|Written by||Arthur Miller|
Reverend John Hale
Reverend Samuel Parris
|Date premiered||January 22, 1953|
|Place premiered||Martin Beck Theatre, New York City|
|Subject||Salem witch trials, McCarthyism|
The Crucible is a 1953 play by the American playwright Arthur Miller. It was initially called "The Chronicles of Sarah Good". It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of "contempt of Congress" for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended. It was first performed at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway on January 22, 1953. Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold and the reviews for it were largely hostile (although The New York Times noted "a powerful play [in a] driving performance"). Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 "Best Play" Tony Award. A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. It is a central work in the canon of American drama.
Rev. Parris is praying over his daughter, Betty Parris, who lies as if unconscious in her bed. Conversations between Rev. Parris, his niece Abigail Williams and several other girls reveal that the girls, including Abigail and Betty, were engaged in heretical activities in a nearby forest, apparently led by Tituba, Parris's slave from Barbados. Parris had discovered them, whereupon Betty fainted and has not yet recovered. The townspeople do not know exactly what the girls were up to, but there are rumors of witchcraft.
John Proctor enters the room in which Betty lies in bed, and Abigail, otherwise alone, tries to seduce him. It does not work, but it is revealed that Abigail and Proctor had once engaged in an affair, and that Abigail still has feelings for him.
Reverend John Hale is summoned from Beverly to look upon Betty and research the incident. He is a self-proclaimed expert in occult phenomena and is eager to use his acquired learning. He questions Abigail, who accuses Tituba of being a witch. Tituba, afraid of being hanged and threatened with beating, professes faith in God and accuses fishy Goodwives Sarah Good and Osburn of witchcraft. Betty, now awake, claims to have been bewitched and also professes her faith in God. Betty and Abigail sing out a list of people whom they claim to have seen with the Devil.
Elizabeth questions Proctor to find out if he is late for dinner because of a visit to Salem. She tells him that their housemaid, Mary Warren, has been there all day. Having forbidden Mary from going to Salem, Proctor becomes angry, but Elizabeth explains that Mary has been named an official of the court.
Elizabeth tells Proctor that he must reveal that Abigail is not who everyone thinks she is. He declares that he cannot prove what she told him because they were alone when they talked. Elizabeth becomes upset because he has not previously mentioned this time alone with Abigail. Proctor believes that she is accusing him of resuming his affair with Abigail. An argument then ensues between the two.
Mary returns, and Proctor is furious that she has been in Salem all day. However, she advises that she will be gone every day because of her duties as an official of the court. Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet that she made while in court, tells the couple that thirty-nine people are now in jail, and that Goody Osborne [sic] will hang for her failure to confess to witchcraft. Proctor is angry because he believes the court is condemning people without solid evidence. Mary states that Elizabeth has also been accused, but, as she herself defended her, the court dismissed the accusation.
Elizabeth tells Proctor that she believes Abigail will accuse her of witchcraft and have her executed because she wants to become Proctor's wife. Elizabeth asks Proctor to speak to Abigail and tell her that no chance exists of him marrying her if anything happens to his wife.
Reverend Hale visits the Proctor house and tells Elizabeth and Proctor that the former has been named in court. Hale questions Proctor about his poor church attendance and asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. When Proctor gets stuck on the tenth, Elizabeth reminds him of the commandment forbidding adultery.
Proctor tells Hale that Abigail has admitted to him that witchcraft was not responsible for the children's ailments. Hale asks Proctor to testify in court and then questions Elizabeth to find out if she believes in witches. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive and tell Proctor, Hale and Elizabeth that the court has arrested both of their wives for witchcraft.
Ezekiel Cheever and Willard/Herrick arrive with a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. Cheever discovers the poppet that Mary made for Elizabeth, with a needle inside it. Cheever tells Proctor and Hale that, after apparently being stabbed with a needle while eating at Parris' house, Abigail accused Elizabeth's spirit of stabbing her. Mary tells Hale that she made the doll in court that day and stored the needle inside it. She also states that Abigail saw this because she sat next to her. The men still take Elizabeth into custody, and Hale, Corey and Nurse leave.
Proctor tells Mary that she must testify in court against Abigail. Mary replies that she fears doing this because Abigail and the others will turn against her.
