The Crucible by Arthur Miller is about
the Salem witch trials of 1692, taking place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The play was written in 1953 as an allegory to the McCarthyism—an event that
had great influence over Miller’s life. The sexual affairs between characters
also correlate with Miller’s personal life. Although the connection between The Crucible and Miller’s life is
significant, it is more important to focus on the historical elements and how
they effect the action of the play. For instance, during the colonial era there
was a strong influence of religion, gender roles, and fear of black magic.
These elements combined with the crooked government create the plot of The Crucible. The key moment is when
John Proctor admits to the court his intimacy with Abigail Williams. The action
falls as Proctor struggles with the moral dilemma over whether to save his life
or be sacrificed.
The Crucible has an episodic structure. The
action moves forward in time and occurs in a series of short, cause-and-effect
scenes. The story is linked by the same
character, place, and themes but there is individual sub-plots and purposes.
For instance, the play is about the Salem witch trials and the prosecution and
hanging of a number of persons in the colonial town. During this tragedy,
Abigail Williams uses the situation to her advantage. After her affair with
John Proctor, Abigail frames his wife of witchcraft in order to be with him. There
are also several debates over land throughout the play—the characters involved
in these disputes also begin accusing each other of witchcraft.
Breakdown and 4. Characters
Act 1, Part One (Opening)
Reverend Parris prays over his
daughter’s unconscious body, rumored to be the effect of witchcraft. Parris has
seen Abigail and group of girls dancing naked in the woods, perhaps enacting a
ritual. As a strong political figure, Parris must come to the bottom of the
matter, and berates Abigail for information.
Abigail Williams denies partaking in witchcraft, although she
performed a blood-drinking spell as a charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor. There
are rumors spreading around town about her and her affair with John Proctor.
Thomas Putnam’s own daughter is in the same state as Parris’. It
turns out that Mrs. Putman had requested Tituba (Parris’ slave) to contact the
spirits of her dead children. Putnam urges Parris to announce he has discovered
witchcraft in the town.
Relationships: Parris clearly resents Abigail because of her
reputation and is quick to accuse her of witchcraft. Abigail is extremely witty
and easily undermines the reverend. Putnam has an everlasting grudge against
Parris after his relative’s candidacy for the ministry was foiled.
Status: Parris is a stern devout minister who believes the entire
congregation is under his control. He very much sees himself above everyone
else, including Abigail who is powerless in this society. She created turmoil
and takes charge of the town with her lies in deceit for her personal benefit. Abigail
has a strong influence on her peers as she leads them in history’s greatest
Shift: The most notable shift in action and mood is when Parris
interrogates Abigail. There is an immediate feeling of tense pressure in all
elements of the scene—visually, auditory, etc.
Tempo: From the beginning, the script is very jumpy with a fast
tempo. As tension rises, so does the tempo. The tempo slightly shifts with
dialogues between different characters—a direct correlation between the
statuses of each character.
Act 1, Part 2 (Entrance of
John Proctor is a farmer who had an affair with Abigail and was
later discovered by his wife Elizabeth. He denies Abigail’s advances. Even
though he still has feelings for her, he strives to remain faithful to
Abigail waits for Proctor at night and is both saddened and angered
by his resistance.
Parris’ authority is questioned by Proctor as he inquires about
Reverend Hale who has been summoned to hunt demons in the town.
Putman has beef with both Parris and Proctor over government,
wealth, and shared land.
Relationships: Abigail and Proctor have a romantic history that has
already ended at the start of the play. Parris is callous towards Proctor
because of the infidelity rumors and his lack of attendance to church.
Status: Proctor sees Abigail as a child and insists on ending their
relationship. Parris still feels that everyone is beneath him and is mortified
when Proctor questions him about the legal investigative processes of the
situation. Like Abigail, Proctor is a natural rebel and fights Parris for
power. There is a weird, triangular argument between Parris, Proctor, and
Putman over government, land, and other matters.
