In 1953 Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible.” The play dramatizes a fictional account of the Salem witch trials. He originally wrote the play as a metaphorical look at McCarthyism. During the time this play was written many people in Hollywood, Miller included, were blacklisted because they were accused of communism. During his questioning by the House of Representatives, Miller was convicted of contempt of court because he refused to give names of other suspected communists.
Although not all the reviews were positive at the play’s first performance on Broadway, “The Crucible” won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1953. Since then the play has become a staple for the stage and is a standard for the dramatic American play. In 1996, it was made into a movie. Also, in 2002 and again in 2016 “The Crucible” was on Broadway for a revival.
After writing the play Arthur Miller said that it was taken from history and every character in the play had a similar role in Salem in 1692, but that isn’t actually true. Abigail was around eleven or twelve years old, as were most of the girls. And Proctor was about sixty years old. The Putnam’s did not lose so many children to still birth but actually raised ten children. He also grouped the judges involved into two. The list goes on in inaccuracies, but the story is entertaining none the less. Some of the greatest actors on Broadway have participated in productions, and a great number of schools throughout the world include the play in their curriculum.
Reverend Parris is kneeling beside the bed his inert daughter, Betty is lying on in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. Reverend Parris is stern and strict with his congregation. He is also paranoid. Since it is rumored that his daughter is suffering from witchcraft, there is a group of townspeople gathering in the other room while he prays for his daughter’s soul.
A few days earlier he had seen his daughter and several other women in the forest with the slave, Tituba dancing. She was using unknown words and waving her arms over a fire. He also thought he saw a naked person run through the trees. Now he has called Reverend John Hale from Beverly, Massachusetts. He is supposed to be the expert on witchcraft. Reverend Parris hopes he can tell him if his daughter is indeed bewitched. Abigail Williams refutes that she and her friends were practicing witchcraft. She says that Betty merely fainted from fear when her father caught them.
Reverend Parris is afraid that there are people in his congregation that will use his daughter’s problem to push him out of his position as a minister. He pushes Abigail about her reputation. He brings up that Elizabeth Proctor won’t sit near her during services because she says Abigail is a soiled woman. Abigail replies that Proctor fired her because she wouldn’t work as a slave. When Parris asks her if Proctor is such a liar, why is no one else willing to hire her. She returns that he is just worried because he doesn’t want to be concerned with her upkeep.
Next to enter the room is Thomas Putnam and his wife. Putnam has a grudge against Parris because he wanted his brother in law to have the job Parris has. But a small group of the congregation was against his brother in law. Mrs. Perry tells Parris that their daughter, Ruth is also suffering from the same condition. She also tells him that someone reported seeing his daughter, Betty flying over one of their neighbor’s barn. After seven still born babies, Mrs. Putnam is convinced that her children died because of witchcraft. So, she sent her daughter, Ruth to find Tituba and ask her to talk to her dead babies to find out who murdered them. Parris asserts that that proves Abigail was practicing witchcraft. Putnam tells Parris to get ahead of his detractors by announcing he discovered witchcraft.
Then Mercy Lewis, a servant of Putnam’s enters and announces that Ruth is improving. Finally, Parris agrees to lead his congregation in prayer, but he won’t mention witchcraft until he can ask Reverend Hale’s opinion. After the others leave, Abigail gives Mercy an update on what is going on. The servant of the Proctor’s, Mary Warren enters. She is breathless and nervous. Mary is worried that they will all be called witches. Suddenly Betty sits up and calls for her mother who is dead.
When Abigail tells the girls that she told Parris about what they did in the woods, Betty tells her that she didn’t tell him about them drinking blood in order to kill Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor. Abigail slaps Betty and warns the girls to agree with her story and only reveal that they danced in the woods with Tituba to call on Ruth’s dead baby sisters. Abigail also warns the girls that she will kill them if they reveal any more. Abigail starts to shake Betty, but she faints again.
Next, John Proctor enters. He is a local farmer and holds contempt for the people of Salem and their hypocrisy. His honesty makes people dislike him because he shows them how foolish they are. But, Proctor has a secret he hopes doesn’t get revealed. The reason his wife fired Abigail is that she discovered his affair with the girl. He reprimands Mary, who has replaced Abigail as their servant and tells her to go home. She and Mercy leave. That leaves Abigail with Proctor. She tells him that she waits for him every night. He replies that he never made her any promises. Abigail tells him that she knows he still wants her because she has seen him staring at her window. Proctor admits to her that he does still care about her, but their affair is over. When Abigail mocks him for obeying his “sniveling” wife, he threatens to whip her for insulting his wife. Abigail replies that he opened her eyes to the hypocrisy going on around them and now she will always see it.