Judge Hathorne (offstage) is in the midst of questioning Martha Corey on accusations of witchcraft, during which her husband, Giles, interrupts the court proceedings and declares that Thomas Putnam is "reaching out for land!" Giles is removed from the courtroom and taken to the vestry room by Willard/Herrick. Judge Hathorne enters and angrily asks: "How dare you come roarin' into this court, are you gone daft, Corey?". Giles Corey replies that since Hathorne isn't a Boston Judge yet, he has no right to ask him that question. Deputy Governor Danforth, Cheever, Reverend Parris and Francis Nurse enter the vestry room. Corey explains that he owns 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land and a large quantity of timber, both of which Putnam had been eyeing. Corey also states that the court is holding his wife Martha by mistake saying he had only said Martha was reading books, but he never accused her of witchcraft.
Danforth soon thereafter takes utter control of the situation, and denies others in the court even a modicum of power. John Proctor enters with Mary Warren, promising to clear up any doubts regarding the girls if his wife is freed from custody. Danforth orders the girls into the vestry. Reverend Parris is skeptical, pointing out that the girls fainted, screamed, and turned cold before the accused, which they see as proof of the spirits. Mary tells them that she believed at first to have seen the spirits, however she knows now that there aren't any.
In an attempt to discredit Mary, Abigail and the other girls begin to scream and cry out that they are freezing. When Abigail calls to God, Proctor accuses her of being a whore and tells the court of their affair. Abigail denies it and the court has Elizabeth brought in to verify if Proctor is telling the truth. Not knowing that he had already confessed, Elizabeth says that Proctor is not commiting adultery, as the question asked was if he is commiting adultery, not has he. When Proctor continues to insist that the affair took place, the girls begin to pretend to see a yellow bird sent by Mary to attack them. To save herself from being accused of witchcraft, Mary tells the court that Proctor was in league with the devil and forced her to testify. Proctor is arrested for witchcraft, and Reverend Hale storms out of the court, shouting "I denounce these proceedings!"
Proctor is chained to a jail wall, totally isolated from the outside. Reverend Parris begins to panic because John was liked by many in the village (as were Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, who are also to be hanged), and he explains his fears to Hathorne, Danforth and Cheever. He also reveals that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis (one of the "afflicted" girls) stole 31 pounds (about half his yearly salary) and boarded a ship in the night. Hale enters, now a broken man who spends all his time with the prisoners, praying with them and advising prisoners to confess to witchcraft so that they can live. The authorities send Elizabeth to John, telling her to try to convince Proctor to confess to being a witch. When Proctor and Elizabeth are alone, she forgives him and reaffirms their love. Elizabeth tells of Giles Corey being pressed to death. John chooses to confess in exchange for his life and calls out to Hathorne, who is almost overjoyed to hear such news. Proctor signs the confession, then tears it up when realizing that Danforth is going to nail the signed confession to the church (which Proctor fears will ruin his name and the names of other Salemites). Proctor, Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey are led to the gallows to hang.
Characters (in order of appearance)
- Reverend Samuel Parris
- Parris is the minister of Salem's church, disliked by many residents because of his greedy, domineering personality. He is more concerned about his reputation than the well-being of his sick daughter Betty. He is also more concerned about his missing niece, Abigail Williams, and the money taken by her, than for the lives of the dead and condemned on his conscience. His niece and daughter were the first to accuse others of witchcraft, and he owned the slave, Tituba, the first to be accused of witchcraft.
- Tituba is Reverend Parris's slave. Parris seems to have owned and purchased her in Barbados back in his time as a merchant. She cares for the children and prepares a potion for Abigail that will kill Elizabeth Proctor. Additionally, she attempts to raise the spirits of Ann Putnam's dead children. During the first scene of the play, she is turned in by Abigail and responds by claiming that four women in Salem are witches. She is not seen again until the final scene of the play taking place in the jail. By this point the events have troubled her to the point that she is haunted by hallucinations and hysteria – Both she and Sarah Good are driven mad, and are not mentally well.
- Abigail Williams
- Williams is Parris' 17-year-old niece and the play's antagonist. Abigail was previously the maid for the Proctor house, fired by Elizabeth after her discovery of Abigail's affair with her husband, John. Abigail and her uncle's slave, Tituba, lead the local girls in love-spell rituals in the Salem forest over a fire. Rumors of witchcraft fly, and Abigail tries to use the town's fear to her advantage. She accuses many of witchcraft, starting first with the society's outcasts and gradually moving up to respected members of the community. Finally, she accuses Elizabeth Proctor, believing that John truly loves her and not Elizabeth. Abigail wants Elizabeth out of the way so that she and John can marry. John says that Abigail "hopes to dance with me upon my wife's grave." She is manipulative and charismatic, attacking anyone who stands in her way. She flees Salem during the trials and, according to legend, becomes a prostitute in Boston.