Tempo/Shift: The tempo continues to increase with tension, but the
rhythm flips back and forth as arguments shift between characters.
Act 1, Part 3 (Entrance of Rev.
Reverend Hale is very familiar with witchcraft and comes to
investigate the incidents in Salem. He questions Abigail about the forest. He
is later lead to violently interrogate Tituba. After a series of allegations,
he calls for the arrest of all witches in Salem.
Abigail insists that they were not partaking in witchcraft. She
makes the first accusation and leads Hale to Tituba, claiming that she made he
drink the blood.
Tituba, Parris’ slave from Barbados, is accused of forcing the
girls to dance naked and drink blood. After being harassed by Hale, Tituba makes
the next accusations and says that she saw four people with the devil including
Goody Osburn and Sarah Good, town outcasts.
Status: Parris seems to be a little submissive to Hale as the fate
of the town is in his Hands. Hale takes control over the investigation and
begins interrogating the townspeople as they are accused.
Tempo: The tempo
continues to increase with tension.
Shift: There are sharp shifts in rhythm, character, and mood as the
John Proctor tells Elizabeth that Abigail’s dancing had nothing to
do with witchcraft Proctor demands that Elizabeth stop judging him. John
threatens to whip Mary when she returns home because she was ordered not to
attend the trials. Later, Proctor admits to Hale that he is not a fan of Parris
as a minister.
Elizabeth Proctor wants her husband to testify against Abigail and
the other girls. She is enraged when she hears that John and Abigail were alone
together. She is sure the Abigail was the one who accused her of witchcraft. The
town marshals show up to arrest Elizabeth for witchcraft, using the doll as
evidence (Abigail had seen Mary put a needle in the doll).
Mary Warren returns home and gives Elizabeth a doll that she sewed
during the trials. Mary claims to have saved Elizabeth’s life after someone accused
her of witchcraft. After being sent to bed, she tells John to stop ordering her
around. She refuses to testify against Abigail in court because Abigail
threatened to kill her.
Hale visits the Proctors with good intentions. He asks questions
about the Proctor’s devotion to the church. He is confused when Proctor tells
him about Abigail, because many people have already confessed to witchcraft—he
realized they didn’t want to be hanged. Hale appears less certain of the
Relationship and status: Elizabeth still strongly distrusts John,
who feels like he is constantly being judged in his own home. John wants to put
the past behind them but Elizabeth will always feel like he owes her something.
John and Mary’s dynamic is shifted after she returns from court, as if the
trials are empowering her to stand up for herself. Proctor and Hale have a long
conversation that seems to put them on the same level, at least until the men
show up to arrest Elizabeth. Abigail obviously has great power over the group
of girls because Mary is scared of being killed.
Tempo and shift: The tempo, again, increases as the tension builds
up. In the beginning of the act, the tempo is rather slow despite the tension
at the dinner table. The tension peaks at moment when the men unexpectantly
show up to arrest Elizabeth and the tempo speeds up with Proctor’s anger and
Hale’s confusion. This is also a major shift in the plot and a key moment in
the story because now John Proctor has been dragged into the mess and Hale has
lost control of the investigation.
Proctor tells the court that he just wants to fee his wife and has
no intentions of undermining the court. He learns that Elizabeth is pregnant.
He continues to testify against Abigail in order to save the other accused.
When Abigail enters, he calls her a whore and confesses his affair so that the
court will believe that Abigail wants Elizabeth hanged.
Mary testifies that she and the other girls were pretending to be
afflicted by black magic, and that all the accusations are false. She later
joins Abigail and the troop in hysterical screaming and accuses Proctor of
standing with the devil.
Parris accuses Proctor of trying to overthrow the court.
Putnam gets in it with other men about land ownership, and accuses
one of witchcraft in order to have him hanged and inherit his land. These
accusations are clearly getting out of hand.
Abigail denies Mary’s testimony. She leads her troop in shivering
due to Mary’s supposed bewitchment.
