‘Joan of Arc is a female cultural icon’: Backlash grows against Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for new play depicting Maid of Orleans as non-binary character with ‘they’ and ‘them’ pronouns

  • Feminists today denounced new non-binary portrayal as offensive and sexist 
  • Joan of Arc will have ‘them/they’ pronouns, MailOnline exclusively revealed
  • Historical icon is female and a saint honoured for her bravery fighting for France
  • Theatre had defended production and suggested Shakespeare would agree

A new play about Joan of Arc, where she is non-binary and uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’, was today branded offensive and sexist by feminists.

It is billed as ‘questioning the gender binary’ but academics have called it ‘a violation of history’.

The upcoming production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre sparked a backlash yesterday after MailOnline’s exclusive on the newly-written show. 

And this morning feminist academics said the twist on Joan ‘was modern nonsensical ideology’.   

Dr Sarah Rutherford said the idea the historical heroine could be no-binary was insulting.

She said: ‘This offends me. Joan of Arc is a female cultural icon.

‘She was escaping the constraints of being a woman at that time. Non binary, I have been told, means neither male or female.

‘We know she was a woman. Please stop applying a modern nonsensical ideology to historical figures.’

Dr Sarah Rutherford said Joan of Arc was a ‘female cultural icon’ and non-binary label offensive

Rehearsals of the new play which opens later this month at Shakespeare’s The Globe Theatre

A publicity picture for the new play at The Globe, which has prompted some controversy

And Victoria Smith called out the Globe for its defence of the upcoming production.

She wrote online: ‘You’re right, you won’t be the first or the last to decide gender non-conforming women aren’t really women.

‘It’s called sexism.’

Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP and a Catholic herself, told MailOnline holy figures in religion should be treated with respect.

She said: ‘It is insulting when people play around with the saints just because they want to make some kind of point.

‘It is a farce beyond measure. Joan of Arc was a woman. There is no evidence she thought of herself in any other way.

‘She was a woman, how on earth someone can suggest she was non-binary is beyond me. This play is effectively de-womanising her.

‘They are effectively re-writing history, I think she would have laughed at it in utter scorn while Shakespeare would have clutched his head in disbelief.’

The Globe Theatre, on the South Bank in London, is one of the word’s most famous attractions

Pre publicity for the upcoming show says Joan is non-binary and uses pronouns ‘they’ or ‘them’

The theatre has defended itself – confirming the titular figure ‘Uses the pronouns ‘they/them’ in the show – but insisted Shakespeare would have approved.

Joan has been adopted as a feminist icon and for the suffragette movement was even featured on their posters. 

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, told MailOnline yesterday: ‘Playwrights are allowed to have a bit of poetic license but I think what is interesting about the play is that it very much falls in with the idea of rewriting history.

The life of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was born in 1412 into a pious Catholic family of peasants.

She began to hear voices at the age of 13 and believed God had chosen her to lead France to Victory against England in the 100 Years War.

She convinced Charles of Valois to let her lead the army to the besieged city of Orleans, where it was victorious.

But after the prince became King Charles VII, Joan was captured by English allies, the Burgundians.

She was tried for witchcraft, heresy and dressing as a man, among 70 charges, History.com reported.

Keen to distance himself from the accused witch, Charles VII didn’t come to her aid.

Joan initially said she had heard voices and saw visions of saints, but under duress, she relented on her claims she had ever received divine guidance in her mission to put Charles on the throne.

The story goes that she went against orders by wearing men’s clothes days after doing this and was sentenced to death as a result.

She was burned at the stake in the market place of Rouen at just 19 years old, in 1431.

Some 20 years later, however, a new trial ordered by Charles VII cleared her name

Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 and is one of history’s most famous saints.

 

‘The reinterpretation violates the historical reality. It’s plundering history to legitimise views in the here and now.

‘Someone like Joan of Arc would not have any idea what non-binary was. It is a recharacterisation of something that did not even exist at the time.

‘It completely violates the meaning of history – it’s the projecting of a fantasy backwards.

‘I imagine in time someone will suggest Jane Austen was transgender or George Elliot was non-binary.

‘It completely violates the meaning of history – it’s the projecting of a fantasy backwards.

‘For French patriots Joan of Arc is someone very special. Her role was all the more heroic because she was a woman.’

