The crucible


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By Arthur Miller
A Unit of Study for Higher English
Carluke High School

By Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
crucible noun

1. a vessel in which substances are heated to high temperatures so that the pure substance rises to the top and impurities are left at the bottom

2. a severe trial or test

  1. Historical Contexts

  1. Contemporary Contexts

  1. Character

  1. Language

  1. Plot Structure

  1. Textual Analysis

  1. Themes

8. Appendix: Essay Response
Summaries developed from RSC study guide.

Themes section developed from unit of study produced by Hamilton Grammar School.

Compiled, with activities and additional study materials, by D Falconer, 2007 & 2009.

Salem Witch Trials – 1690s
The story of The Crucible is based on real events that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 where over 20 people were executed and over 100 imprisoned – most of whom were certainly innocent – following trials for witchcraft.
The Puritans

Salem had been settled by a sect of Christians known as Puritans, who left the shores of England earlier in the 17th Century, having been persecuted, to follow their strict way of life in the ‘New World’. The play is prefixed by Arthur Miller’s own note on the historical accuracy of the play explaining a certain degree of licence he took in shaping the characters in the play from the actual characters they represent in history. Nevertheless, his aim was to show ‘the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history’ and Miller used historical documents and records of the trial proceedings to create a very rich sense of the events of the time.

The society of the Puritans was known for its rigid morality – a theocracy with the church and the law being one and the same. They had a literal interpretation of the Bible and believed that their practices safeguarded the New Jerusalem (hence the name Salem) - in covenant with God. Their ways were characterised by self-denial, self discipline, purposefulness and determination, and an aversion to anything which resembled ‘vain enjoyment’ – therefore activities such as theatre, dance and music were forbidden, and they did not celebrate Christmas. From arriving in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620, the Puritan community had fought against persecution from other white settlers and had a physical battle with the wilderness, the climate and Native Americans to establish their European-style farms and towns. They lived with the constant threat of losing everything, which made them tense and paranoid.
Actual Historical Details
The characters and the events represented in The Crucible are mostly accurate to the actual events, although in the play Millar has made the girls much older, reduced the number of characters involved, placed greater emphasis on the role of John Proctor and implicated Proctor in an affair with Abigail. Nevertheless the turmoil of the play remains close to the actual occurrences.
In Salem January 1692, a group of teenage girls – including an 11 year old Abigail Williams and 9 year old Elizabeth Parris – seemed to be suffering from a strange illness after secretly attempting fortune telling with an egg and a wine glass. As well as fits, the girls suffered hallucinations, seeing spectral figures who beat, scratched and bit them – often leaving actual marks on their flesh – and struck them temporarily blind, deaf and dumb. It was blamed on witchcraft.

The aunt of one of the girls, Mary Walcott, visited the Reverend Samuel Parris’s Caribbean slave Tituba, who had knowledge of occult and voodoo, to concoct a spell. She produced a cake which was fed to the Parris family dog, killing it and relieving the effects of the witchcraft; now recovered, the girls were able to name their tormentors – Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. These women were simple and somewhat susceptible and had very low status in the community. Although the girls were probably pretending to cover up their game, the women actually implicated themselves by inventing elaborate confessions in court, such as meeting the Devil and having familiar spirits such as cats and other animals.

In court, hysteria seized the girls as they discovered their power in naming innocent people as accomplices of the Devil. They started to incriminate respectable church women such as Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse. The principal evidence presented to the court was of the girls being physically attacked by spirits of the accused witch. The girls could demonstrate this phenomenon in front of the court – for example the girls simulated Martha Corey attacking them in court by complaining of ‘being bitten’ every time Corey bit her lip in concentration.
In the court, evidence that would be excluded from modern courtrooms – hearsay, gossip, stories, and unsupported assertions – was admitted, whilst many protections that modern defendants take for granted were lacking in Salem: accused witches had no legal counsel, could not have witnesses testify under oath on their behalf, and had no formal avenues of appeal.  Defendants could, however, speak for themselves, produce evidence, and cross-examine their accusers. 
In the increasing panic and turmoil, more individuals became accused and others confessed – such as the sixty year old Bridget Bishop, who had previously been suspected and may well have been a witch.

Those who denounced the trials were also targeted. A tavern owner called John Proctor, who was in his sixties, was concerned at the way torture was being used to make people confess. He wrote to the minister of Boston asking for an investigation but he was ignored. He had employed one of the afflicted girls, Mary Warren, and claimed that the accusations were false, stating ‘if they [the girls] were let alone we should all be devils and witches quickly. They should be had to the whipping post.’ This resulted in Proctor himself being accused by Ann Putnam, Abagail Williams, Indian John (a slave of Samuel Parris who worked in a competing tavern), and eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Booth, who claimed that ghosts had come to her and that Proctor was a serial murderer.

