The Crucible: Dramatic Tension Essay, Research Paper
The play, ?The Crucible?, illustrates how people react to mass hysteria created by a person or group of people, as people did during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s and the Salem witch hunts of 1962. Many Americans were wrongly accused of being Communist sympathizers. The activities of the House of Un-American Activities Committee began to be linked with the witchcraft trials that had taken place in the town of Salem. This provided Miller with the catalyst to write ?The Crucible?. Without the knowledge of the McCarthy hearings and the Salem witch hunts, ?The Crucible? may be seen as a melodrama and the events in the play, sensationalised. It is not a melodrama because it is not overly dramatic; the McCarthy hearings and the witch hunts inject realism in the play. The play deals with historical events and with characters that have a historical context.
Through the use of dialogue, stage directions which enable us to envisage the scene on stage and characterisation we can see how dramatic tension is created by Miller. These aspects are to be explored for each act.
Act One begins with Reverend Parris praying fervently over his daughter, Betty Parris, who lies unconscious on her bed. The stage directions indicate that the room is quite dark with only a candle burning and sunlight through the window lighting the room. Parris is frightened, confused and angered by Betty?s illness, perhaps wondering what he has done wrong to be inflicted with such misery. This shown by the way he prays, then weeps and then starts praying again as if he unsure even of his emotions. He is very tense and is quickly angered without provocation, for example when Tituba inquires about Betty he turns on her in fury and shouts at her to get out. He then starts to sob and in his fear he starts to mumble to Betty to wake up, his feeling of inadequacy is expressed through his fragmented, disjointed sentences.
?Oh, my God! God help me! Betty. Child. Dear Child. Will you wake, will you open your eyes! Betty, little one??
He turns on Abigail and confronts her and through the conversation between Reverend Parris and his niece Abigail, the audience learns that the town?s girls, including Abigail and Betty, had engaged in activities in the forest led by Tituba; Parris? slave from Barbados. At this moment they are only provided with conflicting accounts of the truth from Parris and Abigail.
?Parris: ?Abominations are done in the forest-
Abigail: It were sport, uncle!
Parris: ?I saw Tituba waving her arms over the fire when I came on you?screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth.
Abigail: She always sings her Barbados songs, and we dance.?
They are found out because Parris finds them and jumps out from a bush startling the girls. Betty faints and has not yet recovered, as she is afraid they will be punished. Mr. and Mrs. Putnam enter during Parris? interrogation of Abigail and we soon learn that Mrs. Putnam delights in others? misfortunes due to the number she has experienced herself. When she sees Betty lying unresponsive on the bed, she grips on to the idea that witchcraft may have a role in this incident.
?Mrs. Putnam (full of breath, shiny-eyed): It is a marvel. It is surely a stroke of hell upon you.
Parris: No, Goody Putnam, it is-
Mrs. Putnam: Why, it?s sure she did. Mr. Collins saw her goin? over Ingersoll?s barn, and come down light as a bird, he says!?
The way she cuts Parris off while he is speaking, shows her excitement at the possibility of witches. It also shows how she is unwilling to listen to common sense and rationale. Her response indicates to the audience that there is more behaviour like this to come. Mrs. Putnam continues pursuing her idea of witchcraft being present in the town and after a while Parris is forced to go down and reassure and the crowd which is growing outside his house.
Now it is just Abigail, Betty and Mary Warren on stage. Abigail tries to wake Betty up and reassure her that everything will be all right but she refuses to awaken, not realising she is making the situation and consequences worse for everyone involved. Abigail does not want anyone to find out what she was doing in the forest as she and the other girls would be severely punished if they were exposed. To overcome this, she harshly threatens Betty Parris and Mary Warren not to say anything.
?Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you?And you know I can do it?I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down.?
We can tell this is a deadly moment on stage because of the clear threats made by Abigail to the cowering, frightened girls. She supports this by the way she frantically shakes and pulls Betty around the room. This would show the audience that Abigail is a real threat and now has the girls in her power.
