The Crucible Play by Arthur Miller
Initially called The Chronicles of Sarah Good, The Crucible is a dramatization of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692-93. Arthur Miller wrote this play as an allegory of McCarthyism, when the US Government blacklisted several Communists. It was first performed at the Martin Beck Theater at Broadway on January 22, 1953. Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold, and the reviews 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.
The Crucible has been adapted for film twice by John Paul Sartre (1958) and Miller himself (1996). Miller’s adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. The play has been presented several times on television, notably in 1968, and has been adapted by composer Robert Ward into an opera (1961) which received the Pulitzer Prize
The Crucible Characters
A clergyman in his mid-forties, he suffers from a sense of persecution “despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side”. He is a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them”. A confused soul, vicious and vindictive.
Reverend Parris’s ten-year-old daughter who is suspected to be under the spell of witchcraft.
Reverend Parris’s Negro slave; he has brought her from Barbados in the West Indies, where he had spent some years as a merchant before entering the ministry. She is attached to Betty but is scared that, “as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back”.
Reverend Parris’s seventeen-year-old niece, she is an orphan “with endless capacity for dissembling”. Described as “strikingly beautiful”, Abigail Williams has been in an illicit relationship with the protagonist, John Proctor, and in order to replace Proctor’s wife Elizabeth in his life, she conspires to spread the rumours of witchcraft in Salem.
A little younger than Abigail, she is “a nervous, hurried girl who has been sent by Reverend Parris to Doctor Griggs to find out a cure for Betty’s strange ailment; one of Abigail’s followers.
Mrs. Ann Putnam
Miller describes her as “a twisted soul of forty-five, a death-ridden woman, haunted by dreams”. She is convinced that her seven dead-children were bewitched and that her daughter Ruth, who is now sick, is also a victim of witchcraft.
Ann’s husband, “a well-to-do hard-handed landowner, near fifty” who bears Reverend Parris a grudge because Parris, he believes, has usurped the place that rightfully belonged to his wife’s brother-in-law, James Bayley. A man with many grievances” vindictive and “deeply embittered man” who is “so often found as a witness corroborating the supernatural testimony”.
A “fat, sly, merciless girl of eighteen,” she is the Putnams’ servant; one of the girls who accept Abigail their leader.
The Proctors’ new servant girl. Another of Abigail’s followers, she is “seventeen, a subservient, naive, lonely girl”. She deposes in the court against Abigail and others, but to no avail.
The Protagonist person, he is a farmer in his middle thirties. A no-nonsense person, “powerful of body, even-tempered and not easily led”. Abigail had worked for him before she was dismissed for making advances to him, which he returned; he is “respected and even feared in Salem”, he has come to “regard himself as a kind of fraud”.
The wife of Francis Nurse, she is a seventy two-year-old lady, “white-haired” and “leaning upon a stick”. She is widely respected by the people of Salem. Later branded a witch and hanged because she refuses to confess to practising witchcraft, a charge levelled against her by Mrs. Putnam.
Martha Corey’s, eighty-three-year-old husband, “knotted with muscle, canny, inquisitive, and still powerful”. Martha is accused of witchcraft and arrested; stories about her haunt the people of Salem. Described as “the most comical hero in history”.
Reverend John Hale
A “tight-skinned, eager-eyed, intellectual” clergyman of about forty from Beverly, he considers himself a specialist in investigating cases of witchcraft. He spends a long time in “pondering the invisible world since he had himself encountered a witch in his parish not long before”. The woman, however, did not turn out to be a witch and the child she had supposedly cast her spell on recovered soon. But Hale considers “the Devil as a necessary part of a respectable view of cosmology”, that there is a society of spirits beyond our Ken; and “The Devil is precise.”
John Proctor’s wife, a cold, timid woman. Their relations appear strained because of John’s earlier dalliance with Abigail. They have three sons, of whom the last has not been baptized.
Rebecca Nurse’s husband, he is involved in a land dispute with Putnam. In order to avenge himself, Putnam gets the old Rebecca, a gentle soul, arrested for practising witchcraft and charged with the “supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies”.
A tailor who is “clerk of the court now”; he carries a warrant for the arrest of Elizabeth Proctor because Abigail Williams has named her among those practising witchcraft in Salem.
In his thirties, he is a jail official who comes to arrest Elizabeth Proctor on Abigail’s trumped-up charge of witchcraft against her.
In his sixties, he is a “bitter, remorseless Salem judge”.