Elizabeth enters to attest to the rumor. In order to save John from
being accused of adultery, she denounces the rumors, unaware that John had
Hale quits the trials after the court orders Proctor’s arrest.
Relationships: Thought her trust is wavering, Elizabeth shows her
endless devotion to her husband. Mary is s flip-flopping troublemaker who
changes her alliance between Proctor and Abigail. Parris is still out to get Proctor. Putnam is
just ridiculous and tries takes down anyone in his way. Hale cuts his ties with
the court when he realizes they are all nuts.
Status: Parris still sees himself as superior. Hale is finally
grounded. Abigail clearly has great authority over the girls and the town. Putnam thinks he deserves everything.
Tempo: The story climaxes in this
scene. The tempo was increasing up until this point in the play. After
Proctor’s plan begins to crumble, the tempo starts to slow.
Shift: There is a shift when Elizabeth denies knowing about affair
although Proctor had already confessed. That was the “oh shit” moment that
caused a clear shift in tone, mood, character, rhythm, and tempo.
Danforth and Hawthorn demanded that Proctor sign an official confession
and attach it to the church door.
Hale returns to Salem to persuade the prisoners to confess and save
their lives. After they refuse, he begs Danforth and Hawthorn to pardon them.
He tells them they have created a world of rotten homes and fear.
Paris reveals Abigail has robbed him and fled Salem.
Proctor does not want to confess because he wants the persecutors
to feel guilty when they know he is innocent. He agrees to confess. He denies
any of the other townspeople to be involved in witchcraft. After being forced
to sign a confession, he snatched it and tore it up. He will not tarnish his
Elizabeth is sent to convince Proctor to confess, but she allows he
husband to do what he thinks is right.
Relationship: Elizabeth shows ultimate respect for her husband.
Hale tries so hard to save the condemned.
Status: Danforth and Hawthorn try to undermine Proctor by making
him sign a confession. Proctor’s refusal puts him at a higher moral position,
as they now have to watch him die while they know he is innocent.
Tempo: The tempo continues to slow until the moment Proctor is
hanged. There is a slight peak when he rips up the confession.
Shift: There is an empowering shift in Proctor’s character the
moment he tears up the confession.
recruited a seventeenth-century scholar to help him develop the language of the
script with a new echo, which the actors would be able to adopt (Miller, 158).
He received town records for 1692 from the Salem courthouse where he found
everything he needed, including dialogue transcripts from the witch trials.
to ‘The Crucible'”). This creates a historically correct language not
only in diction but also in true dialogue that occurred during the trials in
Plan and 7. Sound
I imagine the
crucible in a thrust configuration with a multilevel set. The details of the
structure will reflect those of 17th century architecture. With
lighting effects and particular placement of actors, scenes can feel very open
or claustrophobic—a prominent feeling throughout the play. The multilevel
structure can be utilized as a quaint colonial home or a rigid courthouse.
Personally, it is hard for me to imagine sound for this production. It would be
appropriate for the transitional music to rise in rhythm along with the play’s
rise in tension. Perhaps some horror-styled violin could be incorporated more
and more as the show progresses. Other than transitional music, there are no
other defining sounds found in the play.
government runs Salem. The community is ruled by God through religious figures
that double as political heads. The residents are consumed by work and prayer.