Debates about gender identity currently ongoing mean the move by the Globe – which was given £3million of taxpayers’ money in 2020 to help it through the pandemic – is sure to prompt controversy. 

It is not clear whether the play was commissioned or funded by the Globe itself. Isobel Thom plays the title role.

The play is written by Charlie Josephine who is non-binary and whose website says uses the pronouns they/he.     

In an interview about I, Joan, the writer 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.

‘So to get an opportunity to write a play about a character, that’s also trying to do that, I was like, uh it’s too good to be true really. 

Joan is to be played in the new I,Joan show by Isobel Thom and directed by Ilinca Radulian

Joan of Arc is one of the most famous and inspirational women in French history and a saint

Theatre artistic director Michelle Terry insists Shakespeare ‘would have approved’ 

‘Shakespeare did not write historically accurate plays. He took figures of the past to ask questions about today’s world. Our writers of today are doing no different, whether that’s looking at Ann Boleyn, Nell Gwynn, Emilia Bassano, Edward II, or Joan of Arc.

‘The Globe is a place of imagination. A place where, for a brief amount of time, we can at least consider the possibility of world’s elsewhere. We have had entire storms take place on stage, the sinking of ships, twins who look nothing alike being believable, and even a Queen of the fairies falling in love with a donkey.

‘Shakespeare’s Globe proudly presents a new play, I, Joan with Joan as a legendary leader, who in this production, uses the pronouns ‘they/them’. The production is still being created and opens on 25 August in the open-air Globe Theatre. We are not the first to present Joan in this way, and we will not be the last. To respond specifically to the use of pronouns, the use of ‘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. But theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’. Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible.

‘Joan’s army will be made of hundreds of ‘Groundlings’ standing in the Yard, all coming to watch a play for £5 – the most accessible ticket price in London theatre. We hope this £5 ticket invites as many people as possible to come and have an opinion of their own, and even if we don’t agree with each other, still show kindness, curiosity, and respect.

‘It was no accident that Shakespeare moved his playhouse beyond the jurisdiction of the London City Walls. He wanted to play. Play with identity, power, with the idea of pleasure, and with all sides of an argument. Shakespeare had the capacity to imagine the lives of 1,223 characters, he could understand perspectives and differences and express them so beautifully that we still enjoy his work over 400 years later.

‘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?”.’

‘So it’s like a huge, huge thing that I want to get right and I really care about.’ 

Director Ilinca Radulian added: ‘We’re just trying to do something that puts people in Joan’s shoes, in Joan’s body, like, with that mission, with those questions and with that sense of possibility.

‘We want to take the audience on a journey of discovery with Joan.’

Charlie continued: ‘It’s like an expansion of a historical figure, yeah and I hope that opens up new possibilities for empathy and new possibilities for understanding for everyone. 

Michelle Terry, artistic director of the Globe, said the production was asking the audience to consider something different.

She said: ‘Shakespeare did not write historically accurate plays. He took figures of the past to ask questions about today’s world. Our writers of today are doing no different, whether that’s looking at Ann Boleyn, Nell Gwynn, Emilia Bassano, Edward II, or Joan of Arc.

‘The Globe is a place of imagination. A place where, for a brief amount of time, we can at least consider the possibility of world’s elsewhere. We have had entire storms take place on stage, the sinking of ships, twins who look nothing alike being believable, and even a Queen of the fairies falling in love with a donkey.

‘Shakespeare’s Globe proudly presents a new play, I, Joan with Joan as a legendary leader, who in this production, uses the pronouns ‘they/them’. The production is still being created and opens on 25 August in the open-air Globe Theatre. We are not the first to present Joan in this way, and we will not be the last. To respond specifically to the use of pronouns, the use of ‘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. But theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’. Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible.

‘Joan’s army will be made of hundreds of ‘Groundlings’ standing in the Yard, all coming to watch a play for £5 – the most accessible ticket price in London theatre. We hope this £5 ticket invites as many people as possible to come and have an opinion of their own, and even if we don’t agree with each other, still show kindness, curiosity, and respect.

‘It was no accident that Shakespeare moved his playhouse beyond the jurisdiction of the London City Walls. He wanted to play. Play with identity, power, with the idea of pleasure, and with all sides of an argument. Shakespeare had the capacity to imagine the lives of 1,223 characters, he could understand perspectives and differences and express them so beautifully that we still enjoy his work over 400 years later.

‘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?”.’

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