Pope Joan Top Girls - Pupil Presentation on the character and links with Much Ado About Nothing
By Katie Bishop & Jodie Jenkins
About Pope Joan
Pope Joan is a Medieval religious leader believed by some
to have been a female pontiff who reigned over the Roman
Catholic Church, who dismisses her as a myth. She
supposedly fell in love with a monk and went with him to
Athens disguised as a fellow monk. Allegedly, she claimed
the name John Anglicus, and she later moved to Rome.
She was said to be a talented scribe who worked as a
papal notary and rose up the ranks with the Vatican. She
then became a Cardinal (a prince of the church that
honoured the Pope). She eventually became the Pope
around the mid 800’s. It is believed her identity was
exposed when she gave birth to a child. This led to her
Pope Joan makes her appearance in Act 1, Scene 1 and she was the fourth guest to
arrive at Marlene’s dinner party.
Pope Joan appears somewhat reserved and remote. However, she does make
relevant and intellectual declarations throughout the conversation with the other
dinner party guests.
When the topic turns to religion, she cannot help but point out heresies, stating her
views and opinions on the subject. However, she does not attempt to convert the
other dinner guests to her religion.
When revealing some of her life, she states that she began dressing as a boy at age
twelve so she could continue to study. She lived the rest of her life as a man but
continued to have male lovers. Joan was eventually elected pope as everyone
believed she was actually male.
She became pregnant by her chamberlain lover and delivered her baby during a
papal procession. As a result of this, Joan was stoned to death.
At the end of the scene, Joan recites a passage in Latin. Like all the dinner
guests, Joan's life and attitude reflects something about Marlene. Joan reflects
aspects of Marlene's life style.
Key quotations from Top Girls
• ‘I dressed as a boy when I left home’
• ‘… women weren’t / allowed in the library’
• ‘First I decided to stay a man’, ‘… I wanted to devote my
life to learning’
• ‘I was poor…’
• ‘I shouldn’t have been a woman’
Throughout Act 1 Joan reveals her
past, evidenced by the key quotations on the
previous slide. Joan having to disguise
herself as a man shows the limited
opportunities woman had in history. ‘women
weren’t / allowed in the library’ implying the
restrictions women faced in those days and
showing men were still inferior and had all
the power and opportunities in life.
Links to Much Ado About Nothing
In Much Ado About Nothing women are limited in
what they are allowed to do and their lives are
controlled by men.
Due to the authority of men Pope Joan disguised
herself as a man to continue her education and to
pursue her career.