The Crucible

January 8, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Law, Criminal Justice
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The Crucible a play by Arthur Miller

What is The Crucible? 

The Crucible is a fictional retelling of

events in American history surrounding the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century.

Historical Background In June, 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls came down with a mysterious illness.  In Puritan New England, frightening or startling incidents such as these were often attributed to Satan and his followers, and these illnesses sparked fears of witchcraft.  It was not long before the girls—and then other Salem residents—began to accuse fellow villagers of casting spells and performing other rituals associated with witchcraft. 

How the Salem Witch Trials Began Betty Parris, the daughter of Salem minister Reverend Samuel Parris, became sick. She suffered from seizures, hallucinations, and other strange symptoms.  Other girls came down with similar symptoms.  Tituba, the Parris’s South American slave, was the first to be charged with witchcraft.  Old grudges, jealousies, and desires caused people to begin accusing one another of witchcraft. 

The State Becomes Involved 

Sir Williams Phips, the governor of Massachusetts, created a new court to oversee the Salem witchcraft cases. William Stoughton, an enthusiastic witch-hunter, was made chief justice of this court. Stoughton allowed testimony not usually permitted as evidence. 

He allowed spectral evidence against those accused (people could testify that they had communicated with the accused through dreams and visions, including spiritual “visits” from those accused). He allowed private conversations between accusers and judges to be used as evidence against those accused.

A Town Torn Apart Within a few weeks, dozens of people were in jail.  By September, 1692: 

   

19 men and women—and 2 dogs—were convicted of witchcraft and hanged at Gallows Hill near Salem; 1 man was pressed to death for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges; hundreds of others had been accused of witchcraft; many of those accused spent day after day in jail without trials.

Who Was Killed? All types of townspeople were put to death for witchcraft.  Although most of the women first charged with witchcraft had shaky reputations, several highly regarded members of the community—including Rebecca Nurse—were soon executed.  The most controversial person to be executed was George Burroughs, a former Salem minister. 

The Trials End By the fall of 1692, people began to doubt the validity of the witchcraft charges.  Educated people in Salem began to use their influence to end the witch-hunts.  Increase Mather argued that it “were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned” and he urged the court to exclude spectral evidence. 

The Trials End (cont.) One of the judges, Samuel Sewall, made a public apology.  Reverend Parris admitted to errors in judgment.  Governor Phips blamed William Stoughton for the execution of innocent people. 

Though he had had such a large role in trying, convicting, and executing Salem citizens, William Stoughton became the next governor of Massachusetts.

Witchcraft “Tests” 

Defendants afflicted with seizures or “spells” were asked to touch accused persons to see if their touch, as was generally assumed of the touch of witches, would stop their contortions. Judges examined the bodies of accused people for evidence of “witches’ marks” (moles, warts, freckles, or birthmarks upon which a witch’s familiar might suck). “Swimming a witch”: A person accused of witchcraft was thrown into a lake or river. It was believed that water rejected servants of the devil and that if a suspected person floated and refused to sink when placed in water it was proof of guilt. If the victim floated, she was killed as a witch; if she sank, she drowned. Witches were not supposed to be able to say the Lord’s prayer correctly.

Fact vs. Fiction: Differences between the play and history The general events in The Crucible correspond to what happened in Salem in 1692, but Miller’s characters are often composites (he combines aspects of different people to create single characters).  Many of the accusations of witchcraft in the play are driven by the affair between farmer, husband, and father John Proctor and the minister's teenage niece, Abigail Williams. In real life, Abigail was probably about eleven at the time of the accusations and Proctor was over sixty, which makes this relationship unlikely. 

Fact vs. Fiction: Differences between the play and history (cont.) 

Miller’s decision to set sexual jealousy at the root of the witchcraft hysteria constitutes a dramatic contrivance (events made up to strengthen the impact of the story). 

Miller said, “The play is not reportage of any kind….[n]obody can start to write a tragedy and hope to make it reportage….What I was doing was writing a fictional story about an important theme.”

The Author: Arthur Miller Miller was born in New York City in 1915.  He wrote Death of a Salesman in 1949; the play won the Pulitzer Prize.  Many critics believe Miller understands the fundamental nature of people in the U.S.  Miller researched the Salem witch trials while in college.  He wrote The Crucible as a response to the Red Scare of the 1950s. 

