Essays and Criticism
The Crucible's Relevance to Modern Society
The theater critic Robert A. Martin wrote in Modern Drama that The Crucible "has endured beyond the immediate events of its own time. If it was originally seen as a political allegory, it is presently seen by contemporary audiences almost entirely as a distinguished American play by an equally distinguished American playwright." His comments are misleading because they imply that a play cannot be "distinguished" if it is also political. What Martin seems to be assuming is firstly that a play must, in some sense, be "timeless" in order to be "distinguished," and secondly, that a political play is, by its nature, only relevant within a limited historical and social context. I would argue that Miller's play is highly political, but that while it draws much of its impetus from a given historical situation—Joseph McCarthy's war against communist Americans—it also raises political questions which are valid in a range of social, cultural, and historical contexts.
The relevance of Miller's themes to modern audiences has been emphasized by the 1996 film production of The Crucible, directed by Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) and adapted by Miller himself. In his introduction to the published edition of that screenplay, Miller commented, "as we prepared to shoot the movie, we were struck time and again by its alarming topicality: it spoke directly about the bigotry of religious fundamentalists across the globe, about...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
The Crucible: A Structural View
The Crucible is too often spoken of as one of Arthur Miller's less successful plays. Its relative merits as compared with Death of a Salesman need not be argued here, but unquestionably the calumny that has been heaped upon it by well-meaning critics is little deserved—the play, however short it may fall of being the great American drama, is nevertheless a thoroughly successful, provocative, and stimulating theater piece. When competently performed, it can provide a deeply moving experience for the theater-goer.
The criticism of George Jean Nathan is perhaps typical. Nathan levels four principal charges at the play, [The Theatre in the Fifties (New York, 1953), pp. 105-109.] charges that in one form or another have been brought against it again and again by other critics. Nathan at least speaks from the advantageous position of having seen the play performed in New York, but too often it appears that wild charges are being flung at the play by critics who have never seen it staged—who have tried, perhaps inexpertly, to capture its full effectiveness from the printed page. This is a hazardous procedure at best, and in the case of The Crucible it has led to some gross distortions of what the play says and what it does. Let us examine each of Nathans' four charges and attempt to measure the validity of each.
In the first place, Nathan maintains that the power of the...
(The entire section is 2713 words.)
Review of The Crucible
Arthur Miller has written another powerful play, The Crucible, it is called, and it opened at the Martin Beck last evening in an equally powerful performance. Riffling back the pages of American history, he has written the drama of the witch trials and hangings in Salem in 1692. Neither Mr. Miller nor his audiences are unaware of certain similarities between the perversions of justice then and today.
But Mr. Miller is not pleading a cause in dramatic form. For The Crucible, despite its current implications, is a self-contained play about a terrible period in American history. Silly accusations of witchcraft by some mischievous girls in Puritan dress gradually take possession of Salem. Before the play is over good people of pious nature and responsible temper are condemning other good people to the gallows.
Having a sure instinct for dramatic form, Mr. Miller goes bluntly to essential situations. John Proctor and his wife, farm people, are the central characters of the play. At first the idea that Goodie Proctor is a witch is only an absurd rumor. But The Crucible carries the Proctors through the whole ordeal—first vague suspicion, then the arrest, the implacable, highly wrought trial in the church vestry, the final opportunity for John Proctor to save his neck by confessing to something he knows is a lie, and finally the baleful roll of the drums at the foot of the gallows.
Although The Crucible is a...
(The entire section is 490 words.)