When Betty hears the congregation singing religious songs, she suddenly covers her ears when they sing to Jesus. She starts to have hysterics. The Putnam’s, Mercy and Parris run into the room. Her actions make Mrs. Putnam say that Betty has been bewitched. That is why she shows pain when she hears the name of Jesus.
Rebecca Nurse, who is an elderly woman, enters. She is the wife of Francis Nurse, who is held in high regard in Salem. Many of the townspeople seek his advice. He is also very successful and has bought almost three hundred acres of land that he once rented. This makes some people resentful. He and Putnam had been arguing about land borders. Also, Nurse is one of the men who was against his brother in law. Giles Corey enters. He is eighty-three years old but muscular and wiry. When Betty senses Rebecca in the room, she begins to quiet. Rebecca tries to convince the men that Betty and Ruth just have childish fits.
Proctor is still trying to keep this from going overboard. He asks Parris if he had brought any of this before the town in a meeting before calling Reverend Hale to hunt for demons in their town. Rebecca says that she is afraid that a witch hunt will start even more arguments with the townspeople, but Putnam insists that Parris put Hale’s witch hunting skills to work immediately. At this Proctor reminds Putnam that just because he is rich doesn’t mean he gets more votes in this matter than anyone else, and Parris does not work for him. Putnam replies that since Proctor doesn’t go to church regularly, he shouldn’t worry about what goes on in the town. Proctor tells them that he doesn’t go as often because he doesn’t agree with Parris’ doctrine of hellfire and damnation.
Next, a petty argument about whether Parris should be given extra money for firewood breaks out between Parris and Giles. Giles tells him that Parris went to far when he asked for the deed to his house. But, Parris argues that if he had the deed the congregation couldn’t toss him out, and they would be less likely to disobey his doctrines. Parris begins to lecture Proctor. He tells him that he doesn’t merit the right to go against his authority. The people of Salem aren’t Quakers, and Parris tells Proctor to remind his “followers” of it. According to Parris Proctor is a group of dissidents who are conspiring against the church. Proctor surprises everyone by saying that he would love to be a part of any group that is against Parris and his kind of authority.
Then Putnam and Proctor begin to argue about the ownership of a lot of lands rich in timber. Although Putnam says that his grandfather left the land to him, Proctor bought the land from Nurse. Proctor said that Putnam’s grandfather tried to leave other lots of land that he didn’t actually own. Putnam becomes even angrier and threatens to sue Proctor.
Reverend Hale enters with a lot of books on witchcraft. He has studied the subject profusely. When Hale asks Proctor and Giles if there are any children afflicted, Giles points out that Proctor doesn’t believe in witches. To that Proctor states that he hasn’t given any opinion and then he leaves so Hale can get on with his work. Parris begins his story of the girls dancing in the forest then Mrs. Putnam adds that she had asked her daughter to contact her dead children. When she asks Hale if losing that many children at one day old are normal, he replies that he needs to consult his books. While he is looking at the books, Rebecca says that she is too old to be involved in all this. But, Parris insists that Hale may find the answers to the problems in their community. Rebecca leaves anyway.
Next Giles questions Hale about women reading strange books. His wife has been reading some and when she does it interferes with his prayers, then when she closed the book and left, he was able to finish his prayers. Giles’ reputation isn’t very good in Salem. He has been suspected of thefts and fires, but when he married Martha, he began attending church. Of course, he only recently learned to recite the prayers, and any distraction makes him have trouble continuing. To Giles’ astonishment, Hale begins to wonder about his wife. Giles says he didn’t mean to say that his wife was a witch, he simply wants to know what she is reading and why she seems to think she needs to hide it.
Hale begins to question Abigail. Although she admits to dancing in the forest, she was not committing witchcraft. Parris brings up the kettle he saw with the girls, but she claims it was only soup. When he adds that something was moving in the kettle, she says a frog jumped in. When the questions get harder, she tries to place the blame on Tituba by accusing the woman of making her drink blood. Tituba tells the men that Abigail had begged her to make a charm.
