The Four Acts Of ThIn the 17th century a group of Puritans from England immigrated to America to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. The white settlers arrived in New England in 1620, and Salem, Massachusetts had been in existence for about forty years by 1692. Salem developed as a theocracy. This was based on the coexistence of religious prayer and hard work. Entertainment, such as dancing, or any enjoyment at all was perceived as a sin. The isolation of the Puritan society created a rigid social system that did not allow for any variation in lifestyle.
The Puritans felt insecure with the knowledge of the Native Americans in the forest. They felt persecuted and constantly under attack. Abigail mentions her past when she says that she witnessed, Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine'.
Throughout the play it is apparent that the community becomes more divided. In the beginning there were arguments about ownership of land between some of the villagers. As the story progresses people fear for their own safety and begin accusing their neighbours of witchcraft in order to escape being hanged.
HALE'They have confessed it.'
PROCTOR'And why not, if they must hang for denyin'it? There are
them that will swear to anything before they'll hang;
This is like when Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft so that she will know that there will be a clear path to John Proctor whom she had an affair with and now is in love with.
Salem becomes overrun by the hysteria of witchcraft. Mere suspicion itself was accepted as evidence. As a God-fearing community, they could not think of denying the evidence, because to deny the existence of Evil is to deny the existence of Goodness; which is God.
A crucible is a container in which metals are heated to extract the pure element from dross or impurities. This definition is easily connected to the play. To start with, witches supposedly use cauldrons to brew their magic potions, and a synonym for cauldron is crucible. Not only do witches use cauldrons, but the word crucible also could have some metaphorical meaning. The actions in Salem were like that in a brewing cauldron, there were many heated arguments, and people were being stirred' and mixed' around like a vile potion.
The plays central theme is the spiritual development of John Proctor. He changed from thinking solely about himself to thinking about who was in need most beside himself. He is made better and purified'.
The story illustrates how people react to mass hysteria, created by a person or group of people desiring fame, as people did during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. Many Americans were wrongly accused of being communist sympathisers. The activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee began to be linked with the witchcraft trials that had taken place in the town of Salem. This provided Miller with the catalyst to write the crucible.
Arthur Miller himself was called before the committee in 1956. He found himself I the same dilemma as John Proctor, as a hero. He was asked to name people who had attended a meeting in the past. He refused to do so and was fined for contempt of Congress. Miller claimed it was the courageous thing to do in those circumstances.
Without the knowledge of the McCarthy hearings The Crucible could be seen as a melodrama and the events in the play may be sensationalised. It is not a melodrama because it is not overdramatic. The McCarthy hearings add realism. The play deals with historical events and with characters that had an historical context.
Through the use of dialogue, stage directions which enable us to envisage what is going on the stage, and characterisation we can see how the dramatic tension is created by Miller. These aspects are to be explored for each act.
Act one begins with Reverend Parris praying over his daughter, Betty Parris, who lies unconscious on her bed. Parris is frightened and angered that the doctor can find no explanation for Betty's illness in his books. He turns on Abigail and confronts her and through the conversation between Reverend Parris and his niece Abigail Williams, the audience learns that these girls, including Abigail and Betty, were engaged in activities in the forest lead by Tituba; Parris' slave from Barbados. The audience is involved in the story immediately because they are oblivious to what is going on and they want to find out. At this moment they are only provided with conflicting accounts of the truth.
Parris caught them and jumped from a bush startling the girls. Betty fainted and had not recovered. During this session, Abigail drank chicken blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor.
BETTY 'You drank blood, Abby! You didn't tell him that!
ABIGAIL 'Betty, you never say that again! You will never-'
BETTY 'You did, you did! You drank a charm to kill John Proctor's
wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!
Abigail doesn't want anyone to find out that she was in the forest as she and the other girls would be severely punished if they were exposed. To overcome this she harshly threatens Betty Paris and Mary Warren not to say anything.
"Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you... And you know I can do it... I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down."
We can tell that this is a frantic time on the stage because of the short sentences and use of exclamation marks. Also we can clearly see the strong physical capabilities of Abigail during this time through the way that she frantically shakes and pulls Betty around the room. This would have been visually exciting for the audience.
As the scene develops, Thomas Putnam, John Proctor and Giles Corey are arguing about the land. This is the first instance in which the community is becoming divided, where by as if these people cannot settle their petty disputes then it is unlikely that they will offer support to each other in the forthcoming events. It shows the selfishness is ripe in Salem.
