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Firstly, the play is based on the actual Salem witch trials in Massachusetts during 1692 and 1693. The plot and characterization is mostly fictionalized but is based on real events. The play, for example, names nineteen executions and in reality nineteen were executed for witchcraft. Some of the references are also based on actual people living at the time. Abigail Williams was eleven years old in 1692 and gave testimony during the Salem witch trials.
Secondly, the play allegorizes McCarthyism in the 1950s, where the US government blacklisted many individuals suspected of supporting communism. Miller, through his play, criticizes the methods used by the government and expresses his outrage at the injutices suffered by many (himself included) who were persecuted and harrassed by the authorities.
The play dramatizes events which led to the execution of many citizens and most powerfully indicates how power can be abused. It furthermore clearly exposes how hysteria and panic can be driven by fear of the unknown if that fear is supported by an autocratic regime - in this instance a theocracy.
The play largely focuses on the emotional maturity of most of the characters, from the most insignificant to those with the highest rank. It is an indication of how rank and title can be abused to achieve an advantage to the detriment of the so-called "common folk" and how freedom of speech and action can be curtailed by those in power to the detriment of all.
The play can therefore be seen as a drama since it "brings to life" or dramatizes events - it makes them real. The audience is confronted by real people in the form of actors who recreate and animate what could have remained mere history or words on paper.
Aristotle’s definition—“A drama is an imitation of an action by language without narrator” is fulfilled; the definition of theatre—“imitation of an action in the form of action”—is fulfilled when The Crucible is acted out on stage. “Drama” is defined in the 20th century as “Drama is conflict”, “Performance of speech acts spoken on stage by fictive characters” or “Performance of imagined acts (as opposed to performance of acts).” Arthur Miller’s piece called The Crucible fits all those definitions. The fictive characters, Proctor, Abigail, etc. act out their story and their conflicts in the “crucible” of 17th century Salem society, where accusations alone cast aspersions on characters. The drama echoes the Communist “witch hunt” of the 1950’s, and thus makes the work a symbolic drama as well as a good stage portrait of the early witch hunts of Salem.
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