Die Jungfrau von Orleans

Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische TragödieThe Maid of Orleans. A Romantic Tragedy (first published 1801 [dated 1802]; first performed 1801)

Historical Context

The play is set in 1429-31 during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England (royal family: Plantagenet) and France (royal family: Valois) and their allies for control of the French throne. The French had retreated after the English victory at Agincourt in 1415, but French fortunes were reversed by Joan of Arc (in French: Jeanne d’Arc; in German: Johanna d’Arc) (circa 1412-1431), a peasant girl from the village of Domrémy in Lorraine in eastern France. Joan led the French army to a series of victories which enabled the French King Charles VII (1403-1461) to be crowned in Reims in 1429. Joan was captured by the Burgundians and burnt at the stake by the English in 1431 at the age of nineteen.

Charles VI of France (1380-1422) had become insane in 1392. From this point on France was governed by his wife, Queen Isabeau (also known as Isabella) of Bavaria-Ingolstadt (1370-1435) and various regents. Court intrigue led to the murder (in 1407) of Louis d’Orléans, father of Jean de Dunois, Bastard of Orléans (1402-1468); this murder was blamed on John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419) who was murdered by supporters of Orléans and the dauphin (prince). From 1419-1435 his son, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467) formed an alliance with the English. Queen Isabeau also sided with the English against her own son Charles VII. Therefore, at the beginning of Schiller’s play, the city of Orléans is besieged by English and Burgundian forces, led by Talbot, Lionel, Philip of Burgundy and Queen Isabeau. Charles VII, the uncrowned king of France, wants to persuade Philip of Burgundy to change sides, but Philip refuses, blaming Charles VII’s friend Du Chatel for his father’s murder.

The Play

Schiller’s play was first performed in Leipzig on 11 September 1801. It has many Romantic features including the medieval setting, Catholicism, nationalism, supernatural events, folk songs, an episodic structure and stylised characterisation. It deviates from the historical tradition in several important respects:

(1) The historical Joan of Arc led soldiers into battle, but did not engage in hand-to-hand combat herself. In contrast to this, Schiller’s Johanna is a warrior who does not spare her enemies, even when they surrender, as is the case with Montgomery in Act Two;

(2) Schiller’s Johanna reconciles Philip of Burgundy with Charles VII; in fact this reconciliation did not occur until 1435;

(3) Schiller’s Johanna falls in love with, and spares the life of, the English officer Lionel;

(4) the accusations of witchcraft are made by Johanna’s own father, Thibaut d’Arc;

(5) Schiller’s Johanna breaks her bonds like Samson and dies of her battle wounds; in fact Joan of Arc was captured by Burgundian soldiers in 1430, sold to the English, tried for heresy in 1431 and burned at the stake on 30 May 1431.

Schiller’s Johanna is stylised, and she stylises herself, as a legend. The first words she speaks are authoritative: ‘Gebt mir den Helm!’; ‘Give me the helmet!’ (line 191).


Later she compares herself to Moses (lines 401-08) and to Samson (lines 3470-76).

Like Schiller’s other great heroine Maria Stuart, Johanna accepts her punishment (here, the accusation of witchcraft) as penance for a different transgression (loving Lionel).

The play hinges on the tension between Johanna’s (moral, spiritual) duty and her (physical, sensual) inclination, which Schiller expresses through her love for Lionel. Johanna asks: ‘Und bin ich strafbar, weil ich menschlich war?’; ‘And am I punishable because I was human?’ (Act Four, Scene 1, line 2567).


How we answer this question depends on how we interpret Johanna and her mission. If, as many early commentators, we perceive her as a sublime figure fighting in a noble cause, then she is at fault when she wavers in her mission. But Johanna’s inability to show mercy to Montgomery in Act Two shows her in a very different light. Karl S. Guthke has argued persuasively that Johanna’s vow not to spare a single Englishman’s life is unnecessarily cruel, and should be cause for serious concern. On this point, see below, Karl S. Guthke (1996) and also Lesley Sharpe (1982), p. 131.

In the Prologue, Johanna’s two sisters Margot and Louison become engaged to two shepherds. Johanna’s father Thibaut d’Arc complains that Johanna does not want to marry Raimond, the man who loves her. Thibaut has dreamt that everyone bowed down before Johanna, even the king and all his nobles. Bertrand arrives with a helmet and Johanna demands it for herself. Bertrand describes the siege of Orléans; the French forces seem paralysed. Johanna becomes inspired and prophesies that a maiden will come and drive the English away. She bids farewell to her hills and pastures, and prepares for battle.

