The Crucible

Historical accuracy

In 1953, the year the play debuted, Miller wrote, "The Crucible is taken from history. No character is in the play who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692."[14] This does not appear to be accurate as Miller made both deliberate changes and incidental mistakes. Abigail Williams' age was increased from 11 or 12[15] to 17, probably to add credence to the backstory of Proctor's affair with Abigail. John Proctor himself was 60 years old in 1692, but portrayed as much younger in the play, for the same reason.[16][17]

Miller claimed, 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".[16] However, this conflates Danforth with the historical and extremely influential figure of William Stoughton, who is not a character and is only briefly mentioned in the play. Both men were subsequent Deputy Governors, but it was Stoughton (who, alone among the judges, was a bachelor who never married[18]) who ordered further deliberations after the jury initially acquitted Rebecca Nurse. He refused to ever acknowledge that the trials had been anything other than a success, and was infuriated when Governor Phips (whose own wife, somehow, had been named as a possible witch) ended the trials for good and released the prisoners.[19]

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.[20] In the play, Thomas and especially Ann Putnam are disconsolate over the fact that only one of their children has survived to adolescence. In real life, the Putnams (who both died in 1699) were survived by ten of their twelve children, including Ann Jr. Thomas Putnam's conduct during the witch trial hysteria has been amply documented to have been almost entirely due to financial motivations and score-settling, something the play only makes reference to after introducing the Putnams' fictional deceased offspring as part of the plot narrative.[21][22]

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.[23] 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 jurors, accusers, survivors, and judges.[24] Rev. Parris issued his first in a series of apologies on November 26, 1694, and was removed from his position in 1697.[25] In 1698, Hale finished composing a lengthy essay about Salem that was reprinted by Burr in 1914.[26]

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]


Miller originally called the play Those Familiar Spirits[27] before renaming it as The Crucible. The word "crucible" is defined as a severe test or trial; alternately, a container in which metals or other substances are subjected to high temperatures. 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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