The Crucible

The Crucible

Infobox Play
name = The Crucible

image_size = 170px
caption =
writer = Arthur Miller
characters = Abigail Williams
Reverend John Hale
Reverend Samuel Parris
John Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor
Thomas Danforth
Mary Warren
setting = rafeal house
premiere = 22 January 1954
place = Martin Beck Theatre
New York City, New York
orig_lang = English
subject = Salem witch trials
genre = Tragedy, Drama
web =
playbill =
ibdb_id = 2211

"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller is a play based upon the events in 1692, which led to the Salem Witch Trials, a series of hearings before local magistrates to prosecute over 150 people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693.

The play was written in the early 1950s by Miller during the time of McCarthyism, when the US government blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956. The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production were hostile, but a year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. Today it is studied in high schools and universities, because of its status as a revolutionary work of theatre and for its allegorical relationship to testimony given before the House Committee On Un-American Activities during the 1950s.

The play was adapted for film twice, by Jean-Paul Sartre as the 1957 film "Les Sorcières de Salem" and by Miller himself as the 1996 film "The Crucible", the latter with a cast including Paul Scofield, Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. Miller's adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Previously Produced Material, his only nomination. The play was also adapted by composer Robert Ward into an opera, "The Crucible", which was first performed in 1961 and received the Pulitzer Prize.

The play has also been presented several times on stage and television. One notable 1967 TV production starred George C. Scott as John Proctor, Colleen Dewhurst (Scott's wife at the time) as Elizabeth Proctor, and Tuesday Weld as Abigail Williams.

Plot summary

Act 1

The play begins in the bedroom. Betty Parris, the daughter of the local preacher Samuel Parris, has fallen ill. It is soon discovered that Betty was found with some local girls who were dancing and chanting around a fire in the woods with Parris's slave, Tituba . A well to-do in the town, Thomas Putnam, and his wife Ann, are also concerned about their daughters sanity, Ruth, has also fallen sick after the escapade in the forest. Panic spreads through the village as people believe that witchcraft is afoot. Reverend Parris sends for the Reverend John Hale, an authority on witchcraft, to investigate what is going on. Reverend Hale is tricked by the girls into believing there is actually witchcraft, and starts the hunt.

Act 2

Late one evening in the Proctor household, John Proctor comes home from planting in his fields to his wife, Elizabeth. Their forced conversation eventually grows into an argument concerning John's past infidelity with Abigail and Elizabeth's inability to kill Abilgail or die,thus causing new drama and problems.

Act 3

Mr. Corey and Mr. Nurse arrive to interrupt the proceedings so that the judges can be presented with the evidence that the girls are lying. Judge Hathorne, the lead judge in the trials, has little patience for them and dismisses them quickly. John Proctor and Mary Warren, however, arrive to dispute Abigail's claims. Danforth questions Mary and Proctor, revealing that Elizabeth is pregnant, and decides to investigate the situation further, calling in Abigail and the other girls. The consequential actions result in Corey being arrested for contempt of court and warrants issued for several citizens that had supported the claims of Mr. Nurse. While examining Abigail further, Parris and others try to get Mary to demonstrate how she and the other girls would pretend to faint. She is unable to do so, and Abigail and the girls start to make accusations against Mary. To attempt to break the hold that Abigail has, John admits to his infidelity with her. In order to determine if John Proctor is telling the truth, they call Elizabeth into the courtroom. Despite John's assertion that Elizabeth never lies, she does not admit to any belief that John has ever strayed, in an attempt to save his name. This results in Mary and John's claims being dismissed. Abigail and the other girls then go into violent fits, accusing Mary of dark witchcraft. Mary becomes completely desperate and turns on John Proctor, saying that he is in league with the Devil. John states that if these events can occur, then "God is dead."

Act 4

Act Four starts with Proctor chained to a jail wall totally isolated from the outside. The authorities send Elizabeth to him, telling her to try to convince Proctor to confess to being a warlock. Proctor gives in to the authorities and the advice of Reverend Hale. Hale is now a broken man who spends all his time with the prisoners, praying with them and hoping to save their lives from their unjust fates. Hale advises prisoners to confess to witchcraft, so that they can live. Proctor confesses to the crime of witchcraft, he then signs the document saying that he is a wizard. But then tears it up when Proctor realizes that Danforth is going to nail the signed confession to the church(which Proctor fears will ruin his name and the names of other Salemites). The play ends with Proctor and Rebecca Nurse (an accused witch) being led to the gallows to hang.