As the scene develops, Thomas Putnam, John Proctor and Giles Corey are arguing about the ownership of some land. This is the first instant in which the community is shown to be divided, the conflicting interests of the people are shown and that all is not perfect in this Puritan society. It shows that selfishness and vindictiveness is ripe in Salem. Ironically it is Mrs. Putnam who spots this and says,
?There are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires!?
When all the other characters leave and Proctor and Abigail are alone, Abigail attempts to seduce him. The atmosphere starts off calm but soon there is anger and frustration between them. John Proctor tells Abigail that he wants nothing more to do with her. The use of exclamations shows the anger building between the two. Abigail also reveals what John describes as later, her ?whore?s vengeance? on Elizabeth. She refers to her as, ?a cold, snivelling woman? in her conversation now with John and before with Parris too. The speed of the dialogue is increased due to the short sentences, they also interrupt one another as they become more and more irate.
?Proctor: Abby, that?s a wild thing to say-
Abigail: A wild thing may say wild things??
?Abigail: And you must. You are no wintry man. I know you, John. I know you.?
?Proctor: Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.?
This is effective as it shows the tension between Proctor and Abigail and their conversation sounds unrehearsed and natural. It is also the first time the audience see the two ex-lovers alone together.
When Reverend Hale arrives, he is told by Parris of the dancing in the woods with which Abigail is involved. At first, she denies seeing the Devil or any form of spirits. She cannot get Betty reawaken and support her, as she cannot explain why she will not wake. Therefore to avoid being accused of witchcraft and consequently hanged, she quickly lays the blame on Tituba. The girls know that Tituba did not consort with the Devil but because of growing belief in witches and mounting hysteria of the people, their pleas of innocence go unheard. Tituba, being social inferior as a Black is very afraid and hurt by Abigail?s betrayal. It is suggested by the stage directions earlier on in the play that she had seen this coming. Hale and Parris ruthlessly interrogate Tituba, while she cries her innocence in futility, Parris threatens to whip her if she does not confess and Putnam shouts that she should be hanged. With all these people shouting around her, she falls to her knees, begging to be spared. She realises it is futile to protest and she confesses she conversed with the devil. Hale says he will help her tear free of the Devil?s hold. Her terror is showing outwardly, ?[she is rocking on her knees, sobbing in terror]?
The hysterical nature of freeing her from the Devil?s hold is expressed through the short, quick sentences which are repeated quickly and fervently by Tituba. She is prepared to do and say anything to avoid being hanged.
?Hale: Now, in God?s holy name ?
Tituba: Bless Him. Bless Him. [she is rocking on her knees, sobbing in terror]
Hale: And to his glory ?
Tituba: Eternal glory. Bless Him ? Bless God??
Once she has ?opened? herself, she is questioned on who she saw with the Devil and in what form he came. Again, she is barraged by demands for answers and she senses she must say something just to satisfy them.
?[Tituba pants, and begins rocking back and forth again, staring ahead]?
Her rocking shows how nervous she is and that she is frantically thinking of something to say. She names Goody Good and Goody Osbourn who Mrs. Putnam was accusing earlier of witchcraft. They ask her for more names and suddenly Abigail stands up and cries out that she too wants to ?open? herself. She picks up from Tituba?s naming of the ?Devil?s people?. She realises as long as she does this, she will not come under suspicion herself, obviously Betty realises this too as this quotation suggests [calling out hysterically and with great relief]?.
At the end of the act, Abigail and Betty ecstatically chant names of townspeople whom they accuse of consorting with the Devil. ?Betty: I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!?
The curtain begins to fall at this point but the screaming and chanting of names can still be heard. The audience on this hysterical, disturbing note, they are curious to discover the aftermath of these new accusations which the audience find unbelievable. They also find it disturbing that the supposed rational adults believe and are taking notice of the girls.
