A crucible is a bowl in which substances are ground and then purified. As the term is used in the title of this play, "crucible" represents both a test and a purification process. The major characters are placed in situations that try their characters. According to the laws at that time, anyone accused of witchcraft was brought before the courts to testify. Answering "no" to a charge of witchcraft could result in death at the gallows, since the jury generally ruled that the person was, in fact, a witch. Answering "yes" led to imprisonment, so that the accused could await sentencing. In either case, all real property was lost; the state confiscated it.
John Proctor, Goody Nurse, and Giles Corey are tested by the courts, and all go to their deaths. Despite their pleas of innocence, both Proctor and Nurse are hanged. Giles Corey refuses to plead, for he knows that he will lose his property either way. As a result of his stubbornness, he is pressed to death.
The theocratic government of the colony ruled absolutely in all trials related to suspected witchcraft. Residents were bound to abide by the rules of the church leaders. To ignore the rules of the church was to place oneself in a dangerous position. In that way, then, the church leaders placed their church members in a perpetual test. The witch trials purified the community by diminishing the degree of control the theocrats held over it.
One of the definitions of a crucible is the severe test or trial. This is an appropriate title for this play because many are tested with regards to their faith and put on trial for witchcraft. In this play , nineteen are hanged and one is pressed to death for the crime of witchcraft. Most of these allegations were alleged due to jealousy, greed, or gullibility.
Abigail accused Tituba and others to save herself from trouble. At first, outcasts, slaves, and those disliked by the community were accused. But as the hysteria grew, many upstanding and God-fearing women were accused, such as Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse. Men were not immune either. John Proctor refused to lose his integrity in confessing his guilt to save his life. While he dies, he still stands up to a test of character, and wins.
This works in a theocracy, as well. In the name of God, women and some men, were accused and convicted of practicing witchcraft. In our society, people are not put on trial for such things, but Puritans believed that witchcraft was a sin against God and punishable by death.