The Crucible

by Arthur Miller - directed by Peter Allen

ACE Centre, Nelson - 26 - 29 March, 2014tn-tc

Set in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692

Salem's minister Revd Samuel Parris prays for his 10-year-old daughter Betty, who with other local girls had been dancing at night in the forest. Parris is concerned that, led by his black slave Tituba, the girls had 'trafficked with spirits'. At first, his beautiful niece Abigail Williams denies witchcraft. When Thomas Putnam and his wife declare that they have been bewitched, Abigail admits that Tituba and the Putnams' daughter Ruth conjured spirits, but she persuades the other girls to remain silent about Abigail's curse on John Proctor's wife. As Proctor's servant, she had had an affair with him, until his wife threw her out of the house, but she still longs for him. Rebecca Nurse, a respected grandmother, manages to soothe little Betty.

A neighbouring minister Revd John Hale, an expert in witchcraft, interrogates Tituba and the girls. Under severe interrogation, Tituba confesses to witchcraft and names local women in league with the Devil. Abigail hysterically joins in, denouncing more women as witches. Betty sits up and joins in the denunciations. The marshal is summoned. A week later, the town court is trying witches. At their home, Proctor's wife Elizabeth urges him to report that Abigail had initially denied any witchcraft, since now even the gentle Rebecca Nurse is accused of being a witch. To Proctor's horror, Elizabeth is also arrested when a doll pierced by a needle is found in her home. He realizes that Abigail is plotting to have her condemned so that she can have Proctor to herself. Proctor gets his servant girl to admit that the doll was hers and goes before Deputy Governor Danforth to get Elizabeth released. When Abigail pretends to be bewitched, Proctor admits to his affair with her and declares 'it is a whore's vengeance'. However, Elizabeth when questioned denies the affair to protect Proctor's reputation.

Proctor denounces the court and is arrested. Hale walks out in disgust. Although doubts increase when Betty steals her father's money and runs away with Abigail, Danforth insists that Proctor and the witches must be hanged. Proctor is offered life in exchange for a false confession, but he refuses, and goes bravely to his death.

Notes

This is arguably the best-known historical drama of the 20th century and secured Miller's reputation as one of America's leading playwrights. Although it clearly refers to the McCarthyite witch-hunt of Communists in the USA in the early 1950s, its concern with justice and the dignity of the individual at a time of hysterical suspicion transcends mere topicality. Proctor is just an ordinary individual, but his moral courage, like that of Miller before the House Un-American Activities Committee, lifts him to heroic status.