The Crucible

Published: 2021-09-10 14:10:10
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Category: Book Reports

Type of paper: Essay

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I've been working with the materials of the Salem Witch Trails of 1692 for so long as an academic historian, it's not surprising when people ask me if I've seen the play or film The Crucible, and what I think of it. Miller created works of art, inspired by actual events, for his own artistic/political intentions. First produced on Broadway on January 22, 1953, the play was partly a response to the panic caused by irrational fear of Communism during the Cold War which resulted in the hearings by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities.1 In Miller's play and screenplay, however, it is a lovelorn teenager, spurned by the married man she loves, who fans a whole community into a blood-lust frenzy in revenge. This is simply not history. The real story is far more complex, dramatic, and interesting - and well worth exploring. Miller himself had some things to say about the relationship between his play and the actual historical event that are worth considering. In the Saturday Review in 1953, Henry Hewes quotes Miller as stating, "A playwright has no debt of literalness to history. Right now I couldn't tell you which details were taken from the records verbatim and which were invented." I, on the other hand, can tell you, and that is the purpose of this essay.

Whether this activity is worthwhile or not really depends on what one wants from the play or movie. I find that many people come across this unusual episode in American history through Miller's story, and if they want to start learning what "really" happened in 1692, they have a hard time distinguishing historical fact from literary fiction because Miller's play and characters are so vivid, and he used the names of real people who participated in the historical episode for his characters. Miller wrote a "Note on the Historical Accuracy of this Play" at the beginning of the Viking Critical Library edition:

This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian. Dramatic purposes have sometimes required many characters to be fused into one; the number of girls involved in the 'crying out' has been reduced; Abigail's age has been raised; while there were several judges of almost equal authority, I have symbolized them all in Hathorne and Danforth. However, I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history. The fate of each character is exactly that of his historical model, and there is no one in the drama who did not play a similar - and in some cases exactly the same - role in history

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