Deputy Governor Danforth
A grave man in his sixties, “of some humour and sophistication that does not, however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause”.
A sixty-year-old beggarly woman in rags, she is accused of practising witchcraft.
A prison guard.
The Crucible Summary
Betty’s “Unnatural” Malady
The first act of The Crucible, subtitled ‘An Overture’, is set in a small, austerely furnished bedroom at the Reverend Samuel Parris’s house in Salem, Massachusetts, in the year 1692. The Reverend is on his knees, praying at the foot of his ten-year-old daughter’s bed while the girl, Betty lies inert. Although his prayers alternate with weeping and mumbling, she does not stir. Presently Tituba, the Negro slave Parris had brought back from Barbados, enters. She is devoted to Betty, but Parris orders her out of the room despite her concern for his daughter. It is evident that he is overcome by fear at the child’s strange malady. He is trying to waken her when his niece, 17-year-old Abigail Williams, enters to tell him that Susanna Walcott, a village girl, has arrived with word from Dr. Griggs. Susanna tells Parris that the doctor has been unable to find any clue in his books to Betty’s ailment, and has therefore suggested that the Reverend look to unnatural things”.
Although Parris says that there can be nothing “unnatural” wrong with Betty, he has nevertheless, sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly to confirm this. It becomes apparent that Parris really believes Dr. Griggs is right, but is too frightened to acknowledge it.
The Reverend’s Fears
Before Susanna leaves, Abigail cautions her to say nothing about this to any of the villagers. Abigail then tells her uncle that the rumor of witchcraft is sweeping Salem, and that his house is packed with people who are waiting downstairs for his denial that his daughter is, in fact, bewitched. At this, Parris grows more frightened, and tells his niece that he had seen her and Betty dancing in the moonlight “like heathen in the forest” while Tituba watched. He presses her to admit that they were trafficking with spirits. When Abigail denies it Parris becomes greatly agitated. He says that he had also seen a dress upon the ground and someone running naked through the trees: they must have been conjuring spirits, for nothing else could contain Betty’s condition. He adds that his enemies are sworn to drive him from his pulpit, and tries to impress upon her the gravity of the situation. Moreover, he had seen Tituba waving her arms over the fire and screeching while the girls danced. He dismisses Abigail’s explanation that this was a typical Barbados song.
By now Parris’s concern for the future of his position as a minister has taken precedence over anxiety about his daughter’s condition. He reminds his niece that he has always taken care of her, and that it is her duty to confess to him. He must know why Abigail was discharged from service at the Proctors’-it has been said that Elizabeth Proctor attends church so infrequently because she refuses to sit next to “something soiled”.
Abigail is quick to retort that Goody Proctor is a bitter, lying woman who hates her because she would not slave for her. When Parris asks why no one else has called for Abigail’s service in the seven months since she left the Proctors’, she tells him haughtily that she will slave for no one, and calls Elizabeth a gossiping liar who has sullied her name.
Belief in Witchcraft
They are interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Ann Putnam, a superstitious gossip, who immediately tells Parris that a “stroke of hell” is upon his house and demands to know how high Betty has flown. Mrs. Putnam overrides all the Reverend’s objections and enlarges upon her theme. She says that many people saw his daughter both flying and alighting. When Thomas, her husband, arrives and confirms this, Parris’s fears reach their peak. He is struck dumb that the Putnams’ daughter, Ruth, is also strangely ill. But when he is reminded that the Reverend Hale found a witch the year before, in Beverly, he pleads with Thomas Putnam not to leap to conclusions about witchcraft in his house, saying that “they will howl me out of Salem for such corruption”.
Mrs. Putnam will not be silenced, however. She speaks of having buried seven stillborn children, and now Ruth is withering before her eyes. She is thinking of sending for Tituba because Tituba knows how to speak to the dead, a formidable sin. Tituba could, if she would, tell her who murdered her children. Yes, there is a murdering witch among them. At this point Abigail turns to Paris and whispers that not she, but Ruth and Tituba had conjured spirits. “I am undone,” he cries, but Thomas Putnam reminds him that an admission of having discovered witchcraft in his house will clear him.
They are joined by Mercy Lewis, the Putnams’ 18-year-old servant, who is left alone with Abigail and Betty after the Putnams leave and the Reverend goes downstairs to lead the townspeople in a psalm while they await Reverend Hale. Abigail takes charge immediately and gives orders to Mercy: she is to admit only that they danced, as Abigail had already confessed to that sin. Parris had seen Mercy naked, and knew that Tituba had conjured Ruth’s sisters out of their graves.
