Globe Theatre Celebrate New Play Portraying Joan of Arc as a Nonbinary Saint

A new play at the historic Globe Theatre portrays Joan of Arc as nonbinary, bringing a fresh perspective to the story of the 15th-century Catholic saint.

The London theatre’s website includes a lengthy statement on the choice to use they/them pronouns for the infamous protagonist, noting the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun as early as 1375, years before Joan was born.

“We are not the first to present Joan this way, and we will not be the last,” the statement reads, referring to the character’s gender identity  St. Joan was known to dress in clothing used by men, and she assumed the role of military leader, a role that was held exclusively by men of her time.

I, Joan is directed by Ilinca Radulian, and stars nonbinary actor Isobel Thom as Joan. Speaking to NBC News about the production, Thom described the play as “full of joy and love and hope and magic and revolution.”

“Storytelling and art is a platform to share experiences, to stretch imaginations, to excite and inspire, to explore language, and to represent,” Thom added. “People and communities deserve to be championed, and there’s no limit to the number we can do that for.”

The play was written by Charlie Josephine, who also identifies as nonbinary and uses they/him pronouns. They were drawn to re-telling Joan’s story by parallels from their own life and experience of poverty and attempts to blur gender lines.

“It’s going to be this big sweaty, queer, revolution, rebellion, festival of like joy,” the writer told the Daily Mail in an interview. They described the project as “an expansion of a historical figure,” adding “I hope that opens up new possibilities for empathy and new possibilities of understanding for everyone.”

Michelle Terry, the artistic director for the Globe Theatre, concurred, pointing out that Shakespeare “took figures of the past to ask questions about today’s world” without concerns for perfect historical accuracy.

“History has provided countless and wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman,” she explained. “This production is simply offering the possibility of another point of view. That is the role of theatre: to simply ask the question, ‘imagine if?’”

Indeed, debates over the sexual orientation and gender identity of the saintly French teenager have simmered for decades, and this newest interpretation has sparked plenty of commentary. Much of the criticism argues that portrayal of Joan as nonbinary fuels ideas that women cannot be strong or warriors or otherwise “cancels” women’s achievements.

The Atlantic writer Helen Lewis claimed to have an open mind but also opined that “the general practice of declaring historical women too interesting to be mere females is regressive.”

Others were supportive of the idea, comparing the interpretation to choices of all-female actors in Shakespearean plays and Hamilton’s use of Black and Latinx actors to portray the founding fathers.

For the Globe Theatre and the creators of I, Joan, the work stands firmly in the Shakespearean tradition of creativity and imagination. It also exemplifies their stated values as “unequivocally pro-human rights,” including support of trans and nonbinary identities and a commitment to “becoming an inclusive and diverse organisation.”

A biography linked to the theatre’s statement sums it up: “Whoever Joan truly was, perhaps the most accurate descriptor for them is simply ‘icon.’”

Angela Howard McParland (she/her), New Ways Ministry, September 6, 2022

1 reply
  1. CGesange
    CGesange says:

    This article claims (echoing a claim by the playwright and Globe Theatre) that Joan of Arc may have been non-binary because Joan “was known to dress in clothing used by men, and she assumed the role of military leader”, which is badly misleading on both points. Historians have pointed out that several eyewitnesses who had been at her trial said she continued wearing soldier’s clothing (the so-called “male clothing”) in prison so she could keep it “firmly laced and tied” to prevent her guards from pulling her clothing off when they tried to rape her, since this type of clothing had dozens of cords that could be laced through eyelets in the tunic to attach the trousers, long hip-boots and tunic together into one piece; just as she had previously been given this clothing to wear in the army for several practical reasons. The trial bailiff, Jehan Massieu, said her guards finally maneuvered her into a “relapse” (to justify a conviction) by taking away her dress and forcing her to put the soldier’s clothing back on, then the judge condemned her; but the Globe Theatre’s staff claim that this somehow means that she was willing to die for male clothing. The idea that she led the army (thereby allegedly “transgressing gender norms”) is contradicted by her own statements, the descriptions by eyewitnesses and the Royal military records which all show that she didn’t lead directly since there was always a nobleman in command. She was a religious visionary in an era when there were many women in that role. She also always called herself “the maiden” (“la pucelle”) as her standard moniker, which would seem to indicate a female identity beyond any reasonable doubt. She was not “androgynous” as the play presents her: eyewitnesses described her as “beautiful and shapely”, and her hair wasn’t nearly as short as it has been made out to be (the trial transcript claims it was cut at ear level even after a year in prison, which presents a physical impossibility since prisoners were never allowed sharp tools and her hair therefore would have grown out by at least five inches during that time; therefore this part of the transcript was likely falsified along with so many other parts, according to dozens of eyewitnesses who said the transcript was deliberately falsified on the judge’s orders). In any event, there are ample eyewitness accounts quoting her directly on the reasons she wore soldier’s clothing for practical reasons, and she chose a standard nickname for herself using a feminine term even though medieval French had a gender-neutral equivalent of the same term that she could have used (despite the play’s claim that she lacked adequate language to describe a gender-neutral identity).

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