Cast of Characters 

John Proctor is a local farmer who lives outside of town and is married to Elizabeth Proctor. 

John is stern and hates hypocrisy. His secret sin— which becomes his downfall—is his affair with Abigail Williams. John initially hesitates to call Abigail a fraud and a liar because he doesn’t want his affair to become public knowledge; that would result in him losing his good reputation in the community.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Elizabeth Proctor is John Proctor’s wife. 

Elizabeth is honorable, but often seems detached or unfeeling.

Abigail Williams is John Proctor’s former lover and Reverend Parris’s niece. 

Abigail was once a servant for the Proctors, but Elizabeth fired her when she found out about the relationship between Abigail and her husband. Abigail is smart, vindictive, and a good liar.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Mary Warren is John and Elizabeth Proctor’s servant.  Mary

is one of Abigail’s group of girls.  Mary is timid and easily influenced by those around her.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Reverend Parris is the minister of Salem’s

church.  Parris catches his daughter and other girls dancing in the woods with Tituba, his slave.  Parris is suspicious of people; he is powerhungry and concerned with his position in the community.  Parris is disliked by many people, including John Proctor.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Betty Parris is Reverend Parris’s ten-year-old

daughter.  Betty falls into a trance after she and other local girls are caught dancing with Tituba in the woods.  Betty’s and Ruth Putnam’s illnesses start the first rumors of witchcraft in Salem.  Tituba is Reverend Parris’s slave from Barbados.  Tituba agrees to perform voodoo when Abigail asks her to.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Reverend John Hale is a young minister

who is supposedly an expert on witchcraft.  Hale

is asked to come to Salem to talk to Parris’s daughter Betty. He is a committed Christian and witch-hater.  Hale is critical and intelligent; he later regrets the things he did during the witchcraft trials and tries to save those who were accused.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Judge Danforth is the deputy governor of Massachusetts and the presiding judge over the witch trials.  In

the beginning, Danforth is convinced he is doing the right thing by getting rid of evil in the community. However, his motivations change during the course of the play.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Francis Nurse is a wealthy, influential Salem citizen.  Francis

is respected by most people, but is disliked by Thomas Putnam and his wife.

Rebecca Nurse is Francis Nurse’s wife.  Rebecca

is wise and sensible, and people in the community look up to her.  Rebecca is accused of witchcraft by the Putnams and she refuses to confess.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Thomas Putnam is a wealthy, influential Salem citizen.  

Putnam holds a grudge against Francis Nurse. Putnam uses the witch trials to increase his own wealth by accusing people of witchcraft, then buying their land.

Ann Putnam is Thomas Putnam’s wife. 

Though she has given birth to eight children, only one (Ruth) survived. The other seven died before they were a day old. Ann is convinced her children were murdered by supernatural means.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Ruth Putnam is Thomas and Anne’s only surviving child.  Ruth

falls into a stupor, like Betty Parris, after Reverend Parris catches her and the other girls dancing in the woods.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Giles Corey is an elderly farmer in Salem.  Giles

is famous for filing lawsuits against other Salem citizens.  Giles’s wife, Martha, is accused of witchcraft.  Giles is eventually held is contempt of court and is pressed to death with large stones. 

Martha Corey is Giles Corey’s wife.  Martha’s

reading habits lead to her arrest and conviction for witchcraft.

Cast of Characters (cont.) 

Ezekiel Cheever is a Salem citizen who

acts as the clerk of court during the witch trials. He is determined to do his duty.  Judge Hathorne presides over the witch trials with Danforth.  Herrick is Salem’s marshal.  Mercy Lewis is Thomas Putnam’s servant and belongs to Abigail’s group of girls.

Themes, ideas, questions in The Crucible 

Look for the following as we read the play: Intolerance and superstition can lead to persecution.  Mass hysteria can tear a community apart.  People will go to great lengths to preserve their reputations.  Personal agenda vs. social responsibility: which should be more important?  Social problems are a result of human failings.  Societies often suppress individual freedom to maintain social order. 

Themes, ideas, questions in The Crucible    

True or false: America has a tendency to “witchhunt.” Can we guarantee fair trials for accused persons? Is it true that separation of church and state is imperative in order to safeguard justice? People tend to be rigid in their thinking (they think in “black and white”).  

Why can this be problematic? How do we determine if individuals are “good” or “evil”?

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