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The language of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible affects the audience’s understanding and enjoyment in a number of ways. Consider, for example, this brief excerpt from the text:
ANN: They were murdered, Mister Parris! And mark this proof! –mark it! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits, I know it, sir. For how else is she stuck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth! It is a marvelous sign, Mister Parris!
PUTNAM: Don’t you understand it, sir? There is a murdering witch among us bound to keep herself in the dark. Let your enemies make of it what they will, you cannot blink it more.
PARRIS: Then you were conjuring spirits last night.
ABIGAIL: Not I, sir, not I.-Tituba and Ruth.
PARRIS: Now I am undone.
PUTNAM: You are not undone. Let you take hold here. Wait for no one to charge you-declare it yourself. You have discovered witchcraft….
PARRIS: In my house!? In my house, Thomas?-they will topple me with this! They will make of it a…
This excerpt is typical of the play as a whole in various ways, including the following:
- The phrasing is basically simple, clear, and straightforward. This fact makes the meaning of the phrasing easier to understand and thus contributes to the audience’s enjoyment of the work.
- The phrasing does not seem arcane or archaic. Even though the play is set hundreds of years ago, the language does not seem obscure or outmoded. Miller doesn’t even use “thou” in place of the more modern word “you.” The situation the play describes may seem ancient history, but the phrasing of the play seems colloquial and up-to-date.
- The phrasing is often emotional, as in the first three sentences of the excerpt – sentences that are punctuated with exclamation marks. Yet the phrasing does not seem excessively emotional or melodramatic. Miller shows restraint, thus giving the audience pleasure by making the phrasing seem credible. He appeals to our interest in strong emotions, but he doesn’t go to extremes.
- The phrasing imitates the rhythms of credible, realistic speech. The characters do not offer long, elaborate, poetic soliloquies. They do not employ a great deal of imagery or figurative language. Although such language might seem appealing in a play by Shakespeare, in a modern play it might sound contrived or artificial.
- The clear, up-to-date phrasing makes it easier for modern audiences to “relate” to the characters in this play, even though the characters might be distant in time from our own lives. Miller, of course, wants us to think of the events the play depicts as the kind of events that might happen anywhere, at any period in history, under certain specific circumstances. His play is often read, for instance, as a reflection on the “McCarthyism” of the 1950s, and it is not surprising that his characters often sound as if they might have lived in the 1950s. These characters do not sound antiquated or old-fashioned, at least in the ways they generally speak. They are easy to understand, and our ability to understand easily the language of the work helps contribute to the pleasure the play provides.
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