*John Proctor - a hard working farmer, and native of Salem who lives just outside town; he is married to Elizabeth Proctor. Before the play, he has an affair with Abigail Williams, which ultimately leads to his downfall. When the hysteria over witchcraft begins in the village, he attempts to reveal Abigail's lack of innocence, due to the fact that Abigail and Proctor had an affair. All did not go as planned, for when Elizabeth was brought to court as a witness, she lied and stated that her husband was not a lecher, in order to save his name. However, when his wife is accused, he tries to tell the court the truth, but it is too late. He is then accused himself of witchcraft by Mary Warren. He is sentenced to be hanged unless he names other witches and repents; however, Proctor dies rather than lie and bring dishonor to all other convicted "witches" who will not.
*Abigail Williams - Williams is Parris' niece. She is 17 years old in the play and during the trials. Abigail was once the maid for the Proctor house, but Elizabeth Proctor fired her after she discovered that Abigail was having an affair with her husband, John Proctor. Abigail and her uncle's slave, Tituba, lead the local girls in love-spell rituals in the Salem forest over a fire. Rumors of witchcraft fly, and Abigail tries to use the town's fear to her advantage. She viciously accuses many of witchcraft because she liked to lie and be in the spotlight, starting first with the outcasts of society and gradually moving up to respected members of the community. Finally, she accuses Elizabeth Proctor, because she believes that John truly loves her and not Elizabeth. Abigail thinks that if Elizabeth is gotten out of the way, she and John can marry. John says in the play that Abigail "hopes to dance with me upon my wife's grave." She is manipulative and dramatic, as well as darkly charismatic. She resists anyone who stands in her way (i.e. Mary Warren, Mrs. Proctor). She later flees Salem during the trials and, "legend has it", becomes a prostitute in Boston.
*Reverend John Hale - Hale is a well respected minister reputed to be an expert on witchcraft. Reverend Hale is called in to Salem to examine the witchcraft trials, and Parris's daughter Betty, who has fallen into a mysterious illness after being discovered participating in the suspect rituals. He originally believes that there are witches in Salem and advocates the trials, but later realizes the widespread corruption and abuse of the trials, and struggles to get accused witches to lie and confess, rather than stick to the truth, and die.
*Elizabeth Proctor - John Proctor's wife, and a resident of Salem, famous for her quotation: "No matter what happens tonight... I still love you." She is accused of witchcraft, and is only saved from death due to the fact that she is pregnant. Abigail hates her for being Proctor's wife, and for keeping Proctor's heart.
*Reverend Samuel Parris - Parris is the poorly respected minister of Salem's church. He is disliked by many Salem residents because of his greedy, dominating nature. The man is more concerned about his reputation than of the well being of his sick daughter, Betty. He is also less concerned about his missing niece, Abigail Williams, and the lives of the dead and condemned on his conscience and more about the money taken. He is related to the history of Salem where in real life his niece and daughter were the first to be accused of witchcraft and he owned the slave, Tituba who was also accused of witchcraft and survived prison.

Minor Characters

*Giles Corey - Giles is a friend of John Proctor, who is very concerned about his land. He believes Thomas Putnam is trying to take it and other people's land by getting the girls to accuse Giles' wife of witchcraft. Giles gains this information from an anonymous man whom he will not name as he knows the man would be put in prison. He is subjected to peine forte et dure when he refuses to plea "aye or nay" to the charge of witchcraft. The character of Giles Corey is based on a real person. Giles' wife, Martha, is executed because of the witchcraft accusations.

It is unusual for persons to refuse to plead, and extremely rare to find reports of persons who have been able to endure this painful form of death in silence. The pressing of Giles Corey is unique in New England. It is similar to the case, in England, of Margaret Clitherow, who, having been arrested on the 10th of March, 1586 for the crime of harboring priests, hearing Mass, and secretly being of the Catholic faith, she refused to plead, since the only witnesses against her would be her own small children and servants, whom she could not bear to involve. Therefore, when arraigned on the 14th of March 1586 she was condemned to the peine forte et dure, to be pressed to death, and this was carried out on Lady Day, 1586, even though it was most likely that she was with child at the time, which should have protected her from execution. She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, hands stretched out and bound between two posts, and a door placed on top of her, which was weighted down, until she was crushed to death. Her last words were "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Have mercy on me!" Because she did not plead, her family could not be involved further in any investigation of her actions.