Proctor fought back, accusing confessed witches of lying, complaining of torture, and demanding that his trial be moved to Boston.  The efforts proved futile. In August, he was hanged along with four others, including the Reverend George Burroughs who had been minister of Salem between 1680 and 1682 and who recited the Lord’s Prayer perfectly at the gallows – something it was thought witches could not do, resulting in disturbances among the crowd at his execution. Proctor’s wife Elizabeth was also accused but escaped hanging due to her pregnancy. By this time, twelve people had been executed in total and eight more were hanged before the trials came to an end in September. Doubts were developing as to how so many respectable people could be guilty. Reverend John Hale said,
"It cannot be imagined that in a place of so much knowledge, so many in so small compass of land should abominably leap into the Devil's lap at once." 
The educated elite of the colony began efforts to end the witch-hunting hysteria that had enveloped Salem, as notable individuals such as Increase Mather, in his work entitled Cases of Conscience, argued that it "were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned." Spectral evidence was excluded and it was recognised how great the influence of grudges, congregational feuds and property disputes were on the proceedings. Most of the remaining trials resulted in acquittals, and in time, all remaming accused or convicted witches were released, with posthumous pardons for those executed.
McCarthysim in 1950s USA

The witch trials of the late 17th Century have direct parallels with historical events of the United States in the 1950s and similar trials which were experienced by Arthur Miller.

In the Second World War (1939-1945) the United States and the Soviet Union were pragmatic allies in order to secure victory over Nazi Germany, however they became more openly suspicious of each other after the war was over due to the very different ideologies of their governments – the US government was a democracy which operated in the basis of capitalism (everyone making as much money as they can), whilst the Soviet Union was a dictatorship running along the lines of communism (everybody sharing in the whole country’s wealth so nobody is very rich or very poor). By the 1950s, the two countries were enemies vying for global influence and although they didn’t fight each other openly, though they did support rival factions in civil wars around the world – creating the period was known as the Cold War.
The US government were concerned about Communist infiltration in American society. By the 1950s, the fear of Communist thinking in America led to a senator called Joseph McCarthy being made chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. This committee’s job was to find Communists and Communist sympathisers living and working in the United States. The investigators were particularly interested in people working in the media who could have an influence on large numbers of people. The McCarthy trial hearings forced individuals to testify about their own loyalty as US citizens and what they know about the loyalty of others.

Earlier in his career, Arthur Miller had became involved with a circle working for greater understanding between the United States and the communist Soviet Union. Miller’s good friend, the film director Elias Kazan was questioned by the HUAC. He was told that he would not be prosecuted if he named others who might be communists. Kazan was frightened and gave the Committee names. He was ashamed of what he had done and invited Miller over to discuss his experience. Miller drove straight from Kazan’s house to Salem to begin researching for The Crucible. The Crucible came out in 1951. Six years later, in 1957, Miller was asked to testify in front of the HUAC and name friends and colleagues who might be communists. He refused and was convicted of contempt of court, just as John Proctor had done. The judgement was overturned the following year.


BBC article, interviewing Arthur Miller

Playwright Arthur Miller has said he believes his play The Crucible is as relevant today as it was on its release 50 years ago. Though The Crucible told the story of the Salem witch trials of 1692, the subtext was a comment on the McCarthy anti-Communism trials of the 1950s.
Miller told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme he felt there were echoes of the House Committee on Un-American Activities' investigations - founded on fear of the USSR - in many of the policies of the current Bush administration.
"This threat from abroad is a very useful way of holding onto power," Miller said. "We've got it now with Bush and Iraqis." Others in the US have pointed to what they see as parallels with Miller's play after George W Bush's comments after 11 September that people were either "with us or with the terrorists".

Some also see parallels between the detention without trial of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and the accusations of consorting with Satan that led to the executions in Miller's play.

"It was deeply, deeply frightening [in the 50s], and it's frightening now," Sarah Paretsky, a novelist and analysis of the McCarthy hearings, told Masterpiece. Ms Paretsky said some Americans felt afraid to speak out, despite questions of human rights abuses at the camp being raised by Amnesty International and other groups.

"People get frightened. It is why something like The Crucible will always work - it will be brought back in that kind of context."

Miller himself commented that he was reminded of how the play was received in 1953. "They would say to me, 'this is all fraudulent - there never were any witches, but there are Communists'," he said. "I could only say that in 1692, if you had stood on the main street of Salem, Massachusetts, and said 'there are no witches', I wouldn't want to be your insurance man."
Though Miller had won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for his play Death Of A Salesman, critics and audiences were wary - even nervous - of The Crucible when it opened in New York. "The country was at the height of its fears of an imminent Communist invasion, and some of the absurdities of that era were already showing themselves - people were being fired out of jobs in libraries, schools, Hollywood, everywhere - on suspicion of having sympathies with the Soviet Union," Miller recalled. "The wave of fear was palpable and I myself was scared, because it seemed to me that we were being manipulated. It was a tawdry time, it was a rotten time to be alive, and I tried through this play to throw some light on it," he said.
Certainly, even in America - with its constitutional commitment to free speech - Miller had to be careful, which was the reason for setting the play at the birth of the country. "He had to select a historical period so he could get away with the play, because it would never have been put on had Miller written it as of the time and as of the McCarthy period which he was writing about," Branch Marvin, a theatre producer who saw the original Crucible on Broadway, told Masterpiece. "He had to camouflage it, and he camouflaged it with history." During its initial run The Crucible often reduced audiences to nervous silence as, midway through, they worked out Miller's point and wondered how to react.

Eventually, three years after The Crucible's first performance, Miller was himself summoned before the House Committee, although interest in their work had declined somewhat.

"I'm convinced that they called me at that time because I was about to marry Marilyn Monroe, and they figured they'd get back on the front page," Miller said. "In fact the chairman of the committee offered to call off the hearing altogether a day before I was to appear if he could have his picture taken with Marilyn. Of course we didn't do it, and the next day I was promptly described as an enemy of the country."

But such an accusation seemingly had little long-term impact on The Crucible's success.

