The Crucible

Historicity

In 1953, the same year the play had its debut, Miller wrote, The Crucible is taken from history. No character is in the play who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692."[13] This statement does not bear close scrutiny. Miller seems to have made both deliberate changes and accidental mistakes. As an example of a deliberate change, Abigail Williams' age was increased from 11 or 12[14] to 17, probably to add credence to the backstory of Proctor's affair with Abigail.[15][16] Miller also notes, in "A note on the historical accuracy of this play", that 'while there were several judges of almost equal authority, I have symbolized them all in Hathorne and Danforth.'[15] In doing so, he blurs the line between the historical Danforth and a figure who does not appear in the play, Stoughton. Both were subsequent Deputy Governors, but Stoughton was the strong and forceful leader of the trials and ally of Cotton Mather.[17] Danforth did not sit on the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In fact he is recorded as being critical of the conduct of the trials, and played a role in bringing them to an end.[18]

In the 1953 essay, Journey to The Crucible, Miller writes of visiting Salem and feeling like the only one interested in what really happened in 1692.[19] However a long line of historians had gone before Miller attempting to record and tease apart the complexities of what took place at Salem, and certain battle lines had long before been drawn: Calef vs. Mather; Upham vs. Poole, sceptics or scholars vs. the faithful and the religious establishment. Miller's imaginings were largely plausible and his work is true in spirit — the court proceedings were, if anything, wilder and more histrionic than depicted — but Miller's changes and haphazard scholarship seem lamentable, given the squabbling that has long taken place over various interpretations of the numerous details and facts. Many of Miller's characters were based on people who had little in the public record other than their statements from the trials, but others survived to expand, recant, or comment on the role they played at Salem, including jury members, accusers, confessors, and judges.[20] Parris issued his first in a series of apologies November 26, 1694 and was removed from his position in 1697.[21] In 1698, Hale finished composing a lengthy essay about Salem that was reprinted by Burr in 1914.[22]

Language of the period

The play's action takes place 70 years after the community arrived as settlers from Britain. The people on whom the characters are based would have retained strong regional dialects from their home country. Miller gave all his characters the same colloquialisms, such as "Goody" or "Goodwife", and drew on the rhythms and speech patterns of the King James Bible to achieve the effect of historical perspective he wanted.[1]

Title

Miller originally called the play Those Familiar Spirits,[23] before retitling it as The Crucible. The word "crucible" is contextually defined as a container in which metals or other substances are subjected to high temperatures. Each character is metaphorically a metal subjected to the heat of the surrounding situation. The characters whose moral standards prevail in the face of death, such as John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, symbolically refuse to sacrifice their principles or to falsely confess.


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