Now Tituba’s questioning begins. She starts out by saying that if the children are bewitched someone else must be doing it. Putnam wants her to accuse two other women who are outcasts in the town, Sarah Good and Goody Osburn. She tells him that she saw four people with the devil. Then she tells Parris that the devil offered her freedom and a chance to go home to Barbados if she would kill him in his sleep, but she refused. She adds that the devil chose some white people, including the two women mentioned by Putnam. Mrs. Putnam interjects that that makes sense because Goody Osburn was the midwife for three of her stillborn babies. Not to be outdone, Abigail adds Bridget Bishop and then Betty sits up from the bed and begins to add more names. As the scene comes to a close, Abigail and Betty are fervently adding names and Hale is calling for the marshal to prepare to arrest the witches.
John and Elizabeth Proctor are sitting down to dinner. They are discussing that their servant, Mary went to the witch trials even though she was forbidden. There are now fourteen people accused of witchcraft and in jail. Abigail and her gang of girls are having hysterics and calling people witches left and right. These people have all been arrested. Elizabeth wants her husband to testify that the girls are faking it, but he says he doesn’t have any proof because she told him that while they were alone. This hurts Elizabeth so she tells him how she feels about him being alone with a girl she knows he had an affair with. He replies that she should trust him, and he feels she has put him on trial.
Mary comes back from the trials and gives Elizabeth a doll she made. She tells her that she saved Elizabeth’s life when someone wanted to accuse her of witchcraft. Hale stops by to interview the Proctors. Hale points out that he hasn’t seen the Proctors at church very often and their son hasn’t been baptized. Finally Hale wants Proctor to recite the Ten Commandments. He does fine, but skips “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Elizabeth prompts Proctor to reveal the girls are faking their hysterics, but Hale counters by saying a lot of the people have confessed. Proctor points out that their only hope of not being hanged was to confess.
Suddenly Giles and Nurse run in shouting that their wives have been arrested. Martha is accused of cursing a farmer’s pigs, and Rebecca is accused of supernaturally murdering Mrs. Putnam’s babies. Next, the marshal walks in to arrest Elizabeth. Hale is surprised because he hadn’t heard anything about accusing Elizabeth. The marshal asks if she has a doll and finds the one Mary made her. He tells her that Abigail was having stomach pains and there is a needle sticking out of the doll. Elizabeth calls for Mary and she explains that she made the doll and put the pin in it, but they arrest Elizabeth anyway.
Proctor is furious. He rips up the warrant and asks Hale why the accusers are never charged with witchcraft. This makes Hale begin to question his findings and the out of control townspeople. When Proctor insists that Mary testifies that she made the doll, she tells him that she can’t because she is afraid of Abigail. Also, Abigail will accuse him of lechery. He is surprised that Abigail would tell someone about their affair but says Mary must reveal her actions anyway to save his wife. With hysterical tears, Mary still says she can’t.
This Act opens in the Salem courtroom. The trial is underway when Giles interrupts. He tells them that all of this is because Putnam wants to get more land. He says he has evidence to prove his claim. Judge Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, Reverend Hale, and Reverend Parris insist on going into another room to see the evidence before it is presented before the court. While they are there, Proctor drags Mary in. She tells them that she and the other girls were pretending to be afflicted with witchcraft. Although Judge Hathorne is shocked, he is afraid what the townspeople will do when they learn this fact. Parris agrees with that fear, and then the judge asks Proctor if he wants to overthrow the court. Proctor tells him that all he wants is to free his wife. Unfortunately, the marshal tells the judge that Proctor ripped up the warrant. This leads to questioning Proctor on his religious beliefs. The questions include the fact that Proctor only attends church once a month and plows on Sunday.
Finally, they tell Proctor not to worry about a quick hanging because his wife is pregnant. They can’t hang her until after the baby is born. They hope this will appease him, and he will drop his complaint, but he refuses. Proctor has ninety-one land-owning farmers sign his petition speaking on the good character of Elizabeth, Martha, and Rebecca. When Parris insists on the women being questioned again because the deposition is an attack on the court, Hale wants to know why whenever a person tries to defend themselves it is seen as an attack on the court. For example, when Giles says that Putnam had his daughter incriminate George Jacobs. He says that if Jacobs hangs he will lose his property. When Giles refuses to give the name of his informer, Danforth decides to arrest him for contempt of court.