"I feel very attached to the play - it's something that probably and unfortunately is not going to be overwhelmed with irrelevance too soon," ended Miller

Summary of Characters

Reverend Parris

Worries about money and his reputation in the village. Preaches hellfire


Parris’s slave from Barbados. Naïve, superstitious and easily scared.

Abigail Williams

Orphan. 17 years old. Niece of Parris. Tauntress. Mistress of Proctor. Has power over the girls. Manipulative and selfish.



etty Parris

Daughter of Parris – sick at the beginning of the play. A frightened little girl, bored by the strict Puritan way of life.

Susanna Walcott

Like Betty, is easily led by Abigail.

Mercy Lewis

Putnam’s servant. Miller calls her ‘fat, sly’ and ‘merciless’

Mary Warren

The Proctors’ servant. Weak-willed and afraid of Abigail. Plants the evidence of witchcraft on Elizabeth Proctor. Taken to court to testify against Abigail and the other girls by John Proctor.

John Proctor

A Salem farmer in his 30s. Thinks hard about doing the right thing and is not afraid to challenge authority. A good man with human frailties and a hidden secret – his affair with Abigail – which leads to his downfall. The voice of reason in the play – challenges the court and becomes accused of witchcraft.



lizabeth Proctor

Cold woman who loves John though she finds it hard to show it. Cannot at first forgive her husband’s infidelity. Accused as a witch.

Francis Nurse

A sensible, solid man, older than the Proctors. Land dispute with the Putnams. Stands up for his wife when she’s accused of witchcraft

Rebecca Nurse

Mother of seven children. Well-known for her kindness and goodness – almost saintly – exemplary Christian. Accused as witch.

Martha Corey

A decent woman who loves reading – at her trial this is used as evidence that she is a witch.

Giles Corey

Old, garrulous man. Often sued his neighbours over petty issues. Inadvertently causes his wife to be accused as a witch. Dies under torture rather than lose his farm.

Thomas Putnam

A greedy, powerful landowner. Dislikes Reverend Parris. Vindictive and bitter. Leading village voice against the witched – motivated by past grievances.

Ann Putnam

A selfish, spiteful woman. Jealous of Rebecca Nurse’s many children –many of her own have died. Initiates the girls going to Tituba in the first place. Instigates the idea that Betty has been bewitched.

Sarah Good

A poor and confused but harmless woman who begs from door to door in Salem. Cracks under the strain of imprisonment.

Reverend Hale

A famous ‘witch-finder’. Smug and complacent in his knowledge and learning at first but learns to see through the lies. Tries to save the accused.

Deputy-Governor Danforth

Confident and expects obedience. More interested in maintaining control than finding out the truth.



udge Hathorne

A tough Boston lawyer. Likes everyone to think he’s right whether he is or not.

Marshal Herrick

A kind man who cares about his neighbours and is ashamed of his work for the court.

Ezekiel Cheever

A tailor from Salem. A timid man who finds confidence in his status as a court official.


A messenger with only one line.

Study Points
The main characters to examine are: Parris, Abigail Williams, Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, Reverend Hale, Mary Warren, and Danforth.
1. Character Mindmap

As you read the play, sketch a Mindmap of the central characters with a branch label for each one. Identify their role in the proceedings e.g. ‘accused’, ‘trying to cover up’, as well as their relationship to other characters and attitude to witchcraft. Then, jot down a set of words which characterise that person e.g. words to describe Abigail could include ‘manipulative’, ‘seductive’, ‘false innocence’ etc.

2. Subtexting the script

The ‘text’ is the actual lines printed on the page which are read by the actor on stage. The ‘subtext’ is the meaning that lies beneath what is actually said and what we infer about the character’s motivation, intentions and attitude. The ‘subtext’ is often what is left unsaid and the meaning might be ambiguous. Take a section of the text and in pairs decide for each line what you think might be a suitable subtext, then perform the scene (including the subtext) to the class. See below for an example:



Abigail: Uncle, the rumour of witchcraft is all about; I think you’d best go down and deny it yourself. The parlour’s packed with people, sir. I’ll sit with her.

Parris: (Pressed, turns on her) And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest?

This is a terrible situation and you should be seen to be doing something about it. I’m supporting you. If you go down, I’ll be able to talk privately to Betty about the truth.”
It’s your fault. You have put my reputation on the line and ruined my career in the village.”

2. Citing Quotations

Create a table for each character with two headings – “characteristic” and “quotation” – and search for quotations, either statements said by the character themselves or by other characters about them, which justify the characteristics you have commented on in your Mindmap, in addition to any others you can remark upon as you go along.

3. Categorising Characters

Map out several different character groupings according to their function in the drama e.g. to perpetuate accusations of witchcraft or to expose the truth. Another classification could be according to which characters experience moral growth, which remain rigid and which are unstable. Characters can also be grouped according to their relationship to a theme (see later).


Miller wanted the language of The Crucible to sound authentically of the seventeenth century. The old-fashioned language enriches the play considerably, adding colour and intensifying drama. There are several tricks Miller uses to give the language a seventeenth century flavour:

Double negatives: In modern Standard English you’re not supposed to use ‘not’, ‘no’, ‘none’ or ‘nothing’ twice in the same sentence, although this is permitted in certain regional dialects of English. Salem people do this all the time: ‘he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books’ (Susanna, Act 1) ‘I never had no wife that be so taken with books’ (Giles, Act 3)
Dropped endings: The farming folk of Salem drop the ‘g’s at the end of words: searchin’, nothin’, drivin’.
Individual old-fashioned words set the tone from the beginning: bid for ‘told’, unnatural for

‘supernatural’, witched for ‘bewitched’, sport for ‘fun’.