The opening of Act Two contrasts to Act One as it opens on a quiet note in a scene secluded from the commotion of the town. The audience sees John and Elizabeth alone together and feels the tension between the couple. Through their stilted conversation, it is clear that the two have difficulty discussing John?s affair and Elizabeth has not yet forgiven him, even though he yearns for it. ?I mean to please you, Elizabeth?. Proctor is angry when he finds out that Mary Warren went to court after he instructed her not to do so. This is indicated by violence in his actions and words.
?Proctor: [?As soon as he sees her, he goes directly to her and grabs her by the cloak, furious] How do you go to Salem when I forbid it? Do you mock me? [shaking her] I?ll whip you if you dare leave this house again!?
The audience feels that he is just using her as an outlet for his anger and frustration at Elizabeth as this threatening occurs after a heated discussion between John and Elizabeth. John had demanded that she not suspect him of continuing on his affair with Abigail. He is also tired of being patient with; ?I?ll not have your suspicion any more.? ?Proctor [with solemn warning] You will not judge me more, Elizabeth.? When Mary begins to cry we do not empathise with her; especially after we learn that Elizabeth is one of the accused. Mary Warren relates to Elizabeth and John Proctor of how she was in court testifying against the accused and that she Elizabeth, was ?somewhat mentioned?. The audience feels frustrated with her false confession; she clearly does not realise the extent of the harm she and the other girls are causing.
?Mary Warren: He sentenced her. He must. [To ameliorate it.] But not Sarah Good. For Sarah Good confessed y?see.?
?Elizabeth: Mumbled! She may mumble if she?s hungry.
Mary Warren: But what does she mumble??
Elizabeth realises what Abigail aims to achieve from these trials. She talks about, ?a promise made in any bed? and she succintly tells John of her suspicions, ??thinks to kill me, then to take my place.? She advises him to Abigail, as he is about to leave Reverend Hale arrives. Proctor is suddenly nervous, thinking Hale may have heard their conversation. There is an awkward moment when Elizabeth invites him in to sit. He talks to them and then questions Elizabeth and John Proctor on the commandments. Elizabeth is eager to recite them and show what a good woman she is but John is asked to recite them. All the commandments are recited except for adultery, which is the main reason for the tension between the couple.
When Elizabeth intervenes she ?delicately? lets him know what he is ?flailing? for as if to suggest that she is willing to support him if he is true to himself about his feelings. John laughs off this moment of tension by saying, ??Aye. [Trying to grin it away ? to Hale] You see, sir, between the two of us we do know then all.?
While they are talking, suddenly Francis Nurse and Giles Corey enter, they relay to them the latest course of events. Hale then says, ??if Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then nothing?s left to stop the whole green world from burning.?
This proves to be true a little later in the play as a result of Abigail and Betty?s accusations, trust amongst the community is broken and suspicion is rife.
Marshall Herrick and Cheever enter and Elizabeth is arrested. John Proctor demands using violence and intimidation again that Mary Warren to testify against the girls. He vows that he will fight the proceedings, even if it means confessing to his own adultery. The act ends on dramatic note, with Mary Warren crying in the background, ?I cannot, I cannot?? and John promising his wife will never die for him. He says, We are what we always were, but naked now.? The audience is left hoping that John, who has made this intelligent truthful remark, will be able to stop the trials.
The beginning of Act Three is presented in a solemn manner as the court is in session and serious interrogation is taking place. John?s remark at the end of the previous act rings true as many people are falsely accused by their neighbors for their own purposes, for example, Mr. Putnam in his attempt to gain land. When Rebecca Nurse, one of the holiest Puritans in Salem, has been accused, this is when John Proctor realises the gravity and seriousness of the witch-hunting situation. He begins his efforts to stop the injustice which is apparently only obvious to him and a few others. His struggles are increased when Elizabeth Proctor is tried and sentenced to death. He must convince the judges of Salem that Abigail and the others are lying. In order to do this, he convinces Mary Warren to confess that she and the girls had been acting all along and that there were no witches. As Mary starts to explain this to the court, Parris, who fears only for what will become of his reputation if his daughter and niece are found to be lying, tries to negate her confession. He challenges her to make herself faint and prove it. However, Mary is too intimidated and scared to do so, she tries to explain that it was easy to act when the other girls were doing it too and she had a ?sense? of it then. It is suggested by the stage directions that Danforth senses a truth in her confession,
?[?Danforth seems to be struck by MARY WARREN?S story]
After reading her deposition, he is convinced enough to ask Abigail if this is true. When questioned, Abigail puts up an indignant front saying,
? Why, this ? this ? is a base question, sir.?
