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Published: 31-10-2019

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Rhetoric Over Evidence: The Inquisitor’s Speech in “Saint Joan”

The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley described the man as “one who obscures facts and proof with aimless rhetoric,” in order to “distract the attention of his hearers from the true point at concern by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”  Skilled rhetoric has been a flawed tactic of persuasion for centuries in Huxley’s opinion.  One example of rhetoric’s energy lies in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Saint Joan, which depicts the trial that condemned Joan of Arc for heresy.  In one particular of the most nicely-identified scenes, the Inquisitor argues her guilt to the church court.  In this speech, he effectively appeals to the audience by means of the persuasive rhetorical methods of ethos and pathos.  He furthers these appeals with a paradox and selective diction.  Even although there is no tangible proof, the Inquisitor is in the end in a position to convict Joan by using rhetoric and literary techniques that presents her as a frightening character.

In the course of his speech, the Inquisitor continually persuades his audience via appeals to authority.  He begins this approach, known as ethos, from the very first sentence of his argument: “If you had noticed what I have noticed of heresy, you would not think it a light issue.”  By beginning with a statement that expresses his knowledge with heresy, he presents himself as knowledgeable and gains the court’s respect.  He goes on to make numerous related statements, such as: “I have observed this once more and again” (lines 16-17), and “mark what I say” (line 17).  These assertions of his knowledge are essential in establishing a sound argument.

The Inquisitor also uses ethos to sway his audience by acknowledging their own optimistic traits.  He calls them “merciful men” with “natural compassion” (line 42). He continues pointing out their virtue when he says, “we must forfeit our own hope of divine mercy had been there one particular grain of malice against her in our hearts” (lines 62-four).  This creates a sense of duty amongst the court members.  In addition to presenting the Inquisitor’s own authority, his complimentary statements towards the court lead them to think that they have to listen to him in order to preserve their individual integrity.

The Inquisitor properly applies comprehensive use of pathos to influence the church court.  He is conscious of the pious background of his audience, and he knows precisely how to frighten them.  He consequently defines heresy as a “monstrous horror of unnatural wickedness” (lines 28-9) that will, to the court’s alarm, ultimately “wreck each Church and Empire” (lines 11-12).  Sooner or later, he comes to a ringing conclusion: “be on your guard” (lines 59-60).  Threatening the church is 1 of the most persuasive strategies that the Inquisitor makes use of: it frightens his audience into believing that convicting Joan is the only way to safeguard their way of life.
In the second half of his speech, the Inquisitor intensifies this fear via his characterization of Joan.  He makes use of a intelligent method of describing her with a paradox: she is “gentle” (line six) “pious and chaste” (line 45).  By look, she wouldn’t seem capable of inflicting the sort of harm that he has threatened.  However she has a “diabolical pride,” which is “seated side by side” with her external goodness (lines 58-9).  By way of this contrast, he continues to appeal to the emotions of the court.  He tells them that the criminality of heretics is not apparent or even purposeful.  Alternatively, these folks with the alleged power of destroying the church are close at hand and undetectable.  Establishing that Joan can't be trusted is an important step in convincing the court of her guilt.

All through this characterization, the Inquisitor connects with the court members by way of his selection of diction.  He repeatedly describes heretics with the word “pious,” and related words such as “humility” and “charity” (line ten) which are all familiar to the devout individuals to whom he is speaking. He intensifies the paradox that he has established by utilizing contrasting diction, which includes “devilish” (line 53) and “diabolical madness” (line 33).  To the church court, associations with the devil are the ultimate fear.  Hence, his word decision expands their lack of trust in Joan, and additional sways them towards her conviction.

Ironically, Joan of Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church 500 years soon after getting convicted of heresy.  Clearly, the Inquisitor’s argument was totally fallacious yet with it, he was able to convince a court of morally upright members to condemn a future saint.   He achieved this feat by means of numerous literary methods that present him as a source of expertise and prove Joan to be an untrustworthy villain. Substituting rhetorical ability for tangible proof, the Inquisitor was in a position to justify Joan of Arc’s brutal death.
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