Biblical allusions: As Puritans, the characters often quote or allude to the Bible:
‘Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel.’ (Elizabeth, Act 2)

‘you should surely know that Cain were an upright man, and yet he did kill Abel’ (Parris, Act 3)

Imagery: Miller also includes some very striking images to bring events to lifein the audience’s imagination:

‘I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!’ (Abigail, Act 1)

‘…the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law…’ (Proctor, Act 2)

‘… an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes… (Danforth, Act 4)’

‘… the wind, God’s icy wind, will blow… (Proctor, Act 2)’

‘… the Devil is alive in Salem… (Hale, Act 2)’

Study Points

  1. How does the language used by characters convey their authority?

  2. Which characters mimic and manipulate the language of authority? How?

  3. Whose side is God on? Look closely at how characters allude to the Bible to support their views. How do characters use these references either to reclaim the truth or to manipulate others and maintain their own position?

  4. Are their any characters that see through the abuses of language in the play?

  5. How does the use of vivid imagery add to the drama? Look at key examples and explain.

The structure of The Crucible is carefully planned – this gives the play a feeling of constant onward movement. The dialogue is tightly focused too. There are no long, flowery, irrelevant speeches – everything that is said contributes to the audience’s understanding of the story.
The physical setting of the four Acts is increasingly gloomy and claustrophobic: a child’s attic bedroom, a low-ceilinged farmhouse kitchen, a heavily-timbered and dimly-lit meeting room, and finally a cold, dark, stinking jail cell.
There are several key plot strands which we can think of as being interwoven together e.g.

  • Strained marital relations between John Proctor and Elizabeth

  • Affair between John Proctor and Abigail

  • Abigail and the girls covering up their adolescent experimentation with the occult

  • Abigail taking advantage of the situation to win back John Proctor

  • Parris has poor relations with community and trying to maintain his reputation against all odds

  • Grievances within the community e.g. land disputes between Putnam and Coreys; Ann Putnam’s jealousy of Rebecca Nurse
  • The official investigation of witchcraft by Hale and trial by Hawthorne and Danforth

As the as the drama progresses, these strands become ‘knotted’ at decisive moments where it is not certain how the events will unravel. There are several of these moments or ‘cruxes’ in each act where the action is complicated somehow, tension is built up and released, and the drama reaches a climax. The plot structure is complex, events are highly charged and there are many twists. This ultimately creates the sense of intensity, hysteria, confusion and uncertainty that was characteristic of the times Miller chose to represent.

Act 1 – Betty Parris’s bedroom

  • Betty in bed in some kind of fit – doctor’s message suggests supernatural causes.

  • Parris questions Abigail on casting spells and dancing in the woods; questions her integrity and dismissal from employment with Proctor.

  • Putnams enter: daughter is in same state; Goody Putnam blames devil; Putnam persuades Parris to address parishioners.

  • Abigail, Betty and Mercy Lewis. Unable to wake Betty. Marry warren arrives – bullied and teased by Abigail and Mercy Lewis. Betty comes to, shouts at Abigail hysterically – she slaps Betty down and warns the girls to stick to the story about dancing.

  • Proctor Arrives, Mary sent home and Mercy exits. Abigail flirts with Proctor. He insists affair is over.

  • Betty sits up screaming – Parris, Putnams and Mercy Lewis rush in, followed by Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey. Rebecca suggests girls are play-acting to avoid getting telling off and Proctor is furious about claims of witchcraft. He is hostile towards Parris.

  • Witchcraft expert Reverend Hale arrives to investigate, Proctor leaves. Hale questions others and focuses on Abigail who blames Tituba.

  • Tituba called in – climax of her wild admission of witchcraft.

Act 2 – The Proctors’ kitchen

  • Proctor comes home. Elizabeth tells that of the court in Salem investigating witchcraft – Mary Warren an official. Abigail leading accusations. Elizabeth wants John to testify against her.

  • Mary Warren returns, tired and shaken. Gives Elizabeth a rag doll she sewed in court. News of 39 people in prison and Goody Osburn to hang. Mary defends the court against John’s criticisms. He almost whips her when she then reveals that Elizabeth name has been brought up in court. Mary goes up to bed.

  • John about to leave for Salem when Reverend Hale appears – has doubts about the court and is visiting the accused for himself.

  • Hale questions John and Elizabeth about their religious beliefs. John tells Hale that witchcraft is pretence – Abigail has told him. Despite doubts, Hale begins to be persuaded.

  • Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive. Both their wives have been arrested. Hale knows Rebecca Nurse is a good woman – shocked.

  • Ezekiel Cheever arrives to arrest Elizabeth. He seizes on the rag doll Mary brought home. There is a needle stuck in the doll – reference to Abigail falling down screaming, pulling needle out of her stomach in court – Cheever sees this as clear evidence that Elizabeth is a witch.

  • Mary explains Abigail saw her sewing and then sticking the needle in the doll’s belly. John tears up Elizabeth’s arrest warrant but she is taken.

  • John and Mary are left alone. John forces Mary to go to court together in the morning to tell the truth about the doll. Mary says Abigail will reveal her affair with John, but he won’t let Elizabeth hang to preserve his reputation.