In Act One Dunois, the Bastard of Orléans, is exasperated by Karl [Charles VII], who wastes valuable resources entertaining messengers from King René of Provence. The Scottish troops insist on being paid and so Agnes Sorel gives her box of jewels to Karl. La Hire arrives with the news that Philipp of Burgundy refuses to be reconciled, and the English have had Henry VI crowned King of France. Raoul arrives and describes Johanna’s first military victory. When Johanna arrives, Karl tests her by making Dunois sit on his throne, but she recognises Karl. Johanna tells him the contents of his secret prayer and says that the Virgin Mary appeared to her, saying that a pure virgin can achieve anything if she resists earthly love. An English herald arrives and Johanna sends him packing.

In Act Two the English commanders Talbot and Lionel are shocked that they have just lost the battle of Orléans. They try to blame their ally Philipp of Burgundy, who threatens to leave. Isabeau arrives and reconciles the three men, who then round on her and tell her to leave. That night Johanna leads an attack on the English camp. Montgomery begs Johanna to spare him but she fights him and kills him. Johanna persuades Philipp of Burgundy to break with his English allies and rejoin the French side.

In Act Three Dunois and La Hire both want to marry Johanna. Du Chatel makes himself scarce so that his presence does not upset the reconciliation between Karl and Philipp of Burgundy. Johanna pleads with Philipp to forgive Du Chatel, and he responds:

O sie kann mit mir schalten wie sie will,

Mein Herz ist weiches Wachs in ihrer Hand.

– Umarmt mich, Du Chatel; ich vergeb Euch.

Geist meines Vaters, zürne nicht, wenn ich

Die Hand, die dich getötet, freundlich fasse.

Ihr Todesgötter, rechnet mirs nicht zu,

Daß ich mein schrecklich Rachgelübde breche.

Bei euch dort unten in der ewgen Nacht,

Da schlägt kein Herz mehr, da ist alles ewig,

Steht alles unbeweglich fest- doch anders

Ist es hier oben in der Sonne Licht.

Der Mensch ist, der lebendig fühlende,

Der leichte Raub des mächtgen Augenblicks.

(lines 2065-77)

O she can command me as she wishes,

My heart is soft wax in her hands.

– Embrace me, Du Chatel; I forgive you.

Spirit of my father, don’t be angry with me if I,

In friendship, grasp the hand which killed you.

You gods of death, do not hold it against me,

That I break my terrible vow of vengeance.

Down there in your eternal night

No heart beats any more; there all is eternal,

Everything stands immovably firm – but

Up above, here in the sunlight it is otherwise.

The human being is, lively in feeling,

The easy prey of the mighty moment.


Johanna prophesies the future of France including the French Revolution. Dunois and La Hire each propose marriage to Johanna but she refuses them both. The English have regrouped and battle is joined. Talbot is fatally wounded; his dying speech is rational and nihilistic. Karl orders that Talbot be given a decent burial. A black knight appears to Johanna and warns her not to fight another battle. Then Johanna meets Lionel in battle. She falls in love with him and cannot kill him. She is horrified that she has broken her vow by falling in love with an enemy.

Act Four takes place during the coronation of Karl VII in Reims. Johanna is tormented by the fact that she loves an Englishman, and is unable to confide this to Agnes Sorel. Instead she starts talking to the Virgin Mary on her banner. Johanna’s sisters watch her walk in the procession with a bowed head. When Johanna sees her sisters she tells them she just wants to go home and do penance. Then Thibaut d’Arc accuses Johanna of having sold her soul to the devil. Johanna does not reply to his accusations, and even a thunderstorm seems to testify against her. La Hire and Dunois beg Johanna to give some response but she remains motionless. Du Chatel tells Johanna she is exiled; Raimond appears and leads her out of the city.

