The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller, published in 1953 and adapted by Miller for the screen in 1996.The play tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-93. Though, of course, Miller invents his own characters for dramatic purposes and because not much is known of the actual personalities involved.In Salem, the villagers' way of life is deeply rooted in Puritan ideals, and the townspeople firmly hold to the conviction that anyone who opposes them is Satanic and must be purged of the devil. Ironically, the same Puritans who escaped religious persecution in England enforce it here.One night, some girls, led by Abigail Williams, sneak out into the woods to engage in witchcraft. The girls are caught in the act, and when one goes into shock after the whole ordeal, Abigail is cornered; she, consequently, blames Reverend Samuel Parris' slave, Tituba, for perpetrating the acts. Tituba catches on to Abigail's ruse and blames a bunch of townspeople in order to save her own skin, and soon, every girl blames someone she dislikes, claiming she saw Satan. Deputy Governor Danforth, Reverend John Hale, and Judge Hathorne, all of whom are respected men in Massachusetts, are called to try those indicted for committing the crimes and to purge the evil of Satan within the town.Abigail additionally blames Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor, a respected man in the town whom Abigail once slept with, out of envy and spite. Proctor considers himself a fraud for committing adultery, which is known only to his wife and Abigail herself, and cannot bear to see his wife convicted. During the unjust trial, during which numerous people are convicted unless they provide names of other witches, Proctor finally admits that he slept with Abigail and sacrifices his good name to save others. He hopes that this will show that Abigail's accusations are a sham.Abigail and Elizabeth, however, both refuse to corroborate his testimony, and Proctor is convicted of witchcraft after being accused by his servant, Mary Warren. In an attempt to justify the means of his trial, Danforth strikes a deal with Proctor that if the man confesses and accuses others, he will be freed; after all, Proctor is a respected man, and his words carry much weight. In the climax of the play, Proctor rips up his confession and opts instead to be sent to the gallows; he has truly begun to see himself in an unholy light and rather than receive the judgment of the hypocritical Danforth, Proctor wants to receive the divine judgment of God. Proctor is hanged at the end of the play.In the epilogue, Miller remarks that the Salem Witch Trials were eventually condemned as severe atrocities, and the theocracy in Salem fell apart.The Crucible was likely written in response to the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who became notorious for his excessive zeal in rooting out Communist sympathizers. Miller lampshades the irony in the fact that the dichotomy between good and evil, throughout history, transcends religion and manifests itself into various ideas, including the red scare. Miller says that he has no doubt that people practiced witchcraft in Salem; however, much like the fear of Communism, mass hysteria is perpetuated through propaganda and turned into something worse than what it really is.
The Crucible provides examples of:
Adaptational Villainy: In the original story, Danforth comes off as a conflicted well intentioned extremist who only refuses the pardons because he believes it would cause a panic. In the film, however, he's a psychotic knight templarhanging judge who blatantly enjoys sending people he knows are innocent to their deaths, and openly insults anyone who questions him or sympathizes with the people he murders.
Artistic License - History: The real life Abigail Williams was 12 years old at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, rather than 17. Also, as far as anyone knows, she was not involved in a sexual relationship with John Proctor. These two facts take a back seat to the rule of drama.
Big Bad: Abigail. Just about everything that goes wrong in the story is caused by her. Pretty impressive for a teenage girl...
Big "Shut Up!": Judge Danforth does this to Reverend Parris when he's about to question Mary Warren.
"EVERYONE SHUT UP!"
Betty and Veronica: Prior to the start of the play, John (Archie) was married to Elizabeth (Betty) while having an affair with Abigail (Veronica).
Break the Cutie: In the beginning, Reverend Hale is full of exuberance and intellectual glee, which fade significantly by Act Two. This is shattered completely by Proctor's death.
"Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up."
Broken Bird: Abigail. She saw her parents murdered right in front of her when she was just a child. After that tragedy, she was raised by her greedy uncle (who just so happened to be the clergy) and was used by a man she was in love with, only to be later told by said man that she was nothing to him. Not to mention that with the rumors of her no longer being a virgin, she would have never been married or hired.
Burn the Witch!: Averted. The suspected witches are hanged. This is accurate, as the suspected witches were indeed hanged in real life.
Chewbacca Defense: When George Jacobs, a feeble, elderly man incapable of walking without sticks, is accused of climbing into a girl's room and performing witchcraft, he states that this is impossible given his health. The court then states he could have very well sent his spirit into the room using witch powers. Jacobs has no idea how to respond to that, which they claim proves his guilt.
Rebecca, Martha, and Proctor all refuse to plea guilty and opt to hang, instead. In the film, they go out reciting the Lord's prayer.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Proctor attempts to puncture Abigail's veneer of righteousness by telling Danforth that she and her fellows were found dancing in the woods; a mortified Danforth repeats "dancing" as if he had accused her of murder.
Doomed Moral Victor: All of the people accused of being witches who decline to save themselves by "confessing" are this.