Act 3 – A room at the Salem meeting house

  • The Court: Giles Corey confronts Judge Danforth who asserts authority of the court

  • Francis Nurse claims evidence that girls are fraudulent – Giles brings Proctor and Mary Warren. Proctor’s character is questioned. Mary tells the girls were pretending.

  • Danforth does not want to hear their evidence – it will make the whole trial a nonsense

  • Danforth tells Proctor that Elizabeth is pregnant to get him to retract what he has said – Proctor finds difficulty but continues his petition regardless claiming Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey and Elizabeth are innocent. Parris and Haworth persuade Danforth to arrest all 91 petitioners.

  • Giles accuses Putnam of profiteering from witchcraft but refuses to give names of informants – Court hearing is established

  • Mary Warren is questioned. Girls brought in, Abigail is counter-questioned and maintains she is telling the truth. Proctor attacks Abigail.

  • Hathorne probes Mary Warren and calls her to feign fainting – she fails.

  • Danforth questions Abigail on the spirits being illusory, she manipulates him – pretends that Mary is ‘sending out her spirit’ to attack her

  • Proctor intervenes to defend Mary from being victimised, reveals his affair with Abigail and charges her with ‘a whore’s vengeance’

  • Abigail avoids being held to account by Danforth by defiance – Elizabeth Proctor brought in to test the veracity of the story of the affair

  • Elizabeth lies to the court to save Proctor’s reputation – consequences / reaction. Danforth takes this as evidence that everything John has said was a lie.

  • Abigail diverts the court attention with the ‘bird apparition’, ensuing hysteria

  • Mary Warren mimicked / victimised and she capitulates
  • Mary Warren indicts Proctor for bewitching her – he is arrested and insanely rejects the court proceedings, ‘God is dead’. Hale leaves the court.

Act 4–The jailhouse

  • Herrick wakes Tituba and Sarah Good, who drink some of Herrick’s cider. They are mentally broken. Danforth and Hathorne arrive and Herrick sends Tituba and Sarah Good away.

  • Herrick tells Danforth that Reverend Hale has been visiting the prisoners overnight. Parris was with him – he has been acting strangely lately, going around in tears.

  • Parris enters. He says Hale is trying to persuade Rebecca Nurse, her sister and Martha Corey to confess to witchcraft and save their lives. Abigail and Mercy have run off with his savings – he is broken and afraid that hanging popular people like Rebecca Nurse will cause trouble. News of riots against the witchcraft trials in Andover. Paris being persecuted.

  • Hale arrives and says nobody will confess. Danforth decides to try softening John up for a confession by letting him see Elizabeth. Elizabeth is brought to the cell and Hale begs her to persuade John to confess – tells her to get him to choose life over matter of principle.

  • John is brought in and the couple are left alone. John is broken, Elizabeth’s pregnancy – she holds back. Clear love between them through the events.

  • Elizabeth tells John that over a hundred people have confessed and escaped hanging. Rebecca Nurse won’t make a confession because it would be a lie. Giles Corey has died under interrogation. John thinks refusing to confess on principle would be arrogant – he is not a good man, although Elizabeth assures him he is.

  • Hathorne returns. John tells him he wants to live. Hawthorne delighted – one confession makes the other hangings look genuine and prevent a riot. John feels it wrong to confess but says he will do it anyway – he still thinks of himself as a bad person.
  • John doubts written confession. Rebecca brought in to see the confession. John ashamed – refuses to implicate Rebecca or anyone else. After some persuasion he signs the confession but then snatches the document. He doesn’t want it to be publicly displayed.

  • Finally he tears it up –he would rather hang than sign his name to a lie. Elizabeth will not stop him. She sees that John finally recognises himself as a good man and will not take this from him as he his taken out the gallows.

Study Points
1. Exposition, Development, Complication, (Development), Climax...

These terms refer to phases in dramatic structure and can be seen in each act. For each of the summaries given, discuss where you think these phases lie:

  • What is shown in the exposition?

  • Which plot strands are being developed?

  • What complications / twists arise? What might be the different outcomes / consequences of these complications?

  • What characterises the main climax in each act?

2. Emotional Pace in the structure

Look at the different kinds of emotional tension and release which are built into each act e.g. intrigue, interrogation, hysteria, fury, humour. Discuss how these engage the audience in the action. What are the effects?

3. Analysis of Act III

Act III is particularly critical as it is the trial scene in which all elements of the play are battled out, like the idea of a crucible itself. Use the loose worksheet to analyse dramatic effect, confrontation between characters, conflict within characters, and matters of complication and expectation.

In your copy of the text, read the section in Act III beginning
PROCTOR: I have made a bell of my honour!
and ending at
PROCTOR: She only thought to save my name…
Refer to this section of the play to answer the following questions.

  1. Think carefully about the dramatic and linguistic techniques used by Arthur Miller in this extract from the point at which Elizabeth enters.

a) In what ways do dramatic techniques such as stage directions help to convey Elizabeth’s moral predicament?

4 marks
b) How does the dialogue between Elizabeth and Danforth show her predicament? You should look at features of sentence structure, among other aspects of the language used.
4 marks

  1. What dramatic effects (such as irony, climax, turning point etc.) are created by the cross-examination of Elizabeth Proctor at this stage of the proceedings, on account of

a) the structure and sequencing of events in Act III;

4 marks
b) the development of Elizabeth Proctor’s character.

3 marks

  1. “I have made a bell of my honour!”

How important is this statement to your understanding of the thematic opposition of speaking lies and speaking truth presented in Act Three?

