In Arthur Miller's drama The Crucible, compare details of the actual salem witchcraft trials with details presented in the play.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible was written with a dual purpose: to make the modern audience aware of this terrible time in American history and to compare the UnAmerican Activities Committee to the witch trials.  Dramatic license had to be taken by Miller in order to make the events manageable for the stage.

What things were changed for the drama?

  • Many characters were combined into one
  • The number of girls involved in the “crying out” was lessened
  • There were many judges in the panel, but this was reduced into the characters of Hathorne and Danforth (who were actually judges in the trials)

The Reverend Samuel Parris was a controversial figure.  He had been elected the Salem minister by a small majority.  He was not popular as a minister.  Much of the information about Parris was incorrect.  During the trials, Mrs. Parris was still alive and did not die until 1696.  There were three children including Thomas and Susannah.  When the trials began, Betty was sent away from Salem.  Parris actually went to Harvard but dropped out.

John Proctor was actually about sixty years old and a tavern owner. Elizabeth was his third wife. Proctor had children from a  previous marriage. The adultery between Abigail and John is unlikely to occur as they lived far from each other, and Abigail never worked for them.

Tituba was an Indian woman or South American Indian. She had a husband, John, and a daughter, Violet.  Later, Tituba was accused of witchcraft by Betty Parris and Abigail.  When she was jailed, she was severely tortured in an effort to gain her confession to witchcraft.

The wild dancing in the woods never took place.  Tituba had taught Abigail and Betty about palmistry which was fortune telling. The girls had been caught trying to figure out who their future husbands might be.

What is real?

The actual fate of each of the characters in the play follows history.  There is no person in the play who did not actually do what he does in the drama. The information came from letters, the trial record, and a few actual reports written at the time of the trials.

The ambience of the play was true to life with the feeling of the theocracy’s influence evident.  The Reverend Hale would not have signed the warrants since the clerics would have abstained from actual procedural matters.

Giles Corey’s death was accurately portrayed in the play.  He was accused of witchcraft but refused to make a plea to the court.  He was required by law to enter a plea but refused.  He was pressed to death with stones, but the method was intended to force him to plea not kill him. Corey realized that he did plea he would be executed and his children disinherited.    

Elizabeth: “He were not hanged.  He would not answer ay or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’ hang hm surely, and auction out his property.  So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law.  And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law...they press him, John…Great stones they lay upon his chest until he pleads ay or nay.  They say he give them but two words. ‘More weight,’ he says. And died.

The play’s accuracy was intended to show the essence of the time and the foolishness of the "crying out" and the adults who believed it.  Remember the purpose of the play was to bring attention to the McCarthy hearings.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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