In Act Five Johanna and Raimond seek shelter in a coal burner’s hut. The man’s son returns and calls Johanna a witch. Johanna tells Raimond that her miracles were accomplished with God’s help; she only submitted to her father’s accusations because it was her destiny to do so. Isabeau and her soldiers arrive and capture Johanna. Raimond escapes and tells Dunois that Johanna is innocent, and that the English have captured her. Dunois vows to free her. Lionel asks Johanna to marry him but she refuses and tells him to lead his army out of France forever. Lionel leaves to do battle with the French. The English are winning and have captured Karl VII, so Johanna prays to God for a miracle. She breaks out of her chains, seizes a sword, rescues the king and turns the tide of battle. She is fatally wounded but she stands with her banner one last time and sees the gates of heaven open before she falls down dead.

Like Wilhelm Tell, Die Jungfrau von Orleans is a sort of pageant play exploring the creation of a living legend, centering on a sublime protagonist who traverses earthly reality and the ideal realm.

Other Versions

Other important writers have produced adaptations of the Joan of Arc story:

Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part I [1 Henry VI] (1591)

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), La pucelle d’Orléans (unauthorised publication 1755; authorised publication 1762). Voltaire’s text is available here: http://www.inlibroveritas.net/lire/oeuvre957.html

George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan (1923)

Anna Seghers, Der Prozeß der Jeanne d’Arc zu Rouen 1431; The Trial of Joan of Arc in Rouen in 1431 (1937)

Bertolt Brecht produced three adaptations of the story:

Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe; Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses (written 1929-32; first published 1931; excerpts first performed as a radio broadcast 1932; first stage performance 1959)

Die Gesichte der Simone Machard; The Visions of Simone Machard (written 1942-43; first published 1956; first performed 1957)

Der Prozeß der Jeanne d’Arc zu Rouen 1431; The Trial of Joan of Arc in Rouen in 1431 (first performed 1952, first published 1953; adapted from the radio play by Anna Seghers)

The Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer produced a silent film version of the story: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1927).

The prize-winning author Felicitas Hoppe has written a modern-day campus novel which revolves around the figure of Joan of Arc: Johanna (2006).

Further Reading

Fred Bridgham, ‘Emancipating Amazons: Schiller’s Jungfrau, Kleist’s Penthesilea, Wagner’s Brünnhild’, Forum for Modern Language Studies 36 (2000), 64-73

Erik. B. Knoedler, ‘Who is This Black Knight? Schiller’s Maid of Orleans and (Mythological) History’, in Who Is This Schiller Now? Essays on His Reception and Significance, ed. by Jeffrey High, Nicholas Martin and Norbert Oellers (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011), pp. 236-46

Elisabeth Krimmer, ‘Transcendental Soldiers: Warfare in Schiller's Wallenstein and Die Jungfrau von Orleans’, Eighteenth-Century Fiction 19:1 (2006), article 20

Edward T. Larkin, ‘Reading Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans with Lacan: In the “Name-of-the-Father” and of the Daughter’, Monatshefte 96:2 (2004), 199-219

Ladislaus Löb, From Lessing to Hauptmann: Studies in German Drama (London: University Tutorial Press, 1974), pp. 118-23

Jan Mieszkowski, ‘The Pace of the Attack: Military Experience in Schiller's Wallenstein and Die Jungfrau von Orleans’, Goethe Yearbook 16 (2009), 29-46

Julie D. Prandi, ‘Woman Warrior as Hero: Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans and Kleist’s Penthesilea’, Monatshefte 77 (1985), 403-14

David B. Richards, ‘Mesmerism in Die Jungfrau von Orleans’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 91:5 (1976), 856-70

Kathy Saranpa, Schiller’s Wallenstein, Maria Stuart and Die Jungfrau von Orleans: The Critical Legacy (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2002)

Timothy F. Sellner, ‘The Lionel-Scene in Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans: A Psychological Interpretation’, The German Quarterly 50 (1977), 264-82

Lesley Sharpe, Schiller and the Historical Character: Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiographical Works and in the Historical Dramas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)

Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, Beauty or Beast? The Woman Warrior in the German Imagination from the Renaissance to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Further Reading in German

Karl S. Guthke, ‘Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Sendung und Witwenmacher’, in Hans-Jörg Knobloch and Helmut Koopmann (eds.), Schiller heute (Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 1996), pp. 115-30

Wolfgang Riehle, ‘Schillers kreative Rezeption von Shakespeares Jeanne d’Arc-Drama’, Jahrbuch der deutschen Schiller-Gesellschaft 55 (2011), 119-41