Issue of the day: 'Woke' row as new play portrays Joan of Arc as non-binary

·3-min read
'I, Joan' has sparked a 'woke' row for presenting Joan of Arc as non-binary
'I, Joan' has sparked a 'woke' row for presenting Joan of Arc as non-binary

A PEASANT girl who became a military leader in medieval France, Joan of Arc's name has been remembered down through the centuries. Now a new production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre portrays the historic warrior as non-binary.


Joan of Arc?

Born around 1412, during the Hundred Years' War - between the kingdoms of France and England - Joan of Arc's family were peasant farmers. As a teenager, she spoke of experiencing visions which she said continued throughout her life, of Saint Margaret, Saint Michael and Saint Catherine, with the otherworldly experiences telling her at one point to ‘save France’ and lead her country to victory in the conflict.


She did so?

Despite having no military training, Joan cropped her hair and wore men’s clothes to travel across the country and demand the right from French crown prince, Charles of Valois, to lead a French army in the 1429 Siege of Orleans. Dressed in white armour and riding a white horse, her charge proved victorious.



The following year, she was captured and faced a raft of charges - including witchcraft and dressing like a man - and at just 19, she was burned at the stake. Her efforts at the siege and beyond saw her quickly become an adored national hero and the patron saint of France.



Shakespeare's Globe in London, the complex which houses a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre which opened in 1599 and where William Shakespeare wrote his plays, is staging a new production, “I, Joan”, which features Joan as “a legendary leader who in this production, uses the pronouns ‘they/them". The play opens on August 25 in the open-air Globe Theatre. The theatre's artistic director, Michelle Terry, said: "We are not the first to present Joan in this way and we will not be the last. Regarding the use of pronouns, ‘they’ to refer to a singular person has been traced by the Oxford English Dictionary to as early as 1375, years before Joan was even born. Regardless, theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’. Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible.”


What’s the response been?

Reaction online includes one tweet saying, “Leave this female icon alone!” and another adding: “They are violating history. Enough with this stupid wokeness.”


But the theatre disagrees?

Terry adds: “For centuries, Joan has been a cultural icon portrayed in countless plays, books, films, etc. History has provided countless and wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman. 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?’.”


And its author stands by it?

In a video interview available on YouTube about “I, Joan”, the writer, Charlie Josephine, said of the production: “It's going to be this big sweaty, queer, revolution, rebellion, festival of like joy. It's a big story, on a big stage, Joan of Arc was this incredible historical figure. Joan was this working class, young person, who was transgressing gender at a time when it as really dangerous and that just felt instantly relatable to me. I was assigned female at birth. I'm non-binary, I'm from a working class background. I've often felt like I've had something to say and haven't been given permission to say it.”