The Crucible is a drama in the tradition of American realism, and Arthur Miller strives for historic verisimilitude both through his deliberate use of archaic language in the dialogue and by prescribing settings with a distinctly realistic look. Proctor’s house has the “low, dark, and rather long living room of the time.” Samuel Parris’ house, with its “air of clean spareness,” where “the roof rafters are exposed, and the wood colors are raw and unmellowed,” accords with the audience’s preconception of a Puritan minister’s home. Clearly, Miller is also re-creating the myth of Puritan drabness here: His theatrical setting eschews the bright blues and reds with which the Puritans actually decorated their homes.
The lighting of the opening moments of the play has its obvious diegetic source in “the morning sunlight” that streams through the leaded panes of a narrow window at the left. Against this appropriate backdrop, the events of the previous night are brought to light. Characters are neatly grouped into units by the possibility of having some go “downstairs,” into the meeting room offstage. Thus, there is private space created for the girls and, later, for a key scene between Proctor and Abigail. To reinforce the audience’s sense of a coming eclipse of Proctor’s fortunes, and to create an outer manifestation of the inner darkness of the characters and the city of Salem, his house is visited in the evening, after a hard day in early summer. In contrast, the courtroom drama of act 3 is played out in broad daylight. Proctor and Corey face the juggernaut of Danforth’s witch trial in a well-crafted liminal space, the anteroom of the courtroom; this both avoids the distracting spectacle of a full courtroom and—since the anteroom has doors to the court and the street (stage left and right respectively)—creates a spatial image of purgatory. In this space Proctor faces the hell of a justice system set to make a mockery of rational law and due process.
With a touch of the melodramatic, the jail scene of act 4 opens in the dark hours before an autumn dawn; Miller’s stage directions have characters blowing on their hands in order to emphasize the coldness of the near dungeon. Here, the play has come full circle from act 1’s (false) promise of a spring day. Yet through Proctor’s steadfastness and his reconciliation with his pregnant wife, the possibility of a rebirth—following the autumnal day of the hanging and the winter of injustice—is strongly suggested; such a rebirth is confirmed by Miller’s epilogue to the printed play.
Form and Content
The Crucible is based on actual persons and events. While some dialogue and characterizations are based on legal records of the Salem witch trials, other details crucial to the play are inventions or suppositions by the author. The published version of The Crucible includes occasional prose discussions of the characters and themes that are not part of the play in performance. The play as published begins with several pages describing the Puritan environment in which the events take place. Arthur Miller explains that the witch trials occurred because of a theocratic government that repressed individual freedom.
The play opens in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, where his daughter Betty is suffering from a mysterious ailment. Parris had discovered Betty and his niece Abigail Williams dancing naked in the forest and fears that Betty’s ailment is supernatural in origin. Other Salemites—including Ann Putnam, who has lost several children—believe that witchcraft has been responsible for local misfortunes. The girls have, in fact, been playing at witchcraft, a crime that carries a penalty of death. In order to protect themselves from punishment, the girls confess that they were under the spell of other witches within the community, and they provide Parris with the names of those witches. Parris is a vain man who seeks to be the central power within the community. His sermons...
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