Tragedy in ‘The Crucible’ is used alongside realism to create a believable piece of theatre, making the audience feel as if the action on stage is a real scenario. Aristotle laid out six rules of tragedy, which he felt defined a tragic play. ‘The Crucible’ follows some of these rules, mainly Plot and Character, which are my main focuses for this essay. The headings to these rules are; Plot, Character, Reasoning, Diction, Song and Spectacle. The first two headings apply the most to ‘The Crucible’ while the others vaguely or do not apply.
Plot seems to be the most important part of a tragedy, because this is the topic to which Aristotle devotes the largest amount of detail to. The ‘plot’ is split into eight different sections. The first of these sections is ‘Completeness’, which states that to be a tragic plot, it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, where the plot moves from happiness to misfortune. This is apparent in ‘The Crucible’ because we se a time where, though it is not seen on the stage, the characters speak of the time where the young girls danced and this is seen, by Paris especially, as the reason for the change from good to bad.
We can also watch the happiness of the characters progressively decrease; for example, from dancing in the woods (the beginning) to the first few arrests and hearing from May Warren that a woman will be hanged (the middle), to the climax where it becomes inevitable that John Proctor, proctor will be hanged (the end). ‘Magnitude’ is also present in ‘The Crucible’ as Arthur Miller gives enough detail to the plot to give an audience a sense of the characters lives, making the setting seem real, and as if it has been plucked from the characters real lives.
But, whilst doing this, Miller does not give the audience so much information that the most important elements to the plot are overlooked. For example, the mention of Proctor’s farming at the dinner table with his wife, which would be a snippet of their lives, and then there is the mention of John’s poor church attendance, which would be an important element to the plot. ‘Recognition’ is presented in the play through the declaration of Mary Warren.
In Act 3, Proctor persuades Mary Warren to confess that Abigail and the other girls, including her, had been faking the possessions. The aim of this was to aid Elizabeth Proctor’s case and the wives of other townspeople. However, due to Elizabeth’s wanting to protect John’s name, the declaration had the opposite intended effect as it was the reason that John was prosecuted. This declaration is also examplatory of ‘Catharsis’ where we see the ‘tragic hero travel from happiness towards undeserved misfortune and fear.
‘ We see in this case, John travel from the hope of his wife’s release to the misfortune and fear of his own death. ‘Unity of Action’ is a single action shown through a series of related events. In ‘The Crucible’ this is the progression from the dancing in the woods, to the trials, to the hangings. This demonstrates the solidarity of the play as it does not focus on one character but rather a community, making it more impactuous because of the scale of the tragedy.
‘Universality’ is shown because the play is based in actual events, Miller used court records of the Salem witch trials in 1692, which are fairly well known, making the play seem even more tragic because you are watching a recount of similar events to that which happened to actual people at the time. The only element of plot in tragedy, according to Aristotle, that the play doesn’t follow is a ‘defective plot’, because Miller does not include and create themes and ideas merely to make the play longer and only includes elements which are essential to the story or effectiveness of the reality of the piece.
The second of Aristotle’s rules to tragedy is ‘Character. ‘ The first part of this is ‘Goodness’ clearly demonstrated within the character of Elizabeth Proctor. As the wife of a man who has committed adultery, her continual support of him, despite being a non-guilty party, herself, shows goodness. This character also contains the ‘Appropriateness’ within her because she is courageous in a circumstance where is would be unusual for a woman, seen as inferior in this time period, to be so.
While facing probable death herself, soon after she bears a child, she supports her husband through his ordeal and shows strength when he is taken to be hung. John Proctor contains the ‘Consistency’ throughout the play as his character is believable, being consistently inconsistent. We see his faults and his virtues throughout the play and because they are small, everyday virtues, this keeps his character in a light of believability to the audience as they could occur in everyday life.