Danforth calls the girls so he can question them. Even though Mary still declares all the girls were pretending, Abigail denies it. Hathorne tells Mary to faint, but she says she can’t unless she is in the mood. When they keep questioning her, Mary finally says she did see spirits. Abigail tries to ascertain her verity by beginning to shiver when Danforth insists she tells the truth. The girls look at Mary and accuse her of using a cold wind to bewitch them.
Proctor’s temper explodes. He attacks Abigail calling her a whore. Then he tells the men that Elizabeth fired her when she found out about their affair. He further says that Abigail hopes that after Elizabeth hangs, she can replace her in his home.
Danforth gets the idea to question Elizabeth. He tells Proctor and Abigail to turn their backs when she comes in. He asks her why she fired Abigail. Elizabeth doesn’t want to protect her husband’s reputation, so she says she fired her unjustly because she thought he fancied the girl. After she leaves, Proctor calls out that he had already confessed, but it was too late.
Hale has changed his opinion and tries to convince Danforth that Abigail may be lying. Now Abigail and her cohorts begin screaming that Mary is bewitching them. With this pressure, Mary bends to her will and turns against Proctor. She accuses him of being evil and trying to lead her to his evil ways. She begs to Abigail who takes her into her arms. Danforth arrests Proctor. Then Proctor shouts, “You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore.” Hale denounces the court and says he is leaving. As the curtain falls, Danforth is calling for him “in a fury.”
This act opens during the Autumn at a cell in Salem. A drunken Marshal Herrick enters the cell and nudges a bundle of rags. The rags show itself to be Sarah Goode. He talks with her and Tituba. They are mad and attest they are waiting for the Devil to take them to Barbados. Soon Danforth and Hathorne arrive. They send Herrick to fetch Parris. When he arrives, he is “gaunt, frightened and sweating.” They want to know why Hale is returning. He assures them that Hale is there to make the last few prisoners confess so they won’t hang. Parris tells the men that Abigail and Mary left Salem after stealing his money.
When Hale arrives, he is weary and sad. He begs the men to give up and release the prisoners. They will never confess. Danforth tells him that they can’t just release them because then they would be saying the twelve people they hanged might have been innocent. Hale warns them that they are asking for widespread rebellion. Because of the trials, farms and children are going unattended, and cows are wandering the streets. Everyone is fearful, and there are already rumors of revolt in Andover, a town nearby.
Hale hasn’t even tried to get Proctor to confess. Danforth suggests using his wife to persuade him. She agrees, but doesn’t know if it will work. When she sees her husband, Elizabeth tells him that over one hundred people have confessed. Then she tells him that Giles wouldn’t confess or deny the charges, so they piled rocks upon him and crushed him to death slowly. He knew that if he confessed he would lose his lands and he wanted his sons to have it. His last words were for them to add more stones. He asks her if she thinks he should confess. Proctor claims that he isn’t holding out for religious reasons like Rebecca and Martha, but because of spite. “It is hard to give a lie to dogs.”
Finally, he agrees to sign a confession, even when they make him sign it in front of Rebecca hoping to sway her into signing also. But when they ask him to incriminate others he refuses. Right after he signs his name, he snatches the paper away and tears it up. He refuses to allow them to post the lie on the door of the church. Danforth has Herrick escort him and seven of the condemned prisoners to the gallows.
The Reverend Hale and Parris beg Elizabeth to convince him to sign his name, but she replies, “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it away from him!” The curtain falls on Hale fervently praying, the sun shining on Elizabeth’s face and a “the drums rattle like bones in the morning air.”
Soon Reverend Parris is voted out of office. After he leaves Salem, he is never heard from again. According to rumors, Abigail becomes a prostitute in Boston. As the year’s pass, Elizabeth remarries. Then in 1712 all of the excommunications are redacted. Some of the farms that belonged to the people executed were left vacant for over a hundred years. No one would buy them or live on them.
“To all intents and purposes, the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken.”
John Proctor – he is the character that sees through the lies into the truth, but he is afraid to speak up until it touches him personally. He knows that Abigail is lying, but since he committed adultery with her, he doesn’t want to reveal her lies. Proctor is stern and speaks roughly about his neighbors. Since he doesn’t agree with the new reverend at the church in Salem, he only attends church once a month. He doesn’t like many people in his town and keeps to himself a lot. Proctor considers the town of Salem to be filled with hypocrisy. In the end, he is executed for witchcraft because he refuses to sign a confession.