Proctor and Abigail talk and Abigail tries to seduce him. The atmosphere starts of calm but soon there is anger between them. John Proctor tells Abigail that he wants nothing more to do with her after their affair. Again the use of exclamation points shows the anger. The speed of the dialogue is increased due to the short sentences. This is more effective than if the sentences were longer as the points almost sound listed rather than direct and implanted, when the speech is quicker.
When John Hale arrives he is told by Parris of the dancing in the woods of which Abigail was involved with. To avoid being accused of witchcraft, Abigail quickly lays the blame on Tituba for what happened, because she fears for her own safety. The girls know that Tituba did not consort with the Devil but because of the fear and ignorance of the society they did not listen to her. Tituba, afraid of being hanged, confesses her faith in God and accuses Goody Good and Goody Osborne of witchcraft.
At the end of the act the girls ecstatically chant the names of the townspeople whom they accuse of consorting with the Devil. The curtain falls at this point and the audience are left in suspense because they are eager to discover the results of these new accusations aswell as the progression of evil that is to come in Abigail.
The opening of Act Two contrast to Act One as it opens on a quiet note. As a result of Abigail's actions trust amongst the community is being broken. Mary Warren gives an account to Elizabeth and John Proctor of how she was in court testifying against the townspeople and that Goody Osburn was condemned.
Proctor is angry that Mary Warren left after he instructed her not to do so. This is indicated by violence. When she begins crying it we don't empathize with her at all; especially when we realise Elizabeth has been accused. I think we feel frustrated with her false confession; she clearly does not realise the extent of the harm she and the other girls are causing.
'But I said I never see no
sign you ever sent your spirit out to hurt no one, and
seeing I do live so closely with you, they dismissed it.
When Reverend Hale questions Elizabeth and John Proctor on the commandments, it is evident that there is still a void between the couple. All commandments could be recited except for adultery, which is the main reason for the tension between this couple at the moment. In the Puritan culture, adultery is a grievous sin, one punishable by death.
PROCTOR '...Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.'
HALEYou have said that twice, sir'
PROCTOR(lost): Aye. (he if flailing for it.)
ELIZABETH(delicately); Adultery, John.
The stage directions show the difficulty this couple have had in discussing this topic. It seems fortunate for Proctor that he does not recall this last commandment on his own. This could suggest that he is willing to put his affair behind him. When Elizabeth intervenes see merely delicately' lets him know what he is flailing' for as if to suggest that she has difficulty in saying the word. Very recent stage directions in this particular scene show that Elizabeth is without hesitation, even eager' to recite the commandments. This shows that Elizabeth still thinks about his husband's affair.
The act ends on a tense note with Elizabeth Proctor being arrested and John Proctor demanding Mary Warren to testify against the girls. He vows that he will fight the proceedings, even if it means confessing his own adultery.
In Act 3, it becomes obvious soon after the trials started that many people were going to be falsely accused by their neighbours as a method of revenge, and as an outlet for their maliciousness. When Abigail uses this to attack Rebecca Nurse, one of the holiest Puritans in the Salem, John Proctor begins his efforts to stop the injustice. This increases when Elizabeth Proctor is tried and sentenced to death. This is now John Proctor's struggle. He must fight to save his wife, his community and eventually himself. In addition, he also has to convince the leaders of Salem that they are mistaken in believing in Abigail.
After Proctor admits to being an adulterer Elizabeth is brought in to support his confession and Proctor reassures Danforth, that woman will never lie, Mr Danforth'. This statement is to have terrible consequences.
As it is knowledge to John, Hale and the audience that Elizabeth is one of the saintliest of people it comes as a great shock when she denies the charge of lechery between her husband and Abigail so as to save her husbands reputation.
DANFORTHAnswer my question! Is your husband a lecher?'
PROCTOR(crying out): Elizabeth, I have confessed it!'
PROCTORShe only thought to save my name!'
This would have left the audience feeling disappointment and pity for John Proctor. The audience feel that this would have finally destroyed Abigail's credibility, but Elizabeth's misplaced loyalty destroys his case.
The immediate events will consequently lead to John Proctors death where Mary accuses him of witchcraft. Abigail screams and claims that there is a bird on the beam and that it is attempting to attack her. Mary tries to stop her, Abigail repeats Mary's words and is soon joined by the other girls in copying Mary. This dramatic acting by the girls would have also been visually exciting to watch although quite unbelievable that they are doing this.
