Globe Theatre makes Joan of Arc non-binary in new play

·3-min read
Poster for I, Joan at Shakespeare's Globe theatre
Poster for I, Joan at Shakespeare's Globe theatre

Joan of Arc has been made non-binary in a new production at Shakespeare’s Globe, prompting claims from campaigners that the French heroine has had her achievements “erased from history”.

The Maid of Orleans, known for leading the French fight against the English in the Hundred Years’ War despite being a woman in a patriarchal medieval society, has now had her gender cast into doubt in a new play titled I, Joan.

Joan of Arc is represented as non-binary in the Globe show, and the pronouns of the French patron saint have been changed to “they/them” rather than “she/her”.

Women’s rights campaigners have raised concerns that the move is another example of female figures being “erased” from history.

Promotional material for the “powerful and joyous new play” sets the scene: “Rebelling against the world’s expectations, questioning the gender binary, Joan finds their power and their belief spreads like fire.”

The play is written by writer Charlie Josephine, whose web biography states: “My pronouns are they/he. I’m an actor and a writer.

“I’m proper passionate about making art that’s honest, visceral, sweaty. Particularly stories that centre working class women and queer people.”

The changing of prominent historical woman into a non-binary person has been defended in a statement from Michelle Terry, the Globe’s artistic director, who said: “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.”

She also argued that “theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’”, but fiction.

Rehearsals for the play - Helen Murray / Shakespeare's Globe
Rehearsals for the play - Helen Murray / Shakespeare's Globe

However, in a section of the Globe’s website dedicated to offering a historical overview of Joan of Arc’s life, the teenage warrior is referred to by the non-binary pronouns “they” and “them”.

This has been seen by some campaigners as harmful to female representation in history, which they have argued is already minimal without being further limited by taking womanhood away from famous women.

Campaigner group Woman’s Place UK said in a statement on the issue: “Women are getting really tired of being erased from history and having our achievements diminished.

“Joan of Arc was an astonishing woman who rebelled against the authoritarian oppression she faced for being female.

“Theatre has a fine tradition of inverting reality to encourage us to look at life differently but the fact remains that Joan of Arc was a woman and was persecuted as such.”

‘In plays, anything can be possible’

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was inspired by religious visions to take part in the fight to reclaim France from the English, and led French troops to victory at the Siege of Orleans during the Hundred Years’ War.

After a string of campaigns she was captured and turned over to the English, who arranged to have her tried for heresy, which led to her being burned at the stake when she was just 20. She was canonised as a saint in 1920.

The Globe’s online material for I, Joan states that it is a new interpretation “for a modern audience”, and Ms Terry has said: “Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible.”

“Shakespeare did not write historically accurate plays. He took figures of the past to ask questions about the world around him.

“Our writers of today are doing no different, whether that’s looking at Ann Boleyn, Nell Gwyn, Emilia Bassano, Edward II or Joan of Arc.”

She added in a statement: “Shakespeare was not afraid of discomfort, and neither is the Globe.”

The Globe has long-staged re-imaginings of Shakespeare's work, with female leads in roles traditionally designated as male, and has recently run a series of “Anti-Racist Shakespeare” seminars highlighting perceived racism in the Bard’s work.