The Crucibles Verbal Irony Essay, Research Paper
Arthur Miller, one of America s greatest playwrights, living or dead, is a master of verbal irony. An examination of three strong examples of verbal irony in Millers play, The Crucible, will prove this out. While Miller started the genre of the tragedy of the common man, and is also know for his thoughtful and decisive plot lines, much of his fame, possibly can be attributed to his brilliant use of language generally, and his use of verbal irony in particular.
Amidst the drama of the court scene in Act III, Proctor and Mary Warren are being questioned in relation to Elizabeth s possession of poppets. Parris is trying to prove the fact that maybe they were unaware of her possession of these, that she could have hidden her poppets. In a response to Proctor, Parris sites that We are here, Your Honor, precisely to discover what no one has ever seen. Parris meaning is very simple; he is simply commenting that the court is trying to discover the poppets that supposedly Elizabeth had hidden at her house, that no one has seen. But to read Miller, one must be more perceptive, and in examining this quote by Parris, there is another meaning behind it. As most know of the Salem witch trials, they specifically know the unjust and misled court system that was used to accuse the witches. The words uttered from Parris mouth at that instance are so contradictory of the court and ironic that from a reader s standpoint, one is mixed between the emotion of laughter and tears. For the knowledge of the witch trials would allow one to know that they were nothing but a hoax. The court is out to discover what no one has seen. Knowing that there are no witches, then Parris is precisely right when he says this. It s just the irony of Parris ignorance that makes this quote affective.
The relationship between John and Elizabeth is brought to test throughout this play. The fact that John cheated on his wife and the fact that Elizabeth cannot forgive him for this is the basis of the conflict. In Act II, Reverend Hale comes to visit the
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Proctors on his own account to alert them that Elizabeth s name was mentioned in court. Deep in the conversation, Hale asks John to recite the Commandments with the intent to prove he is a covenanted Christian man. John can remember only nine of the ten. It says in the stage directions that Proctor is lost, and is flailing for the last commandment. Then delicately, Elizabeth says, Adultery, John. Of the Ten Commandments he was reciting, the single one he forgot was the single one he had broken. Add to this, to have the primary person it affected other than him remind him of it is great irony. The Guilt that the irony brings on here is amazing work on the part of Miller. To harness the already blackened ties between John and Elizabeth to produce such a powerful line is genius.
Miller, in Act III shows another wonderful example of irony. The verbal irony portrayed earlier by the Proctors is once again affective here and in some cases even more powerful. John admits to lechery, and the court brings out Elizabeth to vouch for this crime. Elizabeth is a Christian woman who has never committed a crime, or broken a commandment. Loyal to her husband, when asked if John has ever committed the crime of lechery, she faintly replies, No, sir. To go through life never telling a lie, and to have to first and only lie you tell be the one that condemns your husband is horrible, but written beautifully. The thoughts that must have been going through Elizabeth s head at the time of the question must have been unimaginable. Choosing whether to shame her husband s name or to save it is a tough choice. Miller takes advantage of every little detail he can and exploits it to produce as much shock as possible.
Miller and his contemporary outlook on playwrighting has allowed him much fame in his lifetime. In retrospect, his use of verbal irony in his writing has greatly contributed to this fame and has made a considerable contribution to his reputation as a writer.