- Susanna Walcott
- Susanna is a nervous and hasty girl, a little younger than Abigail and she participated with Abigail, Betty, Mercy and Mary in the ritual in the woods. She works for Dr. Griggs.
- Ann Putnam
- Ann Putnam is the wife of Thomas Putnam. She has one daughter, Ruth, but has "laid seven babies un-baptized in the earth." Ann is accusatory and harsh to many, but also very hurt by the deaths of her babies.
- Thomas Putnam
- Thomas Putnam lives in Salem village and owns a bit of land close to Giles Corey. Giles accuses him of trying to steal it, and says that Putnam got his daughter to accuse Giles' wife of witchcraft. This possibility is strongly supported by the play, and thus Putnam is one of the play's true villains because of his resentments toward others and tendency to use it to advance himself.
- Betty Parris
- Elizabeth "Betty" Parris is the ten-year-old daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris and is the first to become ill after being "bewitched". She accuses Abigail of drinking blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor.
- Mercy Lewis
- Servant to the Putnams and one of the girls caught in the woods with Abigail and Betty by Reverend Parris. She is described as being "a fat, sly, merciless girl of eighteen." She and the other girls browbeat Mary Warren into silence about what she saw in the woods in Act I. In Act III, she and the other girls claim to be under the influence of Mary Warren's spirit, which causes them to see and feel various phenomena. She escapes Salem with Abigail.
- Mary Warren
- Mary Warren serves as housemaid for the Proctors after Abigail Williams. She is a lonely girl who considers herself an "official of the court" at the beginning of the trials. John Proctor is shown to sometimes abuse her and hit her with a whip. She nearly confesses that she and the other girls were lying about witchcraft until the other girls pretend that she is sending out her spirit to them in the courtroom. This event, which could have led to her death, propels her to accuse John Proctor of witchcraft, stating that he forced her to lie about herself and the others.
- John Proctor
- John Proctor is a down-to-earth, forthright farmer and the play's protagonist. He has a sexual relationship with Abigail Williams while she is a servant at his farm. Although he speaks his mind and stands up to Parris, he has no wish to be a martyr and he is careful about what he says when he senses real danger. He does show courage and boldness in his opposition to Parris and Putnam and he fiercely resists the arrest of his wife. Proctor is cautious when it comes to denouncing Abigail, particularly when his wife, claiming to be pregnant, is not in immediate danger. However, he feels he owes it to his accused friends to expose Abigail as a liar. He works hard to build a defense for those accused and manages to persuade Mary Warren to tell the truth, but this success is short-lived. As a last resort, he suffers the public shame of confessing to his adultery with Abigail to no avail. In prison, he eventually confesses so that he can live with and care for his family, but finally he decides to die rather than lose his good name and admit to witchcraft; he thus refuses to confess. He does this for the sake of his children's reputation and because Elizabeth and others have refused to confess. He will not deny himself. He has doubted his ability to be a good man so far, but with Elizabeth's example and support he realizes he can be true to himself and accept death.
- Giles Corey
- Giles is a friend of John Proctor who is very concerned about his own land. He believes Thomas Putnam is trying to take his land and that of others by convincing the girls to accuse Giles' wife of witchcraft. Giles gains this information from an anonymous man whom he will not name, as he knows that the man would be put in prison if he did. He is subjected to being pressed by stones when he refuses to plea "aye or nay" to the charge of witchcraft. The character of Giles Corey is based on a real person. Giles' wife, Martha, is executed because of the witchcraft accusations. It is unusual for persons to refuse to plead, and extremely rare to find reports of persons who have been able to endure this painful form of death in silence, as explained in the following quote from Elizabeth Proctor:
- "He were not hanged. He would not answer yes or no to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they'd hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay."
- From this it is obvious of Giles' reason for holding out so long against so much pain: As long as he did not answer yes or no, his children would be able to keep his estate. Whether this was for his children's sake or to spite Thomas Putnam's greedy obsession with buying up land is arguable. The play supports both possibilities.
- Rebecca Nurse
- Rebecca Nurse, wife of Francis Nurse, is highly respected in Salem for her helpful nature. Very firm in her opinions, and willing to make any sacrifice in the cause of truth, she voices her opposition to the idea of witchcraft. Near the end, she is accused of being a witch on the prompting of the Putnams, who are jealous of her good fortune.
- Reverend John Hale
- Hale is a well-respected minister reputed to be an expert on witchcraft. Reverend Hale is called in to Salem to examine the witchcraft trials and Parris's daughter Betty, who has fallen into a mysterious illness after being discovered participating in the suspect rituals. He originally believes that there are witches in Salem and advocates the trials, but later realizes the widespread corruption and abuse of the trials, and struggles to convince accused "witches" to lie by confessing and live, rather than to tell the truth and die.