Downer Ending: Let's see, Proctor, Martha and Rebecca are hanged, Giles Corey is pressed to death, their loved ones are left behind, Tituba, Sarah Good and Mary are driven to madness and Abigail, who caused the whole mess in the first place, gets away with everything. Not exactly the happiest ending.
Could be seen as a bittersweet ending as well, since Proctor ultimately redeems himself (and the text version ends by stating that the power of the theocracy that made this possible was effectively broken by the aftermath).
Although averted with Giles, as he really did die in real life as the play portrayed, allowing his sons to keep the land that he would leave to them. By confessing or denying the accusation, his land would have been forfeit, but instead he kept silent, never confirming or denying the accusations, only asking for more weight to be pressed on him, until he was crushed to death.
Infant Immortality: The court can't legally hang a pregnant Elizabeth until she has her baby.
Insane Troll Logic: Quite a bit against the people accused of witchcraft. For example, George Jacobs, a decrepit old man who can't walk without sticks, is accused of having enter the girls rooms through their windows. He points out that this is impossible given his health. The court responds by pointing out that his spirit could have done it. Sadly, this is Truth in Television; many people during the Salem Witch Trials had to contend with insane logic that couldn't be argued with.
Inspector Javert: Danforth, who vows he would hang 10,000 men for challenging the law and never be swayed.
Karma Houdini: Whether or not Abigail is this is debatable. For being the ring leader of the affair, permanent exile from Salem sounds like a minor punishment. On the other hand, it is implied in the play that Abigail prostituted herself and didn't live to see the age of 18. The real Abigail was very young and died at a young age.
Knight in Sour Armor: Hale by the end of the play. Starting off an intellectual, he changes from idealistic to completely cynical. In the end, he attempts to convince Goody Proctor to persuade John to abandon his moral ideals so that he may live, reflecting Hale's own change in paradigms from valuing religious law to simply valuing that a human being makes it out alive, regardless of the moral cost. It doesn't work.
Last Kiss: John and Elizabeth, immediately before he is escorted out of the prison and hanged.
Life Imitates Art: Three years after the play was produced, Miller was summoned before HUAC; he refused to name names, and was sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress, though this was overturned on appeal.
Loophole Abuse: Giles knows that he will be put to death if he confesses, and that if he pleads innocent, he will not be believed. Therefore, he refuses to plead at all, knowing that he will die regardless, and that by refusing to plead, his land will not be forfeit, and instead revert to his sons.
May-December Romance: Arguably Abigail and Proctor, since it's hinted that Proctor did actually have feelings for Abigail at one point.
Meta Casting: The film version casts Paul Scofield as Danforth; Scofield's most famous film role was as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, who faced much the same choice between moral compromise and death as Proctor and the others do at Danforth's hands.
Narcissist: Abigail's ego makes Jupiter look like a speck of hydrogen.
Nude Nature Dance: At least one of the girls at the beginning dances naked in the woods, and several other girls are accused of doing this as well.
Oh Crap: Elizabeth chooses to lie for her husband and claim he didn't have an affair with Abigail, choosing to hang for witchcraft instead of expose his crime of adultery. As they lead her out, John tells her that she lied for nothing as he'd already confessed. Elizabeth's response is a horrified "Oh, God."
One Steve Limit: Ann Putnam is renamed to Ruth due to her mother also being named Ann. In the original play, she becomes a he who must not be seen because of this despite being one of the more famous accusers. Strangely, Betty Parris' name is unchanged despite Elizabeth Proctor being a main character (they do, however, take care to refer to each always as Betty and Elizabeth respectively).
Averted in the film, where Putnam and Danforth share the first name Thomas.
Averted with the name John: John Proctor, John Hale, John Willard, etc.
Our Acts Are Different: There are fours acts in the play, and intermission is taken in between Acts Two and Three. However, there is also a short scene, sometimes cut, between Proctor and Abigail that takes place in between Acts Two and Three. When included, it is frequently placed right after the intermission.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Hale, who listens to Proctor and the other townspeople at every turn, and even tries to back them up when they appeal to Danforth in Act Three. Even after this fails, he genuinely tries to get the convicted to confess purely because he wants to save them.
A Taste of the Lash: In the movie adaptation, this is used on Tituba in front of Abigail and others.
Thanatos Gambit / Too Kinky to Torture: Giles intentionally keeps on saying "more weight" while pressed so he won't lose his property, so he gave his life to protect his name for his children.
To make it more awesome, his Thanatos Gambit broke the Xanatos Gambit of his accusers. If he confessed, then as a witch his property is confiscated, but if he denied then his "lie" would still cause him to lose his property. His third option exploits a loophole. He didn't break it entirely because he still died but he destroyed the main goal.
What makes this truly awesome is that this particular part of the story really did happen.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While parts of the play are very historically accurate, many significant details were changed, such as the fact that Abigail was 12, Proctor was 61, there was no affair between them, and Proctor was hanged before Giles was pressed.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Abigail sticks a needle in a poppet (doll) and tells Mary to give it to Elizabeth to frame her for using witchcraft (though Mary's involvement is left ambiguous). She goes as far as to stab herself with a needle to make it believable.