Theatre: The Crucible

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 play, although he is the Bigger Bad in there as well, Danforth comes off as a conflicted well intentioned extremist who only refuses the pardons because he believes it would cause a panic and lead to anarchy, and upholding the law is of the utmost importance to him. In the film, however, he's a psychotic knight templar hanging 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. In this case, it is due his characterization was merged with the character of Judge Hathorne in the original play, whose personality was like that. Although Hathorne is in the film as well, he is a total nonentity since his characterization has been taken on by Danforth.
  • Artistic License History: At the very beginning of the screenplay, there is a disclaimer that Miller changed things around and dismissed several facts from the original events for dramatic effect. For example, Abigail and Proctor are 17 and 35 in the story, and have an affair. In reality, Abigail was 12, while Proctor was 61.
  • The Atoner:
    • Proctor, for his affair with Abigail.
    • Hale at the end, for his part in the trials.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: John and Elizabeth realize this at the end.
  • Based on a True Story
  • Big Bad: Abigail. Just about everything that goes wrong in the story is caused by her. Pretty impressive for a teenage girl...
  • Bigger Bad: Danforth, even Miller himself thinks so.
  • Big "Shut Up!": Judge Danforth does this to Reverend Parris when he's about to question Mary Warren.
  • 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.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
  • Composite Character: Danforth's a mix of several judges.
  • Consummate Liar: Abigail.
  • Cool Old Guy: Giles Corey, both here and in real life.
  • Cool Old Lady: Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse.
  • Corrupt Church: Well, when you have a guy like Parris in charge...
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Thomas Putnam, who profits from his daughter's accusations by purchasing the then-forfeited property of the accused.
  • Dark Messiah: Abigail.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Proctor.
    • Danforth too:
    Giles: This is a hearing; you cannot clap me for contempt of a hearing.
    Danforth: Oh, it is a proper lawyer!
  • Defiant to the End:
    • Giles ("More weight!"). This happened in real life, too.
    • 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, Hale fails to save a single life and blames himself for each one taken, 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).
  • Evil Plan: Abigail plans to use hysteria powered Batman Gambits to secure her crush and a powerbase. She loses both through overreaching.
  • Failure Hero: Reverend Hale. Despite his reputation as a witchcraft specialist and his being called to Salem in the hopes of disproving any notion of supernatural activity, he is duped by Abigail and the other girls into believing it. As a member of the court, his role is to provide wisdom and knowledge, but his advice falls on deaf ears due to Abigail's manipulations, and he quits when he sees the innocent John Proctor accused. By the final scene, his only goal is to have the condemned prisoners falsely confess so that they might live, but he fails to convince a single one of them. He fails completely, and doesn't even get to be a Doomed Moral Victor, but rather lives on with the guilt of knowing he played a major part in so many deaths.
  • Foil:
    • Abigail is bad and beautiful while Elizabeth is good, plain, and follows her Puritan beliefs. Mary contrasts Abigail in terms of plainness and weakness.
    • Hale and Parris as well. Parris is sycophantic, corrupt, greedy, and self-serving, while Hale is empathetic, compassionste, and selfless. Ironically, by the end of the play they are working together for the exact same goal, for entirely different reasons.
  • A God Am I: Abigail refers to herself as "God's Finger."
  • God Is Dead: Proctor declares this near the end during his breakdown in a very hamish manner.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Hale and Parris, respectively, take this role when questioning Tituba in the first scene. Parris is verbally abusive and even threatens to whip Tituba to death before Hale tries a calmer approach.
  • Hanging Judge: Danforth and Hathorne become something very similar over the course of the play. Danforth is even called out as such by Giles:
    Giles: He means to hang us all!
  • Happily Married: The Nurses. The Coreys seem to be as well, despite Giles' innocent accidental accusation of witchcraft against his wife.
  • Heel Face Door Slam: Mary tries to testify against Abigail, but her weakness wins out and she ends up accusing Proctor of witchcraft instead.
  • Heel Realization: Hale.
  • Heroic BSOD: Mary gets two. She's actually able to fight off the first one, but the second one completely breaks her and makes her testify against Proctor.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Proctor, who wasn't anything special in real life.
    • 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.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Danforth is a composite of several judges, while ironically the one actually named Danforth fell more on Hale's side of things and helped to stop the witch trials.
  • Hope Spot: When Proctor admits to adultery with Abigail, Danforth briefly shows willingness to reconsider. Then Proctor's wife lies to protect his reputation...
  • Hysterical Woman: Mary.
  • 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, and any witch trial in general, 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.
  • I Won't Say I'm Guilty
  • Jerkass: Proctor starts out this way. However, he ends up being so broken that it ironically turns him into a far nobler man.
  • Kangaroo Court
  • Karma Houdini: Whether or not Abigail is this is debatable. For being the ring leader of the affair that ruined many people's lives and killed several others, 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.
  • Kids Are Cruel
  • 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.
  • Knight Templar: Danforth and the judges.
  • Last Kiss: John and Elizabeth, immediately before he is escorted out of the prison and hanged.
  • 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 his sons can inherit.
  • Love Triangle: Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • Madness Mantra:
    Tituba: I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
    • Also, Mary's "I cannot, I cannot, I cannot..."
  • Manipulative Bitch: Abigail.
  • 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.
  • Morton's Fork: Nearly anything you might have done wrong (wittingly or not) is evidence that you're a witch. If you confess to witchcraft, you'll be burned. If you deny it, you'll be hanged.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Abigail attempts this on Elizabeth.
  • 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 says that John didn't have an affair with Abigail, thus undercutting his attempt to undermine Abigail's credibility. As they lead her out, John tells her this, as he'd already confessed to it. 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Proctor. Also, Rebecca.
  • 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.
  • Rules Lawyer: Danforth mocks Giles as one, which later turns out to be true.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Hale reaches this point at the end, actively advising the accused to confess to witchcraft so that they'll live, even though he knows they're innocent.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Hale after Proctor's "God is dead" line.
    Hale: I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court! *leaves and slams the door behind him*
  • Smug Snake: Which characters fit this depends a lot on the actors and director, but it's hard to imagine Parris as anything except this.
  • The Sociopath: Abigail again. Given her past, it isn't too surprising she'd be completely messed up in the head.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Abigail just can't listen when Proctor tells her the affair is over.
  • A Taste of the Lash: In the movie adaptation, this is used on Tituba in front of Abigail and others.
  • Thanatos Gambit:
    • 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 it and was still convicted (almost certain to be the case) then he'd also 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.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Giles Corey is tortured to death by having stones piled onto him but refuses to give either a plea or a confession, meaning that his property would pass to his children.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Parris has one when Proctor refuses to sign a confession.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Danforth and the judges start out this way, and it all goes downhill from there...
  • Wham Line: "I say-I say GOD IS DEAD!!!"
  • Witch Hunt: Literally.
  • With Us or Against Us: "A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it."
  • 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.
  • Yandere: Abigail.

Alternative Title(s):

The Crucible 1996