Mary Warren, the Proctors’ 17-year-old servant, enters and turns to Abigail for advice. She is in a state of panic, and begs Abigail to tell the truth: they had only been dancing, a sin punishable by whipping, whereas witchery is a “hangin’ error”. Abigail shakes Betty until she sits up, and then comments sarcastically upon her improvement. She says that she has told Parris everything. At this, Betty leaps out of bed and flattens herself against the wall. She cries that she saw Abigail drink blood as a charm to kill John Proctor’s wife. Abigail slaps Betty’s face and warns her never to mention this again.
Abigail, who is clearly the leader, warns them that her power of revenge will fall upon them if they breathe a word of anything but the dancing and the conjurings of Tituba. The others listen in submission and terror.
Abigail and John Proctor
Then John Proctor arrives, looking for Mary, who he had forbidden to leave his house. His presence alters the mood in the room; Mercy sidles out after Mary, leaving Proctor alone with Abigail, and Betty once more prone on her bed. He tells Abigail of the town’s murmurings about witchcraft, and she replies that they were merely dancing in the woods. She goes to Proctor and looking feverishly into his eyes, begs him to “give me a word”. He responds by becoming stern and saying that everything between them is over. But Abigail continues to flirt and plead with him at the same time. When it becomes clear that he is really done with her, her anger rises and she reminds him of his passion for her seven months before. She tries to force him into admitting that he still wants her. But when she sees that nothing will make him change his mind, she accuses his wife of blackening her name. He turns on her, forbidding her to speak of Elizabeth
The sound of psalm is heard from downstairs. Betty suddenly claps her hands to her ears and begins to scream. Proctor is unnerved and Parris, the Putnams, and Mercy return to the room. As they try to quiet Betty, Mrs. Putnam exclaims that all this is a mark of witchcraft.
Rebecca Nurse’s Concern
Rebecca Nurse, 73, enters, leaning on a stick, followed by 83years-old Giles Corey. Rebecca is gentle and wise, and her mere presence has a soothing effect: just by standing over Betty she calms the girl and gets her to close her eyes. She puts everything into perspective by remarking that on the spirit of children, who all go through “silly seasons”. Proctor agrees with her, but the Putnams do not.
Parris fights with Corey and Proctor over his firewood allotment. Putnam in turn provokes an argument with Proctor over a long-standing grudge about some of Proctor’s land that Putnam considers rightfully his. Rebecca remains mild and conciliatory. At the height of this bickering Reverend John Hale arrives.
Hale is a serious man of 40, who looks upon his errand with pride, for at last he is considered authority enough to be called for consultation on the subject to which he has devoted most of his life. As he is introduced to Rebecca, he mentions how word of her charities has reached Beverly. Every person, with the exception of John Proctor, is anxious to give Hale his version of the sorcery. But he stops them all: “The Devil is precise,” he says, “the marks of his presence are definite as stone”.
He proceeds then to question Parris about his daughter, while Mrs. Putnam interrupts continuously. Rebecca is shocked at the proceedings her main concern is that Hale not hurt Betty. At last she leaves.
When Hale turns his attention to Abigail, she quickly grasps her opportunity, and accuses Tituba of forcing her and Betty to deal with the Devil, and of sending her spirit out to them. The terrified Negress is brought in, hysterically denying the accusation, but it is useless. In a frenzy of fear, she finally admits that she did indeed talk to the Devil, and that he in turn had told her the names of white people with whom he worked. As she weeps she cries out the names, and Abigail again sees her chance. Staring ahead, she suddenly calls upon Jesus to save her, and as the assemblage watches, she begins to chant the names of village women in whose company she had seen the Devil. Betty joins her in hysterical relief and the two girls call out names faster and faster. Hale sends Putnam for the marshal.
Act Two begins eight days later, in the home of John and Elizabeth Proctor. The mood here is in sharp contrast to that of the previous act. The Proctors are gentle and polite to each other but their relations are obviously strained. Elizabeth tells her husband that Mary Warren, their timid servant-girl, has gone into Salem as an “official of the court”. Proctor is astonished to learn that not only has court been set up, but 14 women have been jailed as witches. Moreover, Deputy Governor Danforth has sworn to hang them if they do not confess; the town has gone wild, and as Abigail has now established herself as the girls’ leader she is treated with great deference. The Proctors agree that it is John’s duty to go to the court and tell them that by Abigail’s own admission to him, the accusations are fraudulent. The cause of the gulf between the Proctors becomes clear when John tells his wife that he had been alone with the girl when she admitted the lies. Proctor had told Elizabeth of his affair with Abigail, but has been uneasy with her ever since. Although Elizabeth urges him to go to Salem that night, John does not want to charge Abigail with fraud without thinking over the implications of such an accusation. Elizabeth takes this to mean that he still cares for the girl, and the gulf between them widens.