In the play, we hear Giles' story by proxy, out of the mouth of Elizabeth Proctor:"Elizabeth [Quietly, factually] : He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they'd hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay."From this it is obvious of Giles' reason for holding out so long against so much pain: As long as he did not answer yes or no, his children would be able to keep his estate. Whether this was for his children's sake or for an attempt to spite Thomas Putnam's greedy obsession with buying up land is arguable. The play supports both possibilities.
*Thomas Putnam - Thomas Putnam lives in Salem village and owns a bit of land close to Giles Corey, Giles accuses him of trying to steal it, and says Putnam got his daughter to accuse Giles' wife of witchcraft.
*Tituba - Tituba is Rev. Parris' slave. Parris seems to have owned and possibly purchased her in Barbados. She cares for the children and prepares a potion for Abigail that will kill Elizabeth Proctor. Additionally, she attempts to raise the spirits of Ann Putnam's dead children. During the first scene of the play, she is turned in by Abigail and responds by claiming that four women in Salem are witches. She is not seen again until the final scene of the play in the jail. It seems that by this point the events have troubled her to the point of hallucinations and hysteria.
*Mary Warren - Mary Warren serves as housemaid for the Proctors after Abigail Williams. The play portrays her as a lonely girl who considers herself an "official of the court" at the beginning of the trials. John Proctor abuses her and hits her with a whip. She nearly confesses that she and the other girls were lying about witchcraft until the other girls pretend that she is sending out her spirit upon them in the courtroom. This event, which could have led to her death, propels her to accuse John Proctor of witchcraft and to state that he forced her to lie about herself and the others.
*Rebecca Nurse - Rebecca Nurse, wife of Francis Nurse, is highly respected in Salem for her helpful nature. Very firm in her opinions, and willing to make any sacrifice in the cause of truth, she voices her opposition to the idea of witchcraft. Near the end, she is accused of being a witch on the prompting of the Putnams, who are jealous of her good fortune.
*Ezekiel Cheever is an astute yet weak character, and his most important appearance is in the Proctor household in which he denounces Elizabeth Proctor for witchcraft, regarding the poppet (doll) which was placed in the Proctor house to make it appear that Elizabeth was practicing witchcraft against Abigail Williams. His reason is clouded by the authority of Salem for whom he works. He used to be friends with John Proctor, but when the accusations started, he quickly turned against his friends and their family who were accused of witchcraft. He tells Danforth that Proctor sometimes plows on Sundays and that Proctor missed church often. He acts as a scribe in Act 2 of The Crucible, and in some interpretations of the play, he hangs Proctor. The character is based on the actual son (with the same name) of Ezekiel Cheever, the famous schoolmaster and author of "Accidence: A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue".Fact|date=December 2007


