The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is a play in 4 acts by the author Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690’s.
Considered a classic of American Literature, the play is required reading for most high school students.
Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being communists. In 1956, Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.
The play was first performed at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway on January 22, 1953, starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight and Madeleine Sherwood. 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 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. It is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama.¹
What are your thoughts about Miller’s play? And how does the depiction of the characters compare to those penned in I, Tituba? Enjoy!
Poster for the original Broadway production of TheCrucible at The Martin Beck Theater, 1953.
The Cast of Characters:
Reverend Parris: Minister in Salem. He believes a faction plans to force him to leave Salem, so he attempts to strengthen his authority through the witch trial proceedings.
Betty Parris: Parris’ daughter. Her father discovers her dancing in the woods, and she later accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft.
Abigail Williams: Parris’ niece. She instigates the witch trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft. She pretends to see spirits and instructs the other girls to pretend as well.
Tituba: Parris’ slave. Parris discovers her casting spells and making potions with the girls in the woods.
Mrs. Ann Putnam: Wife of Thomas Putnam. She believes that a witch is responsible for the deaths of her seven infant children. Her jealousy of Rebecca Nurse leads her to accuse Goody Nurse of being a witch.
Thomas Putnam: A greedy landowner in Salem. He systematically accuses his neighbors of witchcraft so that he might purchase their lands after they hang.
Ruth Putnam: The Putnams’ daughter. She accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft. A witness claims to have heard Putnam say Ruth’s accusations helped him obtain land.
Mary Warren: Servant to the Proctors. She goes along with Abigail and the girls by falsely accusing others of witchcraft; however, she later admits that she was lying.
Mercy Lewis: Servant to the Putnams and friend to Abigail. She participates in the witch trials by pretending to see spirits and falsely accusing individuals of witchcraft.
John Proctor: Salem farmer and former lover of Abigail’s. He openly denounces Parris and does not attend church.
Elizabeth Proctor: Wife of John Proctor. She is a decent and honest woman, who dismissed Abigail because of her affair with John Proctor.
Reverend Hale: Minister in Beverly. The people of Salem summon him to investigate Betty’s condition and determine if witchcraft is responsible. He supports the witch trials, but later denounces them when he learns that Abigail is lying.
Rebecca Nurse: Wife of Francis Nurse. She is one of the most respected individuals in Salem because of her kindness and charity. She argues against the witch trial investigations. Mrs. Putnam accuses her of witchcraft.
Francis Nurse: Farmer and landowner in Salem. He is a respected member of the community often called upon to settle disagreements between individuals.
Susanna Walcott: Friend to Abigail. She also takes part in the trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft.
Giles Corey: Elderly inhabitant of Salem. He challenges the court in an attempt to defend his wife who has been convicted of witchcraft. He is pressed to death as a result.
Sarah Good: Beggar in Salem. She is the first individual accused of witchcraft.
Judge Hathorne: A judge in the Salem court.
Deputy Governor Danforth: A special judge serving in the Salem court during the witch trials. He signs the death sentences for those individuals who refuse to confess their crimes. He refuses to delay any execution for fear that he will appear weak and irresolute.
Ezekial Cheever: Appointed by the court to assist in arresting accused individuals.
Marshal Herrick: Appointed by the court to arrest the accused individuals.
The original cast of The Crucible. Film and television influenced the play’s narration, direction and staging.
Here’s the original theater review of The Crucible, after it was first performed at The Martin Beck Theater in 1953. Miller’s play would eventually become required reading in most high school English curricula.
The opening overture narration explains the context of Salem and the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts, which the narrator depicts as an isolated theocratic society in constant conflict with Native Americans. The narrator speculates that the lack of civil liberties, isolation from civilization, and lack of stability in the colony caused latent internal tensions which would contribute to the events depicted in the play.
Act Two offers a second narration, where the narrator compares the Colony to post-World War II society. The narrator compares the Puritan fundamentalism to cultural norms in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Additionally, fears of Satanism taking place after incidents in Europe and the colonies are compared to fears of Communism following its implementation in Eastern Europe and China during the Cold War.
And of course, there are always the themes of fear of women as a potential source of evil in the world which must be “kept down,” as well as the fear of “the other” as illustrated in treatment of disenfranchised groups such as slaves, Jewish people, Native Americans, etc.
A quote from Miller’s play:
” . .But the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. No hint of such speculation appears on the court record, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.
The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its res-olution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high pur-poses, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.
Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom. When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.
The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for every-one so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. It suddenly became possible – and patriotic and holy – for a man to say that Martha Corey had come into his bedroom at night, and that, while his wife was sleeping at his side, Martha laid herself down on his chest and nearly suffocated him.” Of course it was her spirit only, but his satisfaction at confessing himself was no lighter than if it had been Martha herself. One could not ordinarily speak such things in public.
Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.
Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”
-The Crucible, Act one Overature (pages 6-8)
A glossary, from the irrepressible Cliff’s Notes
A discussion guide for The Crucible, from Penguin
. . .A bit about Arthur Miller . . .
Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist born of Polish-Jewish descent. Among his most popular plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955, revised 1956). He also wrote several screenplays and was most noted for his work on The Misfits (1961).
In 2001 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Miller for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Miller’s lecture was entitled “On Politics and the Art of Acting.” It analyzed political events (including the U.S. presidential election of 2000) in terms of the “arts of performance,” and it drew attacks from some politicians, who called it “a disgrace,” and George Will, who argued that Miller was not legitimately a “scholar.”Here is the rather long but quite provocative Jefferson Lecture, “On Politics and the Art of Acting” by Arthur Miller.
Trumbo by Bruce Cook
Have your ever heard of the Blacklist, the HUAC, or a man named Dalton Trumbo?
The United States saw a different kind of witch hunt in the mid-20th century.
Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, who scripted films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. He continued working clandestinely, producing work under other authors’ names.
His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was given to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact.
Here is Trumbo, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Let’s talk about the Hollywood Blacklist!
Dalton Trumbo was the central figure in the “Hollywood Ten,” the blacklisted and jailed screenwriters. One of several hundred writers, directors, producers, and actors who were deprived of the opportunity to work in the motion picture industry from 1947 to 1960, he was the first to see his name on the screen again. When that happened, it was Exodus, one of the year’s biggest movies.This intriguing biography shows that all his life Trumbo was a radical of the homegrown, independent variety. From his early days in Colorado, where his grandfather was a county sheriff, to Los Angeles, where he organized a bakery strike, to bootlegging, to Hollywood, where he was the highest-paid screenwriter when he was blacklisted.²
One of Bustle’s top books to read before Oscar season, Bruce Cook’s Trumbo is a gritty, realistic biography of a tough-as-nails artist working in a time of neo-witchhunting.
READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
Cook’s Trumbo includes passages of original statement and testimony from the HUAC proceedings of October 27th, 1947.
Here’s a sample of what Trumbo had to say:
“The Committee throughout its hearing has approved even the grossest attacks upon the right of the artist to express his ideas freely and honestly in his work. Similarly, you have sought testimony attacking his right to function in craft organizations and trade unions for thc advancement of his interests. You are now attacking his right to think, and seeking by public inquisition to ferret out his innermost ideas and his most private and personal convictions. No institution on earth possesses this power over American citizens. You violate the most elementary principles of constitutional guarantees when you require anyone to parade for your approval his opinions upon race, religion, politics, or any other matter.
We must furthermore remember always that the defense of constitutional rights is not simply a convenience to be invoked in time of need, but a clear and continuous obligation imposed equally upon all of us at all times. We are, as citizens, literally commanded by its implications to defend the Constitution against even the slightest encroachment upon the protective barrier it interposes between the private citizen on one hand and the inquisitors of government on the other.” – Dalton Trumbo, 10/1947
The quintessential photo of Trumbo working in his bathtub:
Here are three different film resources to learn more about blacklisting, Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten:
The first stars an adamant Bette Davis in the movie “Storm Center.” Davis stars as Alicia Hull, a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children’s wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book ‘The Communist Dream’ from the library’s collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive. Especially upset by this is young Freddie Slater, a boy with a deep love of books whom Alicia has closely mentored.
Here’s a scene where the demure but feisty librarian (yay, librarians!) explains her position:
Movies about Blacklisting:
Next up is a collection of super movie clips from films about blacklisting. Well worth the watch! The video is dedicated to actress/author/activist Lee Grant, herself a blacklisted actress, because her new autobiography “I Said ‘Yes’ To Everything” inspired the youtuber to make this video; and to Victory Navasky who wrote the book “Naming Names,” a book about the subject.
Full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist. Fascinating.
Last but not least, for anyone who wants to delve further into this historically important topic, here is a good full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist, using many authentic clips of famous actors, screenwriters and directors. We see Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Walt Disney and many others. Check it out!
Also check out PBS American Masters for their special presentation on Trumbo.
. . .A bit about Bruce Cook . . .
Born in 1932, Bruce Cook grew up in California (Berkeley, Dunsmuir) and in his birthplace, Chicago, where he received a degree in English literature. He began his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He worked as critic-of-all-media-duties (with the National Observer from 1967 to 1975), then became film reporter, and book review editor (with the Los Angeles Daily News from 1984-1990), then followed his love of literature by writing many book reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, and USA Today.
At the same time, during the 1970s, Bruce Cook was writing books–The Beat Generation (1971), Listen to the Blues (1973), The Town that Country Built (1993), and two biographies, one of Dalton Trumbo (1977), the other of Bertolt Brecht (1983). His last book was a fictional biography of Shakespeare–Qualms of Conscience: The Confessions of William Shakespeare (2004).
As he liked to tell it, he developed an early interest in fiction.
He is perhaps best known (under the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander) as the author of the adventures of Sir John Fielding, his main work between 1994 and 2003. Though these ten novels of detection, translated into nine languages, brought him an international reputation, his bibliography includes twelve other books that appeared between 1979 and 2003, along with many hundreds of reviews and articles in many newspapers and magazines.³
³Bruce Cook’s official website