??I done my duty pointing out the Devil?s people ? and this is my reward??
As if to divert attention from her interrogation she starts shivering, claiming that there is a cold wind brought by Mary Warren, quickly the other girls follow suit and start shivering too. With the other girls screaming and shivering in the background, Danforth asks Mary whether she is responsible for this. Mary realises no one will believe her if she says no and tries to run away but Proctor catches hold of her.
When Abigail cries, ?Oh Heavenly Father?? Proctor?s self control breaks and he grabs her roughly, and amid the uproar caused by his actions, he is heard crying, ?How do you call Heaven! Whore! Whore!? He is asked to explain this and he confesses with great shame and difficulty, to having ?known? her. He says that Elizabeth knows of his affair.
Elizabeth is brought in to support his confession and Proctor reassures Danforth, ?that woman will never lie, Mr. Danforth.? This statement will have the adverse effect and terrible consequences.
It is a quiet and tense moment as Elizabeth is brought in before the judges. When Elizabeth is questioned on her husband?s charge of lechery, she is unsure of what has been divulged here and tries to assess the situation. In the end, she denies the charge, thinking she is protecting her husband.
?Danforth: Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher!
Elizabeth [faintly]: No, sir.?
?Proctor [crying out]: Elizabeth, I have confessed it!
Elizabeth: Oh, God!
Proctor: She only thought to save my name!?
This sudden turn of events leaves the audience feeling disappointed and pity for John Proctor. This confession would have finally destroyed Abigail?s credibility and ended the trials, but Elizabeth?s misplaced loyalty destroys his case. When Hale proclaims that he believes Proctor, Abigail screams. She claims there is a bird on the beam and it is attempting to attack her The other girls are pointing toward the ceiling too, joining in, ?Mary Lewis [pointing]: It?s on the beam! Behind the rafter!?
Mary pleads with her to stop her as Danforth is clearly perturbed by their screaming and seems to believe them. Proctor senses this too and frantically says, ?They?re pretending, Mr. Danforth!? Abigail begins to repeat Mary?s words and is soon joined by the other girls. This dramatic acting by the girls adds to the confusion already created in the court, their hysterical acting and chanting chills the people present into believing them. The judge orders her to stop tormenting the girls. Mary starts screaming at them hysterically but cannot make them stop. Danforth threatens to have her hanged if she does not confess her associations with the Devil. As she weakens, Proctor tries to encourage her to speak the truth. She realises she is trapped and so turns to accuse Proctor of witchcraft. She hysterically starts to point at Proctor and say that he told her to ?do the Devil?s work?. Proctor appeals to Hale, but everyone is too frantic and hysterical to listen to him. Although Mary does not seem to be abright character, she realises the futility of Proctor?s case against Abigail and the others. She screams and says she loves God and joins Abigail, promising to ?hurt you no more?. Proctor is in disbelief and shocked at the girls? acting, this feeling is mirrored by the audience who feel the tension mounting rapidly John loses all control and cries out ?God is dead!? This quotation shows his state of mind, [laughs insanely, then] a fire, a fire is burning!?We will burn together!? Although he acts deranged; all that he says is true, especially his last words, ?You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!? Hale leaves after this, denouncing the proceedings he began and Danforth is heard calling after him. Here the curtain falls, the audience is left emotionally drained and numbed by all the action in this act. All the tension and hysteria that was building in the previous acts reaches a climax at the end of this act.
