The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. It is based on the events surrounding the 1692 witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts. Miller wrote about the event as an allegory for McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which occurred in the United States in the 1950s. Miller was himself questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956.
The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production were hostile, but a year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. Today the play is often studied in high schools around the world.
The play has been adapted for film twice, once by Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1957 film Les Sorcières de Salem and nearly forty years later by Miller himself, in the 1996 film of the same name; Miller's adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination. The play was also by adapted by composer Robert Ward into an opera , which was first performed in 1961.
The Crucible is set in the small Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts. The play begins with the discovery by the despised local preacher Reverend Parris that some local girls were performing a sinful dance in the woods with the slave Tituba. One of the girls named Betty, upon being discovered, falls into an unconscious state. Panic spreads through the village as people believe that witchcraft is afoot. The town sends for the Reverend John Hale, an authority on witchcraft, to investigate. Reverend Parris questions Abigail Williams, the unofficial leader of the group of girls, regarding what took place in the forest. Abigail denies any witchcraft and claims she and the girls were just dancing.
Abigail manipulates the other girls into not revealing what really happened in the forest that day. She is secretly infatuated with John Proctor with whom she had an affair while working at his home. Proctor has since rejected Abigail, but she is still in love with him. As the witch trials begin, Abigail and the girls lie and find a new power: accusing others of witchcraft. The madness and the hysteria build, and the girls continue to lie to seek revenge against those whom they do not like. Many residents, mainly the old and the sick, are found guilty and sentenced to execution.
All are fooled by the girls including Thomas Danforth; the Judge believes the girls and many women are brought to trial. These people include John Proctor's wife Elizabeth Proctor, and other respectable citizens. Proctor tries to counter the girls by producing Mary, his servant, who is willing to admit the girls lied. However, all the girls accuse her of witchcraft, and Mary eventually accuses Proctor to save herself. By this point, Reverend John Hale realises the corruption and injustice of the court and attempts to defend Proctor. Proctor is sentenced to death. Hale denouces the proceedings and quits his position within the court. The night before the execution, he gives in to the advice of Reverend Hale. This advice is to confess, which will get him leniency from execution and save Proctor's life. However, he will not let the confession be displayed in the church and rips it up. The play ends with Proctor being led off to his execution.
Miller wrote the play to comment on the parallels between the unjust Salem Witch Trials and the Second Red Scare from 1948 to 1956. During McCarthyism, the United States was terrified of Communism's influence. Like the witches, communists were seen ingrained within every aspect of society. Miller was sent to jail for withholding the names of those whom he assumed to be communists. Many of Miller's peers, fearing the wrath of the court, provided names of suspected communists in an attempt to save themselves. Similarly, the characters in Miller's play turn on each other in an attempt to save themselves.
The play includes characters based on John Proctor, Abigail Williams, Tituba Motif, Reverend John Hale, Elizabeth Proctor, Reverend Parris, Ezekiel Cheever, Rebecca Nurse, Giles Corey, Betty Parris, Thomas Danforth, Thomas Putnam, and Ann Putnam, among others. Some characters, especially the judges, are composites of several people from the actual events, and some of them had names or personalities changed to make for a more appealing drama.
Arthur Miller, Why I Wrote "The Crucible", published in the October 21, 1996 & October 28, 1996 issues of The New Yorker, pages 158-164.
Last updated: 10-18-2005 14:42:02