The Crucible

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The Crucible
Written by Arthur Miller
Characters Abigail Williams
Reverend John Hale
Reverend Samuel Parris
John Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor
Thomas Danforth
Mary Warren
Date premiered January 22, 1953
Place premiered Martin Beck Theatre, New York City
Original language English
Subject Salem witch trials
Genre Tragedy, Drama
Setting Salem, Massachusetts
IBDB profile

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play based on the actual events that, in 1692, 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 as a response to McCarthyism,[1] when the US government blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was to be questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of "contempt of Congress" for failing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.[2] It was first performed at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production, which Miller felt was stylized and too cold,[3] were largely hostile, although the New York Times noted "a powerful play [in a] driving performance".[4] Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 "Best Play" Tony Award.[5] A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic.[6] Today it is studied in high schools and universities, because of its status as a revolutionary work of theater and for its allegorical relationship to testimony given before the House Committee On Un-American Activities during the 1950s. It is a central work in the canon of American drama.[7]


Plot summary

Act I

The play begins with Reverend Parris praying over his daughter Betty who lies unconscious in her bed. Through conversations between Parris and his niece Abigail Williams, and between several girls, the audience learns that the girls, including Abigail and Betty, were engaged in occultist activities in a nearby forest. These, apparently, were led by Tituba, Parris's slave from Barbados. On catching them in the act, Parris jumped from a bush, startling them. Betty promptly fainted and has not yet recovered. During this session, Abigail also drank chicken blood in a bid to kill Elizabeth Proctor. She tells the girls that she will murder anyone who utters a word about what happened. The townspeople do not know exactly what the girls were up to, but there are rumors of witchcraft.

John Proctor enters the room in which Betty lies, and Abigail, otherwise alone, tries to seduce him. Proctor, a farmer, had an affair with her a while ago, but now he wants to forget it, and duly rejects her advances.

Reverend John Hale is summoned to look upon Betty and research the incident. He is an expert in occultist phenomena and is eager to put into practice his acquired learning. He questions Abigail, who accuses Tituba of being a witch. Tituba, afraid of being hanged, professes faith in God and accuses Goodwives Good and Osborne of witchcraft. Abigail and Betty, who has by now woken up, claim to have been bewitched and profess their faith in God, too. They sing out a list of people whom they claim to have seen with the Devil.

Act II

Elizabeth questions Proctor to find out if he is late for dinner because of a visit to Salem. She tells him that their servant, Mary Warren, has been there all day. Having previously forbidden Mary from going to Salem, Proctor becomes angry, but Elizabeth explains that the servant has been named an official of the court. Proctor learns that four magistrates have been named to the General Court and that the Deputy Governor of the Province is serving as judge. The court has thus far jailed fourteen people for witchcraft.

Elizabeth tells Proctor that he must go to Salem and reveal that Abigail is a fake. He hesitates and then declares that he cannot prove what she told him because they were alone when they talked. Elizabeth becomes upset because he has not previously mentioned this time alone with Abigail. Proctor believes that she is accusing him of resuming his affair. An argument ensues.

Mary returns. Proctor is furious that she has been in Salem all day, but she advises that she will be gone every day because of her duties as an official of the court. Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet that she made while in court, and tells the couple that thirty-nine people are now in jail, and that Goody Osborne will hang for her failure to confess to witchcraft. Proctor is angry because he believes that the court is condemning people without solid evidence. Mary states that Elizabeth has also been accused, but, as she herself defended her, the court dismissed the accusation.

Elizabeth tells Proctor that Abigail wants to dispose of her. She believes that Abigail will accuse her of witchcraft and then have her executed because she wants to take her place as Proctor's wife. Elizabeth asks Proctor to speak to Abigail and tell her that no chance exists of him marrying her if anything happens to his wife. Elizabeth and Proctor argue once more.

Reverend Hale visits the Proctor house and tells Elizabeth and Proctor that the former has been named in court. Hale questions Proctor about his poor church attendance and asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. When Proctor gets stuck on the tenth, Elizabeth reminds him of the commandment forbidding adultery.[8]

Proctor tells Hale that Abigail has admitted to him that witchcraft was not responsible for the children's ailments. Hale asks Proctor to testify as much in court and then questions Elizabeth to find out if she believes in witches. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive and tell Proctor, Hale and Elizabeth that the court has arrested both of their wives for witchcraft.

Not long after, Ezekiel Cheever and Marshal Herrick turn up with a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. Cheever discovers the poppet that Mary made for Elizabeth, together with a needle inside it. Cheever tells Proctor and Hale that Abigail has charged Elizabeth with attempted murder. Cheever reports that, after apparently being stabbed with a needle while eating at Parris' house, Abigail accused Elizabeth's spirit of stabbing her.