6 marks

  1. “Elizabeth, I have confessed it!”

What possible impact would these lines have on an audience? You may wish to support your answer to this question by drawing attention to two of the following:

    1. the personal anguish of John Proctor

    2. what they suggest of the tension between the individual and society

    3. what stage they mark in the relationship between Elizabeth Proctor and John Proctor

8 marks

Individual Conscience / Conflict

“Probably the single most powerful influence on my way of writing was not only to depict why a man does what he does, or why he nearly didn’t do it, but why he cannot simply walk away and say to hell with it.” – Arthur Miller

In The Crucible, Miller explores the “conflict between a man’s raw deeds and his conception of himself”. Proctor is tormented by this conflict and struggles against his own weaknesses to achieve a view of himself that he can accept.
Other characters who have trouble with their conscience are Hale, Elizabeth, Mary Warren and Danforth. What issues trouble them about the proceedings? How do they react to the events and try to resolve their moral dilemmas? To what extent can their acts of conscience have a bearing on the outcome of events?
In Salem, a person’s good name is everything, which relates to the theme of the individual and identity. What is the significance of a name? Although Proctor does not feel entitled to his good name, he doesn’t want to lose it. This is his first problem when coming to expose witchcraft, as swears to “fall like an ocean on the court” yet postpones putting his name on the line and exposing his affair with Abigail. Ironically it is Elizabeth’s concern for his name that causes her to lie in court and lead towards his downfall. In Act IV Proctor’s confession damns him in God’s eyes and in his neighbour’s eyes – those who are prepared to die maintaining their innocence and keeping their integrity. Proctor has separated his soul from his name and his actions from his ideals. How does he resolve this issue in his last speech of Act IV?
Conflict with Authority

The original Puritan colony needed strict laws and discipline to survive, however Miller’s short essay in Act I describes how the society had become liberal by the time of the trials, although a degree of repression remained. Proctor represents the greater individual freedom of this time in his isolation from the Church, contempt for Parris, ploughing on Sunday and committing adultery. His trial represents the individual’s negotiation with authority – in Act IV he tries to compromise with authority, but his death is the only act capable of destroying the court.

Look at the language and references to authority throughout: “Vote by acerage”/ “I like not the smell of this authority” / “join the faction” / “The man’s ordained, therefore the light of God is in him”. Authority is God-given, and therefore those who are against authority are against God.
How do individuals survive when they conflict with authority? What methods of resistance are possible? Proctor avoids the confrontation early in Act II – should he have gone to the court sooner? Is every individual responsible for the welfare of the society? Do those people who do not actively oppose tyranny support it? “There be no road between”.

The Power of Fear & Mass Hysteria
Fear paralyses thought – it is a physiological fact. Fear is used by a number of characters in the play – by Parris on the girls, by Putnam and Parris on Tituba, by Abigail on the girls, by Proctor on Mary Warren, and by the judges on the accused. In what ways do people abuse their position in society or their position within a grouping against an individual to inflict fear,? It takes a strong person to withstand fear and stand out – Mary Warren is weak and caves in, but Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse are not frightened and this gives strength to Proctor. How is fear perpetuated? Superstition? Guilt? Personal weakness? What makes people afraid? What gives others the power of fear?
Hysteria is generated by the atmosphere of fear and is characterised by panic and irrationality. How is does fear lead to terror and mass hysteria? How much of the need for personal survival prevails in a climate of hysteria? How can hysteria be exploited by individuals, by groups and by authority? Think of the current hysteria terrorist threats and attacks bring upon our own society. How much of hysteria is self induced? Or perpetuated by the media and the government? It has such a power that all common sense goes and individuals behave in irrational unthinking ways.

In The Crucible, hysteria is the genuine proof of witchcraft ad creates much of the dramatic action e.g. Betty in Act I, the various apparitions in Act III. Look closely at how Abigail engineers hysteria through leading the group and using repetition and strong imagery.

Knowing the Truth
What is the truth? How do people know things? How can you tell if someone is lying? What is the difference between what you know and what you believe? How can we account for different representations of the truth? Can the truth be manipulated? Is there such a thing as ‘the truth’? When you know the truth about something, how do you convince others?
Salem is built on the unquestioning belief in the authority of the Bible and supremacy of the law.

Danforth never questions the law – this dogmatic approach is extremely dangerous – especially if the upholders of the law are deceived e.g. by Abigail. The consequences of this can be seen in Act III.

Hale is a contradiction in terms of his attitude towards knowledge. He is weighed down by his expertise and books in Act I. Yet here he also uses intuition in his impression of Rebecca Nurse. How important is intuition over learning and knowledge? Hale believes witchcraft at the beginning but has learned the wisdom of doubting by the end.
The good characters in the play have no intellectual certainty – they all question the events that occur and rely on common sense, experience, charity. Yet, Corey’s initial ignorance leads to his wife’s arrest. Which characters are trying to expose the truth and which are hiding the truth? In the end, some of these characters are prepared to die to maintain their version of the truth. Is ‘the truth’ as an issue so important?

Essay Plan
Theme of Sacrifice --- Appreciation of the play as a whole

Proctor exposes his affair Appreciation of issues of conscience /

Sacrifices his name & later his life individuals against corrupt authority
Sample Introduction

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play in which the theme of sacrifice is evident, shown especially by the character of John Proctor. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch-hunts of the early 1690s, Proctor sacrifices his reputation and admits his affair with the main accuser Abigail Williams in court in Act III in order to save his wife Elizabeth, who has been arrested as a witch. This would also prove that the accusations by Abigail and the girls against her and other innocent people are false. Proctor’s decision to sacrifice his reputation, and later his life in Act IV when he himself has been framed for witchcraft, develops aspects of his character, showing his conscience and position as an honest individual against a corrupt authority, which is significant to the play as a whole.

