Arthur Miller and Historical AccuracyAbigail was really only eleven years old when the Salem witch trials occurred, and she never had an affair with John Proctor. Do you think Arthur Miller changed...

Arthur Miller and Historical Accuracy

Abigail was really only eleven years old when the Salem witch trials occurred, and she never had an affair with John Proctor. Do you think Arthur Miller changed her age and added the affair in order to sell more tickets to his play? Why else would he not remain historically accurate to the actual events of the Salem witch trials?

Asked on by bmadnick

8 Answers | Add Yours

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I think he added those details to complicate the story, and to show te twisted motives behind the trials more clearly, just as he was trying to highlight and expose the twisted motives of power and fear that were behind Senator McCarthy's hearings and Nixon's HUAC.  I think many people take the story to be literally accurate, like they do with a lot of movies, so this does some injustice to the memories of those who died and those who were and were not responsible.

lynn30k's profile pic

lynn30k | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

When I was in middle school, I had an art teacher who used to say, "Sometimes you must lie in order to tell the truth." He was referring to visual art like painting, and making the point that what is actually occurring, or in the field of view, is not necessarily the best subject for art. Miller was indeed creating art. He was not trying to be absolutely historically accruate about the Salem trials, but was far more interested in getting his point across about McCarthyism. In order to do that, you have to get people in to see the play. Fiddling with the facts of what was really the secondary story becomes less important, and sex does sell. This is done all the time; Pocohontas was described by John Smith as being about 10 years old when he met her, despite what the Disney version portrays.

enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Miller himself admitted at one point that he wasn't trying to be historically accurate; the language and sentence structure wasn't anything that had been spoken in New England; he was merely trying to create a world that was different, but accessible to the audience.  So by poetic license, the difference between historical Abigail and Crucible Abigail was to introduce a recognizable plot complication that would further his play along.   Getting into the real origins of the events that brought forth the witch hysteria wouldn't have fit into the script structure of a tight, dramatic play.

renelane's profile pic

renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I think  it added to the wickedness of Abigail's character to age her and show her as lusting after another man's husband. By creating this extra sinful deed, it really puts focus on the petulant personality of Abigail. I guess it did sell more tickets, because most dramas have a "bad" character, and maybe Miller thought the fear of punishment of an 11 year old wouldn't be enough.

jilllessa's profile pic

jilllessa | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I agree that Miller was not trying to create history, and didnot really care about the accuracy of his story.  He wanted to create a dramatic story that would  criticize McCarthyism indirectly.   In the same way, Shakespeare used the dramatic story of Julius Casear's assassination to comment on the actions of Elizabeth's ancestors during the Wars of the Roses. 

If anyone would like to read a good history of the witchcraft trials, I would recommend  "Salem Possessed: The social Origins of Witchcraft." by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum or "In the Devil's Snare"  by Mary Beth Norton.

bmadnick's profile pic

bmadnick | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I know that Miller answered his critics regarding the historical inaccuracies by saying he wasn't out to write a history of the trials. I just don't see what purpose it served to change Abigail from an eleven-year-old child to a seventeen-year-old who wants another woman's husband.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

In my opinion, Miller is not at all trying to create a historically accurate record of the Salem witch trials, but using some of the material within the record to reflect the horrors of what was then the current witch hunt, the McCarthy prosecution of supposed "Reds."  I am not saying there was a completely altrustic method of changing the ages to suit the affair, but let's face it, sex sells.  Miller was less concerned with whatever titilation people might think they were being treated to than exposing the horrors of both the past and the present.  And stopping it in its tracks before it went any further. 

emmaliamazing's profile pic

emmaliamazing | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I know that Miller answered his critics regarding the historical inaccuracies by saying he wasn't out to write a history of the trials. I just don't see what purpose it served to change Abigail from an eleven-year-old child to a seventeen-year-old who wants another woman's husband.

The reason he did this was because the mass American public wouldn't understand why it started. Personally [Because I haven't looked that far into it] -I- don't even know why it started, I've been told it was a property dispute.

But how could he explain that an 11-year old was raising hell over the want of property? It'd be much harder and troublesome to explain then saying she lusted after someone.

We’ve answered 318,916 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question