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Miller wants his audience to know exactly how much of his play is based on truth and how much of it is fiction. On the one hand, he wants to state up front that for dramatic purposes his characters are not people who actually lived; he points out that "many characters (are) fused into one, the number of girls involved in the 'crying-out' has been reduced", and several judges are "symbolized...in Hathorne and Danforth". This reduces confusion, and frees him from the liability of misrepresenting the lives of the real people upon whose experiences the play is based. On the other hand, Miller also wants his reader to know that he did strive to remain truthful in recounting "the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history". Miller wrote the play during the McCarthy era of the 1940s, a time of intolerance and hysteria, as a warning about what actually did happen during another time in history when intolerance and hysteria were allowed to get tragically far out of hand. He wants his audience to know that although he has taken liberties in depicting his characters, the situations and events he recounts did indeed happen as he describes. Miller clearly wants his audience to take his message seriously.
The "Note on Historical Accuracy" actually does a few interesting jobs.
Firstly it informs the reader or the director that the play has been carefully researched, and carefully located within its context: owning up, if you like, to what is artistic licence and what is based on history.
Secondly, it reminds us that the play is based on reality: and that the sort of events Miller depicts actually did occur. There's no escape from the horror of the events: you can't simply pass it off as a made-up play. For the reader of the play, the Note serves to segue the fictional world into the real one, and reminds the reader of what they have in common.
Finally, of course, the note actually resolves some of the loose ends in the story - for readers who really had to know what happened next! For this reason, I suppose, it's often included in the programme when the play is performed in the theatre.
The note on historical accuracy also tells us that Miller changed many of the details of the historical trial. For instance, Abigail was only 11 or 12 years old when the trials occurred. John Proctor was probably in his 60's. That puts a whole new perspective on things, According to some sources, it was Ann Putnam who first showed symptoms of the hysteria, not Becky Perris. The trials were eventually brought to an end when the girls accused the governor's wife of being a witch. That time, they went too far and the governor put an end to the trials before his wife could be put on trial.
Miller gives us the note on historical accuracy in the beginning of the play because he wants us to know it is based on true events. We trust the text more because it appears more reputable and can be studied as so, rather than a work of fiction.
1. Why would Miller include the note on historical accuracy?
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