Para 2 TOPIC SENTENCE: Proctor’s sacrifice in Act III in the courtroom is clearly a result of his desire to save his wife, Elizabeth, from the accusations of his former mistress Abigail.

Evidence of affair in Act I; Abigail reveals there is no witchcraft

Elizabeth’s mistrust / judgement of Proctor; his sense of shame

Elizabeth’s recognition that Abigail wants Proctor

Elizabeth’s arrest at end of Act III spurs Proctor into action – to tell the court he knows the accusations are lies because Abigail told him

Proctor confirms in Act III that saving Elizabeth is his purpose

Para 3 TOPIC SENTENCE: Proctor is forced into a position of sacrificing his name as a result of the corrupt nature of the courtroom.

Proctor’s initial reluctance to tell truth for fear of exposing affair

Focus on Mary Warren who fails as a result of Danforth and Abigail

Proctor exposes his affair in anger & shows honesty to audience

Elizabeth called to verify affair; denies it to save Proctor’s name

Proctor isolated by Mary Warren, Abigail and girls who condemn him

Proctor’s honesty is shown in complete contrast to corrupt court
Para 4 TOPIC SENTENCE: Proctor’s sacrifice is complete in Act IV when he refuses the offer to have his life saved by sign a confession to crimes of witchcraft.


Proctor’s character changed – weaker, visibly broken

Proctor needs Elizabeth’s judgement to do right; she refrains

Proctor wants to save his life – signs confession;

Destroys confession as it will be used and displayed publicly

Madness in Proctor; tortured by decision; crisis of conscience

Fails to comply with authority; isolated and condemned because of his desire to be honest and true, even if it means he will die

Para 5 TOPIC SENTENCE: Proctor’s sacrifice contributes to the audience’s appreciation of the play as throughout, the decisions made by his character have been heavily influenced by his conscience [1]. Furthermore, he is shown to be an honest individual who stands against a corrupt authority in the name of a greater good [2].

[1] Throughout he shows shame and guilty conscience over affair

Aims to redeem himself by saving Elizabeth; her arrest is his fault

His decisions influenced by her, even at the dénouement in Act IV

He and Elizabeth both recognise his goodness by the end

[2] Proctor’s character seen to be righteous and good in community

Stands against Parris and Putnam because he dislikes their greed

Climax in Act III shows extent of his truth over lies of the court

Again in Act IV he has to make a choice as to where he (in his name) stands in relation to the corrupt society – to conform and confess to a crime to which he is innocent or retain his integrity but lose his life

His sacrifice makes his character a tragic hero

Possibly link to other characters: Elizabeth; Rebecca Nurse; Giles Corey etc.
Sample Conclusion
In conclusion, the sacrifices shown by the central character John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible give the audience an appreciation of the play as a whole. His portrayal illustrates not only the theme of sacrifice, but also the related issues of conscience which prevail throughout the play. In summary, this is evident in both his desire for redemption and how he retains his integrity in a corrupt society. Most of all, Proctor’s sacrifice demonstrates his inner conflict in finding a view of himself which he ultimately finds acceptable.

Key Quotations

“Give me a word John, a soft word” (Act I)

“She wants me dead, John” (Act II)

“I mean to please you Elizabeth” (Act II)

“That goodness will not die for me” (Act II)

“We burn a hot fire which melts all concealment”

“whore’s vengeance”& “I have known her sir”

“I have made a bell of my honour”

“What man may cast away his good name?”

“I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to wave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.”

Teacher-Prepared Model Essay

1457 words – too long, but covers main points in detail

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a play in which one character, John Proctor, becomes increasingly isolated. The play is set during the witch trials of Salem, 1692, and Proctor’s wife is accused of being a witch by a group of girls led by Abigail Williams – with whom Proctor had an affair – causing him to undertake a quest to save his wife’s life, yet in doing so sacrifices his own. The characterisation of Proctor, and the key scenes in which his isolation is apparent, develop the audience’s attitude towards him from one of misgiving to admiration and recognition as a tragic hero.

Firstly, the audience perceive John Proctor as an outsider in the community, because of his lack of respect for authority and his individualistic beliefs. Proctor does not conform to the strict moral and religious codes of the community, as he ploughs his fields on a Sunday, does not have all his children baptised and rarely attends church. This is because he resents the Reverend Parris’s oppressive style of religion, complaining he ‘preach nothing but hellfire and damnation’ and rarely mentions God. Similarly, Proctor recognises that the landowner Putnam has a strong influence over Parris and that he will command more power and land in the community as a result of persecuting others. Proctor therefore sees through the hypocrisy of those in authority and his decision to live apart from the community is one which the audience can identify as being based on his conscience.