At this point Mary Warren returns, enervated from her day at court. She presents her mistress with a poppet-a doll—that she had sown for her while there, and talks of people’s needing to love one another now. She tells the Proctors that 39 women have been arrested; that they are all condemned to die, except Sarah Good whose confession saved her. The Proctors are stunned and unable to believe this madness, particularly when Mary assures them that Sarah had tried to kill her many times. “I never heard you mention that before,” Elizabeth says, and Mary answers, “I never knew it before.” The Proctors become more and more horrified as they hear how the words of honest women were turned against them, so that their hesitations and fears became their death warrants. They also learn that pregnant women are safe until the birth of the child.
- The Crucible as a Political Allegory
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Elizabeth Proctor: An Accused
Finally Proctor can stand no more, and as Mary brags about her new status as an official, he threatens to whip her. At this, Mary, drunk with power, points to his wife and says that she, too, had been accused, but that Mary had saved her life. The identity of her accuser is secret, but the Proctors realize that it is Abigail, who hopes to have Elizabeth hanged in order to take her place as John’s wife.
Suddenly, Reverend Hale appears. His manner has changed from one of assurance to one of deference, almost guilt. He has come to tell Elizabeth that she has been accused, and is about to be taken to jail. As he talks, it becomes apparent that doubts have assailed him, which he cannot resolve. He has found it “hard to draw a clear opinion of them that come accused before the court” and has been going from house to house, questioning, in an attempt to find some piece of mind. He has just left Rebecca Nurse. His conversation reflects his desperate desire to find tangible proof that the accusations are just. He questions the Proctors about their slackened church attendance. Proctor explains that he considers Reverend Parris a self-advancing hypocrite rather than a true man of God. Hale asks Proctor to recite the Commandments, but he falters over “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Finally, Proctor tells Hale of Abigail’s admission to him that there was no witchcraft, just dancing in the woods. Reverend Hale’s doubts grow, and when Giles Corey and Francis Nurse rush in to say that their wives have been taken to jail, his doubts become convictions. But he still clings to his belief that the Devil might be loose in Salem.
Marshal Herrick and a neighbor, Ezekiel Cheever, arrive. The latter, a tailor, has been made a court clerk; he has a warrant for the arrest of Elizabeth Proctor and 15 others. Abigail had indeed accused her, claiming that Elizabeth had bewitched the poppet given to her by Mary Warren. It had caused Abigail to fall down screaming from a needle sticking into her belly. The doll is examined, and is found to have a needle stuck into it. When Mary is called, she remembers that Abigail sat next to her when she was making the doll. In a rage, Proctor accuses Abigail of deliberately sticking herself, tears the warrant up, and tries to show Herrick and Cheever out. He turns upon Hale and asks if he will allow Elizabeth to be taken. Hale falteringly replies that the court is just.
But Elizabeth says quietly that she will go of her own accord. Her husband assures her that he will bring her back home soon, and as she is taken away he shouts at Herrick not to chain her. Hale, unable to watch the scene, turns away. After they leave, Giles Corey turns on Hale for keeping silent, John Proctor orders Hale out of his sight, and Mary Warren weeps. Proctor grabs the girl and tells her that she is to go with him and tell the court that Abigail herself stuck the needle into the doll. She falls down, sobbing that she cannot, that she is afraid. Proctor insists that she will, though he knows that Abigail will then charge him with lechery. John says he will not permit his wife to die for him, but Mary continues to repeat hysterically that she cannot confess the truth
The Salem meeting house, now converted into a court, is the scene of the third act. An inquisition of the women by Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth has been taking place. Hathorne is a stern, unbending Salem judge; Danforth is a fiercely authoritative man, jealous of his position. Giles Corey, frantic with concern for his wife, is overridden by Hathorne’s implacable belief in the signs of her guilt and Danforth’s zeal for justice”. Corey attempts to show that Putnam is accusing people so that he may get their land. He is told to name the man who told him this, but he refuses to keep the man out of jail. Thereupon Corey is accused of obstructing justice. Hale has been listening, and tries to tell Danforth of his doubts. He is assured, however, that all of the accused are guilty by the very fact of the accusers’ testimony: since witchcraft is an invisible crime, there can, obviously, be no witnesses for the defense.