Act Four is staged in the isolated jail of Salem, the stage directions tell us that the place is in darkness and that the moonlight only ?seeps? through the bars. This creates a depressing atmosphere and is evidence that the end was inevitable and there is little hope of freedom. The audience finds out that Parris is now terrified that there will be an uproar if the two most respectable and important people, Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor, are hanged. He proposes that the hangings are delayed, until either one of them confesses. He says that a dagger had been stuck in his door last night and fears that people will not tolerate their hanging. However Danforth remains obstinate, even when he discovers that Abigail and Mary Lewis have fled abroad. Hale arrives and agrees with Parris and they have Goody Proctor sent in to persuade her husband to confess in order to save his life. Hale pleads with her emotionally, reasoning about life, ?No principle, however glorious, may jusify the taking of it.? In the end they manage to get her to tak to Proctor. When they are alone, the emotion is thick in the air, they have not seen each other for three months and for a while they just look at each other. There are quite a few pauses in their conversation, as they try to keep their emotions under control. Referring to his affair, proctor asks for her forgiveness but she says that it would ?come to naught that I should forgive you, if you?ll not forgive yourself.? Elizabeth blames herself for his affair.
?It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.?
However, John is pained hearing this and tells her to stop, insisting he is only taking his own sins upon himself. Elizabeth allows John to make up his own mind about confessing and says she will support him whatever his decision. She says that she believes that what ever he does, a good man does it, and says that she ??never knew such goodness in the world!? After she says this, he decides to keep his life therefore confess. However as Hathorne cries it out, it pains him to know what he is doing is wrong, ?It is evil, is it not?? His inner struggle becomes apparent as he ?moves like an animal, and a fury is riding in him, a tantalized search.? The audience is held in suspense as to what his decision will be, he questions Elizabeth as to what she would do, she does not answer. He says that evil would do what he is doing and that was good, he is intent upon condemning himself.
?I am no good man. Nothing?s spoils by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.?
However he cannot allow Danforth to make his confession officially documented as he worries about his reputation and good name. As Danforth asks him why, John answers with a cry,
?Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life?How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name?
The word ?name? is repeated a number of times emphasising its importance, John will not sign the paper stating his confession for the sake of his children?s future reputation and also because a false confession would mean condoning the hypocrisy of the town which he had always stood against. He is also morally responsible to deny the allegations because otherwise those who died before without confessing, died in vain. As he says himself, he would have ?sold? his friends. He is furious at the judges attempt to use him to prove that the witch trials were just.
When Rebecca Nurse enters, he cannot face her as she is dying for the truth and he is living on for a lie. She is surprised at John and says when asked to confess, ?How may I damn myself?? Proctor then changes his mind and rips up the paper on which his confession is recorded. He now stops condemning himself and says, ?I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor.? Elizabeth rushes to him and they embrace passionately. He has now cleansed himself, standing for his principles and dying a righteous person. By dying, he is making a stand against the insanity of the town like others before him. He and Rebecca are led out and Parris, Hale and Elizabeth are left on stage. A drum roll is heard in the background, showing that there is little time left to stop the hangings. Parris and Hale plead frantically with Elizabeth to stop him and that there is time yet but as the drum roll signifies, not much time. Elizabeth knows that this is the only way things can end so that she and Proctor can finally be at peace. She replies to hale and Parris, ?He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!?
The loud drum roll that heightens violently at the end of the play signifies a definite end to the play. It leaves a tense atmosphere; which leaves the audience to contemplate the play and particular characters and their relevance to the title. Proctor would be seen as the one comes out of the ?crucible? purified. The light that shines through the window at the very end of the play makes the ending symbolic. The word, ?new? almost lets us forget all the tragic events that have passed and that the best solution would be to start afresh. It leaves the audience thinking there is a hope for the people of Salem especially with the presence of light.