- Elizabeth Proctor
- John Proctor's wife, and a resident of Salem. She is accused of witchcraft, and is only saved from death due to the fact that she is pregnant. Abigail hates her for being Proctor's wife, and for keeping Proctor's heart. By the end of the play she feels that Proctor's affair is due to her own faults, much to Proctor's dismay. By the end Elizabeth chooses not to save John's life and allows him to hang saying she would not take away his goodness.
- Ezekiel Cheever
- An astute yet weak character; his most important appearance is in the Proctor household where he denounces Elizabeth Proctor for witchcraft, regarding the poppet (doll) which was placed in the Proctor house to make it appear that Elizabeth was practicing witchcraft against Abigail Williams. His reason is clouded by the authority of Salem for whom he works. He used to be friends with John Proctor, but when the accusations started, he quickly turned against his friends and their family who were accused of witchcraft. He tells Danforth that Proctor sometimes plows on Sundays and that Proctor missed church often. He acts as a scribe in Act 2 of The Crucible, and in some interpretations of the play, he hangs Proctor. The character is based on the actual son (with the same name) of Ezekiel Cheever, the famous schoolmaster and author of Accidence: A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue.
- George Herrick/John Willard
- Herrick was the Marshal of Salem and in the play is responsible for bringing the defendants before the court. He is a sympathetic character, advising Deputy Governor Danforth of Proctor's good character and becoming friendly with the accused witches that he guards. Some productions name the character John Willard, a reference to constable John Willard who came to disbelieve the allegations and refused to make any further arrests. He himself was then arrested, charged with witchcraft and hanged.
- Judge John Hathorne
- The presiding judge over the Salem Witch Trials. Cold, ignorant, antagonistic, he constantly denies any new developments regarding the events in Salem Village. Hathorne could also be considered the "hangin' judge" of the era, wishing only to see people suffer. His only real moment of emotion in the play occurs in the final scene, where he appears almost joyful that Proctor considers confessing for a crime he didn't commit, this going along with his personality.
- Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth
- Mr. Danforth is a pretentious and selfish judge, who is extremely loyal to the rules and regulations of his position. Seen by Miller himself as being the true villain of the piece, he described him as thus in a New York Times article: “...[t]he rule-bearer, the man who always guards the boundaries which, if you insist on breaking through them, have the power to destroy you. His ‘evil’ is more than personal, it is nearly mythical. He does more evil than he knows how to do; while merely following his nose he guards ignorance, he is man’s limit.”
- Public opinion and his acute adherence to the law are most important to him. He seems to secretly know that the witch trials in Salem are all a lie yet will not release any of the prisoners because he is afraid of being viewed as weak and having his theocratic reputation undermined. When Proctor knowingly defies his authority by refusing to lie and sign a public confession saying that he is guilty of witchcraft and accusing others, Danforth, outraged at having his power undermined, immediately sentences him to hang along with the other prisoners including Rebecca Nurse.
Janet Alexander — Betty Parris
Jacqueline Andre - Tituba
Fred Stewart – Rev. Samuel Parris
Madeleine Sherwood – Abigail Williams
Barbara Stanton – Susanna Walcott
Jane Hoffman – Mrs Ann Putnam
Raymond Bramley – Thomas Putnam
Dorothy Joliffe – Mercy Lewis
Jennie Egan – Mary Warren
Arthur Kennedy — John Proctor
Jean Adair — Rebecca Nurse
Joseph Sweeney — Giles Corey
E. G. Marshall — Rev. John Hale
Beatrice Straight — Elizabeth Proctor
Graham Velsey – Francis Nurse
Don McHenry – Ezekiel Cheever
George Mitchell — Marshall Herrick
Philip Coolidge – Judge Hathorne
Walter Hampden — Deputy-Gov. Danforth
Adele Fortin – Sarah Good
Donald Marye – Hopkins
The production directed by Jed Harris and produced by Kermit Bloomgarden.