The colonial architecture is found in government buildings, churched, and
homes—all surrounded by plains of farmland. There is a strong hierarchy of the
townspeople, including a prominent sense of gender roles. The religious
influence on colonial Salem comes along with a grave fear of the devil and
witchcraft, thus beginning the plot of The
The Crucible: Dramaturgy Checklist
(1915-2005) was born in Harlem, NY and later lived in Manhattan with his
immigrant family of Polish and Jewish descent. His family lost everything in
the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and was forced to move to Brooklyn. While at the
University of Michigan, Miller wrote for the student newspaper and took a few
playwright courses. During his college years, he completed his first play, No Villain, and later moved back East to
begin his playwriting career. He went on to write several acclaimed plays and novels;
in particular, Death of a Salesman won
the highest of praises including the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama
Critics’ Circle Award, and several Tony Awards. His marriage to Marilyn Monroe
placed Miller in the Hollywood spotlight. Miller barely wrote during their
marriage, with the exception of The
Misfits. After her death, Miller penned After
the Fall, which is supposedly based on their relationship. In 1956, the
House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) called Miller to appear before
the committee. Because The Crucible is
an allegory about McCarthyism, Miller came under inspection. During Miller’s stand against
the HUAC, Brooks Atkinson wrote, “He refused to be an informer. He refused
to turn his private conscience over to administration by the state. He has
accordingly been found in contempt of Congress. That is the measure of the man
who has written these high-minded plays.” (Biography.com Editors. ) These events have several
correlations with the plot and characters of The Crucible.
Writing of the Play
(a German-Jewish playwright exiled in the US) wrote a play about the Salem
Witch Trials Wahn
oder der Teufel in Boston (Delusion, or The Devil in Boston) as an allegory for
the prosecution of communists. The show premiered in Germany is 1949, and later
translated and performed in Los Angels four years later. Miller somewhat lacks
originality as the subject matter is possibly influenced by Feuchtwanger’s Wahn
oder der Teufel in Boston. Both
plays were published and performed around the same time subsequently many
critics labeled them as “another play on Salem witches.” Albeit it was noted
that Feuchtwanger’s play had fewer dramatic high points. The question whether
one writer might have influenced the other remains unanswered. The important
point is that they both take different approaches onstage (Maierhofer, Waltraud).
of Past Productions
In 1953, the first
production of The Crucible received
negative reviews. Miller blames it on the stylized, stoic interpretation of
director Jed Harris (Miller, 158). Within the next 12 months, the show blew up
and became an American classic, constantly being staged and read in schools
around the globe. Why? Because of the universal themes of illicit sexuality,
fear of supernatural, and political manipulation. The film (1996) reaches a
much broader audience uncovers others connections to political terror.
Works by the Playwright
There is a clear
correlation between the works of Arthur Miller and his stories. He focuses on
the American Dream as a reflection of his parent’s immigration to America. He
also emphasizes the importance of name, deceit and social wrongs. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is more
concerned about having a “big name” rather than creating a reputation as a
dedicated worker. In The Crucible, the
importance of name is highlighted in John Proctor’s pride and willingness to
die rather than tarnish his reputation. The overall concern reflects Miller’s
experience with the HUAC and his refusal to give up the names of his
colleagues. In terms of deceit, Abigail William’s duplicity of Elizabeth
Proctor is symbolic of the affair Miller had with Monroe. Similarly in Death of a Salesman, Willy takes his
family’s money to buy stockings other women (“Miller,
Arthur”). The events and themes of Miller’s stories reflect those
of his own life.
Cultural, Political, and Religious Background
stated above, there are several timely events that bridge Miller and his work.
Miller was inspected during the McCarthy period and watched several of his
friends and colleagues deceive each other—and allegory for The Crucible. His relationship with Monroe is represented in Abigail William’s affair with
John Proctor. Miller lived during The Great Depression and several of his
plays, including Death of a Salesman take
place during that period or are reminiscent of the events. As he shaped his characters,
Miller connected to John Proctor, who was able to fight the madness around him.
He related to the universal experience of being unable to believe the state has
lost its mind (Miller, 158). In terms of accuracy, all the characters in The Crucible are taken from history,
with the exception of age changes. Miller spent some time in Salem for
research. He received town records for 1692 from the courthouse where he found
everything he needed, including dialogue transcripts from the witch trials. (Miller,
of the play
The first production of The Crucible received rather negative reviews. Miller blames it on
the stylized, stoic interpretation of director Jed Harris (Miller, 158). The
play has since won several awards for performances on stage, film, opera, and