Indeed, he is a religious man whose conviction rests on his personal faith and reading of the Bible, as well as what he believes to be right – showing this in Act III when he counsels Mary Warren in the courtroom using the Bible to ‘remember what the angel Raphael told the boy Tobias. Do that which is good and no harm will come to thee.’ Whilst at first the audience may distrust Proctor’s alienation within the community, they also may admire him for his principles and freedom of thought which refuses to submit to a corrupt authority and its petty rivalries. In addition, the audience see Proctor as being fundamental to that which is good in the community as in Act II, for example, Proctor explains to Hale that he ‘hung the door and nailed the roof on the church’.
Yet, John Proctor’s belief that he can now live apart from his society is in part misguided, as he had an affair with his teenage servant Abigail Williams prior to the events of the play, leading to her accusations of witchcraft against innocent women in the community, including Proctor’s wife by the end of Act III. The audience can appreciate that Proctor – a passionate and romantic man – was restricted by the strict and colourless lifestyle of Puritan Salem. Indeed, Proctor was isolated in his marriage to Elizabeth, who contrasts greatly with his character in that she is weak and withdrawn and whom Abigail tells him is ‘a cold, snivelling woman’. Hence Proctor’s isolation attracted him to the seductive and reckless Abigail, shown in Act I, as Abigail teases Proctor with the news that she and her friends were caught dancing in the woods – which prompted rumours of witchcraft – and he betrays signs of affection in saying ‘you’ll be clapped in the stocks before you’re twenty’ and with difficulty refuses her impulsive advances towards him. He is therefore isolated because of his frustration and the audience may feel some sympathy – although some may feel disdain – for his situation.

As mentioned, Proctor remains isolated in his relationship with Elizabeth, as shown in Act II. When he returns home from hunting, the audience see that Elizabeth is both inattentive to his needs and unresponsive to his romantic advances, for example ‘to let you walk the fields with me… Massachusetts is a beauty in the spring.’ Elizabeth’s coldness and distance is reflected in Proctor’s observation about the weather (and also by association, their relationship) that ‘it is winter in here yet’.

The complexity of his character is revealed to the audience, making them more intrigued and attached to this man. Proctor carries the burden of guilt, claiming ‘I may blush for my sins’ and in an attempt to avoid exposing his affair, he refuses Elizabeth’s demands that he goes to the court that has been established where Abigail and the other girls are accusing others of witchcraft to state that Abigail told John it was ‘false’. Yet, Proctor is not entirely honest, particularly about being alone with Abigail, and this furthers Elizabeth’s mistrust of him. In stating ‘it is as if I come into a courtroom whenever I come into this house’ and ‘your justice would freeze beer’, John displays his anger at her suspicion and the audience appreciate that he is trapped not only by his own conscience, but by Elizabeth’s criticism, and also by his desire to please her and obtain forgiveness. The audience may interpret Proctor to be a good man who has struggled with his morals and admire him, in part, for striving to amend for his errors.

When Elizabeth is arrested later in Act II having been accused as a witch by Abigail, John Proctor’s position as an outsider in the community is changed as he takes a central role in Act III in going to the court to claim his wife, and the other women’s innocence, whilst attempting to conceal his affair with Abigail. When his attempt to use Mary Warren, an honest but naïve girl who is his servant and one of the accusing girls, to confess that she and the girls are pretending to be victimised by witches in the town, she fails under Abigail’s manipulation. Proctor’s anger flares and he exposes his adultery by claiming the witchhunt to be a ‘whore’s vengeance’ and that he had ‘known’ Abigail. At this climax, the audience see Proctor is willing to relinquish his dignity and respect in the town for the sake of the truth and his wife’s life and perceive him to be heroic, though flawed. When he asserts ‘I have made a bell of my honour’ and questions ‘what man may give away his good name?’, the audience appreciate the extent of Proctor’s isolation and clearly see his principles and need for redemption.

When Elizabeth is brought in to the court to independently verify Proctor’s statement of his affair (therefore ending the court’s unconditional belief in the girl’s lies), she leads to his downfall by failing to admit her husband was a ‘lecher’ – ironically her attempts to protect his name condemn him. When she is removed from the court, Proctor stands alone, viewed as the ‘devil’s man’ and his anguish resonates in his insane cries that ‘God is dead’. The audience, having viewed Proctor’s moral journey, witness his complete isolation and may feel a sense of frustrated justice, sympathy and high regard for such an individual who has sacrificed himself in a vain attempt to represent the truth in a corrupt society.

In the final Act, Proctor’s predicament is further complicated as now he is a broken man in jail, yet Judge Danforth and the court officials, now aware of the miscarriage of justice but unwilling to publicly admit their mistake, try to convince Proctor to admit guilt to witchcraft that he did not commit. Proctor is further isolated as he wishes to save his life and almost goes so far as to sign his confession, but breaks at the last moment to save his name, because ‘it is my soul. Because I cannot have another’. He is isolated because the authorities hope that Proctor’s confession will ‘carry weight’ with others accused to encourage them also to lie. In addition, Proctor now desperately looks for Elizabeth’s advice and forgiveness, yet she wishes him to make the decision on his own. Proctor’s final dilemma suggests that he is his own man yet, and although loses his life, he retains his integrity and dignity, as Elizabeth states ‘He have his goodness yet’ as he is about to be executed. For the audience, Proctor’s role as a tragic hero has been fulfilled as they have viewed his journey completely, through the strengths and weaknesses of character and the tests of character and conscience within. The final act of sacrifice confirms he is a character with virtue and someone to be admired.

In conclusion, Proctor’s isolation in The Crucible is one which arises from a number of factors and reveals the complexity of his character, from his apparent strength to his inner weaknesses. The audience see him as a character whose commitment to the truth and to his own conscience ultimately prevails and their attitude to him may reflect this in its admiration and sympathy with him as a tragic hero.


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