One historian at the time (1925) reacted to the play by arguing that it was highly inaccurate, especially in its depiction of medieval society.
Shaw states that the characterization of Joan by most writers is "romanticized" to make her accusers come off as completely unscrupulous and villainous. Some writers claim that Shaw attempts to wrongly rehabilitate Pierre Cauchon, the powerful Bishop of Beauvais, and the Inquisitor, who were most instrumental in sending Joan to the stake.
More general interpretation of Joan's character is to describe her as a rebel against general institutional authority, such as that of the Catholic Church and to the feudal system. Contemporary comments have noted her particularly strong form of religious belief and how it borders on religious fanaticism.
Tony Stafford discussed Shaw's use of imagery related to birds in the play. Frederick Boas has compared the different treatments of Joan in dramas by Shakespeare, Schiller, and Shaw.
T. S. Eliot, discussing the play after its premiere in London in 1924, wrote that although Saint Joan was not the masterpiece that some claimed it to be, the play "seems to illustrate Mr. Shaw's mind more clearly than anything he has written before." And although he credited Shaw with providing an "intellectual stimulant" and "dramatic delight", he took issue with his portrayal of the heroine: "his Joan of Arc is perhaps the greatest sacrilege of all Joans: for instead of the saint or the strumpet of the legends to which he objects, he has turned her into a great middle-class reformer, and her place is a little higher than Mrs. Pankhurst" (the militant leader of the British suffragettes).