Monday, 8 May 2017

The Crucible

In 1692, when a group of young girls are discovered dancing in the woods trying to stoke up spirits, the God-fearing people of a small New England town are told that the Devil and witchcraft is in their midst and must be rooted out at all costs. The town is quickly caught up in an unstoppable flow of paranoia, indictment and manipulation as personal grievances collide with lust and superstition, creating a crucible where no person is safe from their suspicious neighbours.

The Crucible serves as a stark, chilling reminder of the frailty of reason in the face of hysteria and the terrifying power of false accusations. The play is a scorching indictment of fanaticism, a powerful central work of American drama. The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Selladoor Worldwide Productions.

ARTHUR MIlLLER was born in Harlem, New York on the 17th October 1915 to parents of Jewish and Polish heritage. His father owned a successful coat manufacturing business but the family lost almost everything in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and had to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. After graduating from high school, Miller took up a number of odd jobs so he could attend Michigan University, where he wrote for the student paper. His first play, No Villain, won an award. Inspired by his teacher Kenneth Rowe, Miller moved back East to begin his career as a playwright.

Miller married college sweetheart, Mary Slattery; they divorced in 1956. Less than a month later, Miller married Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. Their marriage lasted four years; Monroe struggled with drug addiction, and they divorced in 1961. Monroe died the following year. It was widely rumoured that Miller’s play After The Fall was inspired by their relationship – a rumour he denied.

The Crucible was written when Senator Joseph McCarthy was running a campaign against Communism in an attempt to suppress socialist actions. Fear of 'the enemy' was high thanks to the Cold War. His expression of strong anti-communist sentiment in the public sphere ignited an intense fear among the population of the United States. Specialist committees such as the House of Un-American Activities were established to root out members and supporters of the Communist Party and their sympathisers. The actions of these committees were controversial, with those being investigated encouraged to accuse others to avoid their own punishment. This resulted in many giving false accusations to save their own skin. Many people in the entertainment industry were accused. In 1956 the House of Un-American Activities called Miller before the committee, having refused to renew his passport. It was believed that The Crucible had a lot to do with this, as his story of the Salem witch trials presented an allegory of the McCarthyism that the committee were practising. Miller refused to assist the committee and inform on individuals, so he was held in contempt of Congress. The ruling was overturned two years later.

The Crucible is based on actual events in the town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, where a group of young girls fell ill with seizures and hallucinations after being discovered dancing in the woods to conjure spirits.. Due to the highly religious nature of society at the time, any strange or unexplained occurrences would be attributed to the Devil; these unexplained illnesses were the same. This fear was only strengthened when the girls began accusing members of the Salem community of witchcraft. Mass hysteria spread and accusation came from more and more people who feared the finger being pointed at them. In only a few weeks, large numbers of people had been jailed and when hysteria had run its course, fourteen women and six men had been hanged for 'their crimes'. Five others died in prison.

Miller’s approach to the facts was fairly loose. The central relationship between Abigail and John Proctor (who were actually aged 11 and 60 at the time) was entirely fabricated, and many characters were conflated for effect. The central romance gave Miller the opportunity for a dramatic driving force behind the plot’s development and created a tragic hero in John Proctor.

A theocratic town, religion rules in Salem: public and private moralities are one and the same thing. Reputation based on such principles is important to the residents; it helps to fuel hysteria, fear of guilt by association. Rumour becomes power as members of the community fight to drive suspicion away from their own front door. The Reverend Parris’ proximity to the girls, and his daughter’s illness, leaves him in fear for his reputation. The actions of John Proctor are also driven by his desire to protect his reputation. He misses an opportunity to stop the girl’s accusations for fear of tarnishing his name, meeting his fate through not wanting to sign a false confession saying:-“I have given you my soul; leave me my name.’

There are several characters in the play who are empowered by the Salem Witch trials, who benefit from them. These people would otherwise be marginalised in society. With few options in life, women would have been subordinate to men at the time, working as servants until old enough to be married off and become wives and mothers. A number of these girls and women are outcast for other reasons. Tituba is a black slave: Abigail is an orphan who has an affair with a married man. Having ignited her love and lust, John Proctor ends their affair, leaving Abigail jealous and looking for revenge. The Putnams lose seven of their eight children and are looking for someone to blame. By aligning their views with those of God, the accusers give themselves credibility and more power.

McCarthy's witch-hunts of the 1950s produced mass hysteria, as the nation’s collective fear of communism during the Cold War led to a climate of suspicion, fear and accusations. The rules of everyday life were suspended, allowing people to hide their selfish acts under the guise of righteousness. Such conditions ensure that those who can benefit from 'righteousness' will thrive.

Mass hysteria is characterised by anxiety, loss of logic, jealousy, irrational behaviour or inexplicable symptoms of illness. It is seen to occur among the disenfranchised of society, such as the young or women. Central to the trials, we see a group of young women on the edge of society showing symptoms of mass hysteria that spread throughout a town, leading to accusations on a huge scale and destroying the community.

'It's perceived wisdom; it's common sense'. In an epoch of Cold War scare tactics, aka 'Reds under the beds', fake news, lies, Russian/Trump US election collusion, CIA hacking (Vault 7: Wikileaks), the Democratic National Committee discrediting Bernie Sanders, the baiting of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, smears, threats and other mainstream media projects fostering  fragmentation, ignorance, delusion and fear - in short, a climate of neo-McCarthyism - the Crucible remains a vital production, now more than ever.

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