Abigail Williams – she is the niece of Reverend Parris and worked for a while as a servant in the Proctor household. She was fired by Mrs. Proctor after the woman learned of Abigail’s affair with her husband, John Proctor. Abigail is vengeful and petty. She is devious and a psychopath. She knows that her lies are leading to imprisonments and executions, yet feels no remorse.
Reverend John Hale – an expert in the field of witchcraft. He is the leading consultant called in to prove witches. When he is first called to Salem, he believes the girls are afflicted, but when he begins to question his beliefs he tries to save the lives of some of the accused.
Elizabeth Proctor – John Proctor’s wife. She is virtuous, but not very pretty. She forgives her husband for his indiscretion with their young housekeeper but insists on her being fired. Elizabeth tries to save her husband’s reputation and allows herself to be arrested instead of revealing his sin of adultery. Then, when he is too proud to lie when he is accused of witchcraft, she still stands behind his decision.
Reverend Parris – he starts out worried about his job. He feels that if he loses his position of Reverend, he will also lose the respect of the townspeople. He considers himself to be a very important person and the last and deciding word on every detail of their lives. He is also paranoid. He feeds into the religious fervor, supporting the persecutions. In the end, he is shown as pathetic.
Rebecca Nurse – she is an older woman. The wife of Francis Nurse, she is wise and an upright member of the community. Most regard her highly, but she is persecuted after the Putnam’s accuse her of witchcraft after she assisted in the births of their still born babies.
Francis Nurse – an older, respected member of the community. He is wealthy and has a great deal of influence in Salem, but when the Putnam’s accuse him of witchcraft so Putnam can acquire his land, he and his wife are both persecuted.
Judge Danforth – he feels that he is just and following the law of man and God, but when he is proven wrong, he is hard to convince of it. In his mind, he is fair and saving the town of Salem from the Devil.
Arthur Miller Biography
Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York. He was of Polish-Jewish descent and the second of three children born to Isadore Miller from Galicia and Augusta, who was born in New York City, but whose parents were from Galicia, also. His father owned a successful clothing manufacturing business that went under with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. They were forced to move to Brooklyn where Arthur delivered bread in the morning to help with finances.
Due to a high school football injury, Arthur was exempt from military service during World War Two. He attended college for journalism at the University of Michigan, then transferred to English when he began to write plays. Arthur was a theater purist and wouldn’t write for the screen. Although, his plays have been translated into movies and television.
Arthur was the recipient of many awards for his writing, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for “The Death of a Salesman,” which also won the Tony Award for Best Author, and the New York Drama Circle Critics Award. He wrote his first play while attending college, “No Villain,” of which he won the Avery Hopwood Award.
In 1956 Arthur divorced his wife of sixteen years, leaving his two children from that marriage also, to marry Marilyn Monroe. They have been having an affair for five years. He finally gave in to assisting in the filming of one of his plays when Monroe was cast in “Misfits.” In 1961 they divorced, and nineteen months later she was dead of a drug over dose. This was also the last movie for Clark Gable and one of the last for Montgomery Cliff. In 1962 he married Inge Morath, a photographer and was with her until her death in 2002.
In the early 1950’s the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was on a witch hunt. They were persecuting Elia Kazan, making him name names of other Communist supporters. Although he was not included in Kazan’s list, Arthur flew to see Kazan. Then Arthur wrote the play, “The Crucible” to highlight the actions of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Which brought him to their attention. They denied his passport and wouldn’t let him travel to London for the viewing of the play. Kazan wrote On the Waterfront to defend his actions.
In 1956 Arthur was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee when he asked for another passport. He agreed to appear if they wouldn’t ask him to name names. Marilyn Monroe accompanied him, putting her career at risk. They asked him to name names, and he refused. They found him guilty of Contempt, then they fined and imprisoned him. The appeal turned the decision due to being misled by the HUAAC.
Arthur died at the age of eighty-nine in 2005, on the fifty-sixth anniversary of the Broadway debut of “The Death of a Salesman.” He was surrounded by family and friends and laid to rest in the Roxbury Center Cemetery in Roxbury, Connecticut.