ABIGAILThe wings! Her wings are spreading!'
Mary, please, don't, don't -!'
HALEI see nothing, your honour!'
DANFORTHDo you confess this power! (He is an inch from her face)
ABIGAILShe's going to come down! She's walking the beam!'
After being accused by Mary of being a witch, John confesses. This would have surprised the audience as he is now lying, that is considered a sin, so as to avoid being hanged and not confessing, as what he knows is the right thing to do. Even though he has lied it makes no difference.
I am no good man. Nothings spoiled by giving them this lie that were not
rot ten long before'
However he cannot allow Danforth to make his confession officially documented as he worries about his reputation. As Danforth asks him why John answers with a cry;
PROCTOR "Because it is my name!
Because I cannot have another in my life
. . . How may I live without my
name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name
The word name' is repeated a number of times. John will not sign the paper stating his confession for the sake of his children's future reputation. He realises his ability to be a good man and can accept death because of this.
Hale starts to doubt if the very thing that he searches to rid the people of might be a lie.
HALE"I am a minister of the lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it."
Hale leaves and denounces the proceedings he started.
Abigail's true evilness is shown in this act in the way that she play acts against the gullibility of the court to accuse John Proctor of witchcraft, because of the jealousy inside her.
Act Four is staged in the isolated jail of the Salem village, the stage directions tell us that the place is in darkness and that the moonlight only seeps' through the bars. This would have created a depressing atmosphere and was evidence that the end is inevitable.
In this act Hale and Parris are now terrified. They go to visit the innocent people in the jail and beg them to make false confessions in order to save their lives.
Hale believes that the blood of the people who are being hanged is on his hands. Hale no longer believes in witches. Hale urges Goody Proctor to get her husband to confess to save his life. Reverend Hale's character changed from believing in witches and saving the people's souls from the devil to saving their live's from a lie.
Elizabeth forgave John for being unfaithful and blames herself for not being able to love him.
It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery'
Elizabeth allows John to make up his own mind about confessing and supports him and refuses to try to influence him when he chooses death.
Although visually this was a calm scene, there would have been apprehension. This separate storyline and conversation would have kept the audience captivated in the final parts of the play as they would have been eager to discover what the outcome was for this couple and also whether this conversation would have had any impact on the note the play finished on. Which of course by the end of the play we know that it did as it leaves Elizabeth to say;
He have his goodness now. God
forbid I take it from him!'
By choosing death, Proctor takes the high road and becomes a true tragic hero. He ends up choosing death because a false confession would mean implicating other accused people. He cleansed himself at the trial, standing for what he knew was right and died a righteous person. What was most important to him was to make a stand against the insanity of the town, for himself and for God, and using that as a last resort to make people aware of what was happening. This last stand for righteousness is an example of Proctor's true character and rationale.
At the close of the play, ironically Reverend Hale weeps in frantic prayer'. This shows the transformation of John Hale, and it is ironic because at the beginning of the play he is confident with his knowledge and expertise of witchcraft. He has total acceptance of the girls confession to show off this skill and is delighted by his success, crying, Glory to God! It is broken, they are free.'
Towards the end of the play the audience had probably changed their opinion about Reverend Hale and should have liked him, appreciating his struggle to save peoples lives from a false confession rather than letting them die. Although in one sense he maybe wanted the confession for selfish reasons - so that he no longer had blood on his head'. In any case the audience would have empathised with him making them feel that the play was much more of a tragedy.
The loud drum roll that heightens violently at the end of the play shows that the play is over, but it leaves a tense atmosphere; 'The calm after the storm.' This atmosphere leaves the audience to contemplate the play and particular characters and their relevance to the title.
The light that shines through the window at the very end of the play makes the ending symbolic. The word 'new' almost lets us forget all the tragic events that have just passed and that the best solution would to start afresh. It leaves the audience thinking that there is hope for the people of Salem especially with the presence of light.
I believe that The Crucible was written with a moral. Arthur Miller, by writing The Crucible, warned us that if we did not become aware of history repeating itself, our society would be in danger. Such as has been seen during the McCarthy era. As the witchcraft hysteria took place in one of America's wholesome, theocratic towns, it makes the miscarriage of justice such a mystery even today.