When John Proctor enters with Mary Warren, Danforth tells him that his wife is pregnant, and therefore safe for a year. Although Elizabeth has been saved, Proctor insists, in the name of justice, that Mary speak her piece. She tells Danforth, tearfully, that she lied, that Abigail was responsible for the needle in the poppet, and thereupon Susanna, Mercy, Betty and Abigail are brought in to confront her. Abigail says she is lying, and Mary begins to weaken; still, she admits to having seen no spirit and to having pretended when she testified.
Abigail, trapped, gathers all her resources and suddenly turns on Mary. She begins to shiver, saying that she is being bewitched by Mary. and then falls to the ground. Proctor leaps at her and pulls her up, but is restrained by Parris and Hathorne. Maddened with rage, he calls her a whore, and confesses to have slept with her eight months before, and to have lusted for her since then. He says that his wife had turned Abigail out of the house because she knew she was a harlot. Danforth orders that Elizabeth be brought into the room without being told anything, and he then receives Proctor’s assurance that she has never lied.
As Elizabeth is led into the courtroom, the others are told to turn their backs. When Elizabeth is asked why she dismissed Abigail, she answers that she was jealous of her. Did John Proctor ever commit the crime of lechery to her knowledge? No, she replies. Proctor cries out to her to tell the truth but she is removed from the room immediately. Despite his cries that she did this to save his name and despite Hale’s defense of the lie being a natural one, Danforth can only repeat that she had not told the truth.
Abigail now falls down again, screaming that a bird is on the ceiling, which is Mary’s spirit threatening to attack her. The other girls fall into this easily enough, and the terrified Mary turns on Proctor, recanting once more by saying that he had threatened to murder her if she did not testify as he wished. Hale now fully perceives the horror of what has been happening, and as both John Proctor and Giles Corey are taken off to jail, he denounces the proceedings to Danforth and shouts that he is finished with the court. The door slams behind him.
The final act takes place in the Salem jail. It appears that Hale, in an agony of remorse, has been going among is condemned women and praying with them. Reverend Parris meanwhile has discovered that Abigail and another girl have robbed his strongbox and fled. He too is beginning to have his doubts. Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor, two of the most respected townspeople, are condemned to hang, which makes him uneasy. He feels that the situation has gotten out of hand, and proposes to the Deputy Governor that the executions be postponed. But Danforth is adamant.
Hale enters to tell them that Rebecca has refused to confess, but he has not spoken to John Proctor. Parris suggests that they arrange for the Proctors to meet; perhaps the sight of his pregnant wife will cause him to confess and go free. Elizabeth is brought in with her wrists chained, and Hale tells her that unless John confesses, he will die at sunrise. He implores her to beg her husband to recant, but she remains silent. At last she asks to speak to John and he is ushered in, in chains. They are left alone, facing each other.
The rift between them no longer exists; they are sane people united in a sea of madness. She tells him that Rebecca refuses to confess and that Giles has died, pressed beneath heavy stones. By choosing this death to one by hanging, Giles has insured his heirs against losing his farm. After a silence, John tells her that he has been thinking of confessing, that he is no saint, and wants to live. “Whatever you will do, it is a good man that does it,” she tells him, and then blames his lechery on her coldness. But he will not listen.
Hathorne returns. Proctor tells him that he wants to live and will confess. Danforth, Cheever, Parris and Hale rush in at this news, and pen and paper are brought quickly. As Proctor begins his confession, Rebecca Nurse, supported by Herrick, is led in because Danforth wishes her to witness the example set by Proctor. But she refuses to damn herself by lying. And when Proctor is asked to name the people that he saw with the Devil, he refuses. Hale, anxious to get it over with, asks that Danforth sign the paper on the basis of confession alone, but Proctor’s signature is needed first. Protesting that their witness to his testimony should be sufficient, Proctor refuses at first to sign, but Danforth refuses to certify an unsigned confession Proctor then signs 11, but snatches the paper away the moment he has done so. “I have Signed it … you have no need for this,” he shouts. He will not have his paper nailed to the church door on the day good people are being hanged for their silence. “You will hang!” they cry, and Proctor’s eyes bill with tears as Elizabeth rushes to him. He shouts, as he holds her, that he sees some shred of goodness in himself yet. As he and Rebecca are taken out to be hanged, Parris and Hale continue to plead with Elizabeth to stop him. “He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!” she cries as the final drumroll crashes, and the play is over.
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