not the prospect of a great reward from her king be a balm against fear? Yes! I begin to see it now. That Charles of yours promised you things, didn’t he? Great things. Honor. Wealth. Position…a place at court. Oh, now I see it all! Oh, yes, for the hope of such high rewards a man might throw a blanket over his fears and take a risk or two. Prudent risks well considered against the chance of great reward. And Charles held those out to you, didn’t he. Now I see it. And still you hope for this, even here. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, Maid, but you have lost the game and better players have won. You will never leave this cell. All your rewards were dreams, and dreams they will remain. Dream whatever you wish, Maid, but do not hope. You are condemned to live and wither and die in this cell. You are imprisoned where no one can free you. Forever.
JOAN sinks to her knees.
Joan: My Lord Governor, by your grace, I humbly beg you for a favor.
Warwick: What might I do for you, Maid…of Captivity? (Laughs.)
Joan: Would you send the Bishop to me?
Warwick: My bishop? Why not. I like it that you finally understand who has authority over you. Victory!
WARWICK exits tossing and catching the crown like a ball.
Joan: (weeping bitterly) My crown of salvation…I’ve lost it! Oh, my Jesus, I’ve denied you! God have mercy on me. I failed the test. I was afraid of the fire. Where is my hope without You? Failed. Failed. Failed.
Enter BISHOP CAUCHON.
Cauchon: Prisoner, what have you to say for yourself now?
Joan: That I lied when I put my mark on that document.
Cauchon: Prisoner, answer very carefully now. What are you saying?
Joan: I lied when I put my mark on that document. It was only out of fear. I take it back. Everything I said about my visions, Archangel Michael, and God’s mission for me is true. I lied when I abjured. I regret it and take it back before God and before you.
Cauchon: (trembling) You take back your confession? Do you?
Joan: I do.
Cauchon: Then you must die.
Joan: I know…I know. Oh, I’m so tired.
Cauchon: Prisoner…Joan…there is no turning back from this. The law is very firm. I’m sorry for you. Truly.
Exit BISHOP CAUCHON.
Joan: Forgive me, Father. I thought there was nothing left of me. I thought there was nothing left of Joan. But that was a kind of prison, wasn’t it? The Joan I was so worried about was still lingering in a prison of herself. The Joan who stood up to them…I was proud of myself for it, but it was Your strength that let me do it. That Joan who answered boldly…I thought it was my boldness, but it was all Yours. I was proud of that Joan, so pride stood in my way. You let me fail to free me of it, didn’t You? (Pause.) Now I can stand here as the true Joan. Now I’m truly free at last.
End of scene.