Mary tells Hale that she made the doll in court that day and stored the needle inside it. She also states that Abigail saw this because she sat next to her. The men still take Elizabeth into custody, and Hale, Corey and Nurse leave.

Proctor tells Mary that she must testify in court against Abigail. Mary replies that she fears doing this because Abigail and the others will turn against her. Proctor discovers that Mary knows about his affair.


The court questions and accuses Martha Corey of witchcraft. Giles Corey interrupts the court proceedings and declares that Thomas Putnam is "reaching out for land!" He is removed from the courtroom and taken to the vestry room.

Judge Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, Ezekiel Cheever, and Parris enter the vestry room. Corey says that he owns 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land, and a large quantity of timber. Corey also states that the court is holding his wife Martha by mistake. Corey tells Danforth that he had asked Hale why Martha read books, but he never accused her of witchcraft.

Corey and Francis Nurse state that they both have evidence for the court. They have been waiting for three days to present the evidence, but to no avail. Danforth responds that they must file the appropriate paperwork for the court to hear them. Nurse tells Danforth the girls are pretending.

Act IV

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, 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 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.
Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth 
Mister Danforth is a pretentious and selfish judge, who is extremely loyal to the rules and regulations of his position. Public opinion and his acute adherence to the law are most important to him. He seems to secretly know that the witch trials in Salem are all a lie yet will not release any of the prisoners because he is afraid of being viewed as weak and having his theocratic reputation undermined. When Proctor knowingly defies his authority by refusing to lie and sign a public confession saying that he is guilty of witchcraft and accusing others, Danforth immediately sentences to hang along with the other prisoners including Rebecca Nurse.

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.
"He were not hanged. He would not answer yes or no 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 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
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.[citation needed]
George Herrick
Herrick was the Marshal of Salem and in the play is responsible for bringing the defendants before the court. In some productions the character is named John Willard, a reference to the historical Constable John Willard who came to disbelieve the allegations and refused to make any further arrests. He himself was then arrested, charged with witchcraft and hanged.
Mercy Lewis
Servant to the Putnams. One of the girls caught in the woods with Abigail and Betty by Reverend Parris. Described in the text as being "a fat, sly, merciless girl of eighteen." She and the other girls browbeat Mary Warren into silence about what she saw in the woods (Act 1). She is also one of the girls who testifies in court. Later in Act 3, she and the other girls claim to be under the influence of Mary Warren's spirit, which causes them to see and feel various phenomena.

Historical accuracy

In creating a work for the stage Miller made no attempt to represent the real, historical personalities of his characters: he developed them to meet the needs of the play. Indeed, in most cases the surviving records give no indication upon which he could draw. He fused certain characters into one: for example the judges "Hathorne" and "Danforth" are representative of several judges in the case, and the number of young girls involved was similarly reduced. Abigail's age was increased to allow the plot device of the relationship with Proctor. Most of the historical roles, however, are accurately represented and the judicial sentences pronounced on the characters are as given to the real-life counterparts.[9]

The action of the play takes place only seventy years after the community arrived as settlers from Britain, and the characters would have had retained strong regional dialects from the home country. Miller ignored this, giving all his characters the same colloquialisms, such as "Goody" for good wife, and drawing on the rhythms and speech patterns of the King James Bible to achieve the effect of historical perspective he wanted.[1]

Film adaptations

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.


  1. ^ a b Blakesley, Maureen (1992). "The language of the play". The Crucible, a play in four acts. Oxford, England: Heinemann. pp. xv. ISBN 0435232819. 
  2. ^ Loftus, Jospeh A. (June 1, 1957). "Miller Convicted in Contempt Case". New York Times. Retrieved on 27 November 2008. 
  3. ^ Abbotson, Susan C. W. (2005). Masterpieces of 20th-century American Drama. Westport CT: Greenwood. pp. 78. ISBN 0313332231. 
  4. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (January 23, 1953). "The Crucible". New York Times. Retrieved on November 27, 2008. 
  5. ^ Staff. "The Crucible". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved on November 27, 2008. 
  6. ^ Griffin, John; Griffin, Alice (October, 1953). "Arthur Miller Discusses The Crucible". in Roudané, Matthew C.. Conversations with Arthur Miller. Jackson MS: University Press of Mississippi. pp. 24. ISBN 0878053239. 
  7. ^ Wilmeth, Don B.; Bigsby, C. W. E. (1998). The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 415. ISBN 0521669596. 
  8. ^ The fact that Proctor forgets this particular commandment creates irony because the audience, along with Proctor and Elizabeth, realises that he also forgot the commandment when he had his affair with Abigail. As he has failed to incorporate it into his life, it fails to remain in his memory.
  9. ^ Miller, Arthur (1992). "A note on the historical accuracy of the play". in Blakesley, Maureen. The Crucible, a play in four acts. Oxford, England: Heinemann. xvii. ISBN 0435232819. 

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