The following are historical inaccuracies from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" [cite web | author=Margo Burns | title=Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction | url= | work=17th Century New England | date=4 August 2004 | accessdate=2008-06-19]
* Betty Parris' mother was not dead, but very much alive at the time. She died in 1696, four years after the events.
* Soon after the legal proceedings began, Betty was shuttled off to live in Salem Town with Stephen Sewall's family. Stephen was the clerk of the Court, brother of Judge Samuel Sewall.
* Stage directions call for a 'rifle' to be used by the inhabitants of Salem, disregarding the fact that rifling would not have been available to them for at least a hundred years.
* The Parris family also included two other children -- an older brother, Thomas (b. 1681), and a younger sister, Susannah (b. 1687) -- not just Betty and her relative Abigail, who was probably born around 1681.
* Abigail Williams is often called Rev. Parris' "niece" but in fact there is no genealogical evidence to prove their familial relationship. She is sometimes in the original texts referred to as his "kinfolk" however.
* Miller admits in the introduction to the play that he boosted Abigail Williams' age to 17 even though the real girl was only 12, but he never mentions that John Proctor was 62 and Elizabeth, 41, was his third wife. He was not a farmer but a tavern keeper. Living with them was their daughter aged 15, their son who was 17, and John's 33-year-old son from his first marriage. Everyone in the family was eventually accused of witchcraft. Elizabeth Proctor was indeed pregnant, during the trial, and did have a temporary stay of execution after convicted, which ultimately spared her life because it extended past the end of the period that the executions took place. The affair between Abigail and Proctor was added to the play for dramatic effect, and did not happen in reality.
* The first two girls to become afflicted were Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, not Ann [Ruth] Putnam (see below), and they had violent, physical fits, not a sleep that they could not wake from.
* There never was any wild dancing rite in the woods led by Tituba, and Rev. Parris certainly never stumbled upon it. Some of the local girls had attempted to divine the occupations of their future husbands with an egg in a glass -- crystal-ball style. Tituba and her husband, John Indian (absent in Miller's telling), were asked by a neighbor, Mary Sibley, to bake a special "witch cake," -- made of rye and the girls' urine, and fed to a dog -- European white magic to ascertain who the witch was who was afflicting the girls.
* The Putnam's daughter was not named Ruth, but Ann, like her mother, probably changed by Miller so the audience wouldn't confuse the mother and the daughter. In reality, the mother was referred to as "Ann Putnam Senior" and the daughter as "Ann Putnam Junior."
* Ann/Ruth was not the only Putnam child out of eight to survive infancy. In 1692, the Putnams had six living children, Ann being the eldest, down to 1-year-old Timothy. Ann Putnam Sr. was pregnant during most of 1692. Ann Sr. and her sister, however did lose a fair number of infants, though certainly not all, and by comparison, the Nurse family lost remarkably few for the time.
* Rev. Parris claims to Giles Corey that he is a "graduate of Harvard" -- he did not in fact graduate from Harvard, although he had attended for a while and dropped out.
* The judges in "The Crucible" are Samuel Sewall, Thomas Danforth, and John Hathorne. The full panel of magistrates for the special Court of Oyer and Terminer were in fact named by the new charter, which arrived in Massachusetts on 14 May 1692 were William Stoughton, John Richards, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Wait Winthrop, Bartholomew Gedney, Samuel Sewall, John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and Peter Sergeant. Five of these eight had to be present to form a presiding bench, and at least one of those five had to be Stoughton, Richards, or Gedney. Thomas Danforth the Deputy Governor, joined the magistrates on occasion as the presiding magistrate.
* The events portrayed here were the examinations of the accused in Salem Village from March to April in the context of a special court of "Oyer and Terminer." These were not the actual trials, per se, which began later, in June 1692. The procedure was basically this: someone would bring a complaint to the authorities, and the authorities would decide if there was enough reason to send the sheriff or other law enforcement officer to arrest them. While this was happening, depositions -- statements people made on paper outside of court -- were taken and evidence gathered, typically against the accused. After evidence or charges were presented, and depositions sworn to before the court, the grand jury would decide whether to indict the person, and if so, on what charges. If indicted, the person's case would then go to a petit jury, or to "trial" something like we know it only much faster, to decide guilt or innocence. Guilt in a case of witchcraft in 1692 came with an automatic sentence of death by hanging, as per English law.
* Saltonstall was one of the original magistrates, but quit early on because of the reservations portrayed as attributed to Sewall's character in the play. Of the magistrates, only Sewall ever expressed public regret for his actions, asking in 1696 to have his minister, Rev. Samuel Willard, read a statement from the pulpit of this church to the congregation, accepting his share of the blame for the trials.
* Rebecca Nurse was hanged on 19 July, John Proctor on 19 August, and Martha Corey on 22 September -- not all on the same day on the same gallows.
* Reverend Hale would not have signed any "death warrants," although he claims to have signed 17 in the play. That was not for the clergy to do. Both existing death warrants are signed by William Stoughton.
* The elderly George Jacobs was not accused of sending his spirit in through the window to lie on the Putnams' daughter -- in fact, it was usually quite the opposite case: women such as Bridget Bishop were accused of sending their spirits into men's bedrooms to lie on them. In that period, women were perceived as the lusty, sexual creatures whose allure men must guard against.
* Abigail Williams probably couldn't have laid her hands on 31 pounds in Samuel Parris' house, to run away with John Proctor, when Parris' annual salary was contracted at 66 pounds, only a third of which was paid in money. The rest was to be paid in foodstuffs and other supplies, but even then, he had continual disputes with the parishioners about supplying him with much-needed firewood they owed him.
* Certain key people in the real events appear nowhere in Miller's play: John Indian, Rev. Nicholas Noyes, Sarah Cloyce, and most notably, Cotton Mather.
* "The afflicted" comprised not just a group of a dozen teenage girls - there were men and adult women who were also "afflicted," including John Indian, Ann Putnam, Sr., and Sarah Bibber - or anyone in Andover, where more people were accused than in Salem Village.
* Giles Corey is put to death sometime before John Proctor. When in fact John Proctor died first on 19 August 1692, and Giles Corey died later on 19 September 1692. Giles was actually never put to death. He died being pressed to death when he refused a trial.
*Mary Warren was considerably older than Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, and Betty Parris. She would most likely not have been talking to them as close friends.
* Even though the play is set in America the date is 1692 and the distinctive American accent would not have been developed, as it was only 70 years previously that the ancestors of the inhabitants of Salem had arrived in America from England, and their speech and accent was actually still very British. The American accent has became what it is today by the influence of the Irish immigrants of the nineteenth century, therefore in the film, they should be speaking traditional English (according to Miller, with a Northumberland accent). [cite book|last=Miller|first=Arthur|coauthors=Blakesley, Maureen|title=The Crucible, a play in four acts|editor= |publisher=Heinemann|location=Oxford, England|date=1992|pages=xvi|chapter=The language of the play|isbn=0435232819|url=,M1]

Film adaptations



External links

* [ McCarthyism and the Movies]
* [ "The Crucible" Literature Study Guide at SparkNotes]
* [ Photos] of a production of "The Crucible"

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