2002 Broadway revival cast:
Liam Neeson - John Proctor
Laura Linney - Elizabeth Proctor
Brian Murray - Deputy-Governor Danforth
John Benjamin Hickey - Reverend John Hale
Christopher Evan Welch - Reverend Parris
Angela Bettis - Abigail Williams
Tom Aldredge - Giles Corey
Stephen Lee Anderson - Hopkins
Kristen Bell - Susanna Wallcott
Laura Breckenridge - Girl in Courtroom
Jennifer Carpenter - Mary Warren
Betsy Hogg - Betty Parris
JR Horne - Judge Hathorne
Patrice Johnson - Tituba
Sevrin Anne Mason - Mercy Lewis
Paul O'Brien - Thomas Putnam
Jeanna Paulsen - Ann Putnam
Frank Raiter - Francis Nurse
Dale Soules - Sarah Good/voice of Martha Corey
Helen Stenborg - Rebecca Nurse
Henry Stram - Ezekiel Cheever
Jack Willis - Marshal Herrick
In creating a work for the stage, Miller made no attempt to represent the real, historical people on whom his characters are based: he developed them to meet the needs of the play. The surviving records offer little evidence about their personalities on which a playwright might draw. Miller fused several people into one character: for example, the judges "Hathorne" and "Danforth" are representative of several judges in the case and the number of young girls involved was similarly reduced. Abigail's age was increased from 11 to 17 to allow a relationship with Proctor, for which there is no historical evidence. However, most of the historical roles are accurately represented, and the judicial sentences pronounced on the characters are mostly the same as those given to their real-life counterparts.
The action of the play takes place seventy years after the community arrived as settlers from Britain. The people on whom the characters are based would have retained strong regional dialects from their home country. Miller gave all his characters the same colloquialisms, such as "Goody" for good wife, and drew on the rhythms and speech patterns of the King James Bible to achieve the effect of historical perspective he wanted.
The word crucible is contextually defined as a metal container in which metals or other substances are subjected to high temperatures. Each character is metaphorically a metal subjected to the heat of the surrounding situation. The characters whose moral standards prevail in the face of death, such as John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, symbolically refuse to melt. "Crucible" could also refer to the literary technique in which characters are placed in an inescapable situation and forced through conflict.
The play was adapted for film once, by Jean-Paul Sartre as the 1958 film Les Sorcières de Salem and by Miller himself as the 1996 film The Crucible, the latter with a cast including Paul Scofield, Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. Miller's adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Previously Produced Material, his only nomination.
The play has been presented several times on television. One notable 1968 production starred George C. Scott as John Proctor, Colleen Dewhurst (Scott's wife at the time) as Elizabeth Proctor, Melvyn Douglas as Thomas Danforth, and Tuesday Weld as Abigail Williams. The RSC stage production seen in London's West End in 2006 was recorded for the V&A Theatre & Performance Department's National Video Archive of Performance.
- Blakesley (1992, xv).
- Loftus (1957).
- Abbotson (2005, 78) and Atkinson (1953).
- "The Crucible". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- Roudané (1987, 24).
- Wilmeth and Bigsby (1998, 415).
- Bloom (2008, 10).
- Bloom (2008, 8–10) and Ram (1988, 22).
- Abbotson, Susan C. W. (2007). "The Crucible—First Performance". Critical companion to Arthur Miller: a literary reference to his life and work. New York: Infobase. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-8160-6194-5.
- Atkinson, Brooks (January 23, 1953). "The Crucible". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
- Atkinson, Brooks (July 2, 1953). "AT THE THEATRE; Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' in a New Edition With Several New Actors and One New Scene". New York Times.
- "The Crucible, Virginia Theatre (3/7/2002–6/9/2002)". ibdb.com. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
- Miller (1992, xvii).
- Abbotson, Susan C. W. 2005. Masterpieces of 20th-century American Drama. Westport, CT: Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-33223-1.
- Atkinson, Brooks. 1953. Review of The Crucible. New York Times January 23, 1953. Available online.
- Blakesley, Maureen. 1992. The Crucible, a Play in Four Acts. Heinemann Plays ser. Oxford: Heinemann. ISBN 0-435-23281-9.
- Bloom, Harold. 2008. Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Chelsea House. ISBN 978-0-7910-9828-8.
- Loftus, Joseph A. 1953. "Miller Convicted in Contempt Case." New York Times June 2, 1957. Available online.
- Miller, Arthur. 1992. "A Note on the Historical Accuracy of the Play." In Blakesley (1992, xvii).
- Ram, Atma. 1988. Perspectives on Arthur Miller. Abhinav. ISBN 978-81-7017-240-6.
- Roudané, Matthew, ed. 1987. Conversations with Arthur Miller. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-323-0.
- Wilmeth, Don B. and C. W. E. Bigsby, eds. 1998. The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 978-0-521-67985-5.
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- The Crucible at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Crucible at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- The Crucible (1957 film) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Crucible (1996 film) at the Internet Movie Database
- McCarthyism and the Movies
- The Crucible Literature Study Guide at SparkNotes
- The Crucible study guide, themes, quotes, teaching guide