Since 1938 an organisation called the House Un-American Activities Committee had been in existence in America. This had the power to investigate any movement or person who apparently threatened the safety of the state. Under the chairmanship of Senator Joseph McCarthy, this committee became almost paranoid in its searching out of communist sympathisers amongst the American people in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1956, when the power of the committee was waning, Arthur Miller (The playwright) was summoned to appear before it. A pile of petitions with his signature was produced and he was asked to confess to signing his name.
The activities of the Committee began to be linked in Miller’s mind with witchcraft trials which had taken place in the American town of Salem two centuries before. For example the committee often had in its possession lists of people attending various communist meetings, and yet it still wanted the witnesses to name names. Miller saw these public confessions as parallel with the naming of names at Salem in 1692. In the15th century the Catholic Church began to take witchcraft seriously, and started to really crack down on its practice. Witchcraft was declared a dangerous heresy, and those involved were considered to be working with the devil.
Despite attempts to wipe out the practice of witchcraft, the cult seemed to be growing. Stories became more outrageous, some including events such as flying on broomsticks and dancing with the devil. This is what Abigail, Tituba and the other girls were accused of doing. Other practises which were linked to witchcraft included sticking pins into dolls to harm others (voodoo) which is what Abigail accused Elizabeth of doing to her. The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, involving a small community of Puritans. Puritans lived by the Bible and believed if you followed the teachings you were assured a place in heaven. The Puritans in the play have fled England from fear of prosecution.
In Act 1, Betty, the daughter of Reverend Parris is ill, apparently in a trance. He cannot find any reason for the sickness nor can the doctor. He is advised to look for ‘unnatural’ causes – in other words, witchcraft Parris’s niece, Abigail, attempts to give support to her uncle, but is obviously hiding something. He has caught Abigail, Betty and some other girls dancing in the woods. A supposed expert on witchcraft, the Reverend Hale, arrives. Act Two A proper court has been formed to judge upon witchcraft, by Act 2 It is now over a week later and the scene is the Proctors’ household. Their servant, Mary Warren, returns home from the court. She reveals that thirty-nine people have now been arrested and that hanging is the punishment for those that do not admit to witchcraft.
Mary tells Elizabeth that she has been ‘mentioned’ in court. Without being told, Elizabeth knows her accuser is Abigail. Reverend Hale arrives at the Proctor’s house. He questions the Proctors closely about their Christian commitment. Elizabeth is arrested, Abigail is her accuser. Elizabeth is taken and away Proctor promises to free his wife, no matter what it takes. Act 3 of The Crucible is very dramatically effective Act in the crucible because of all the different emotions in it. Here are three examples of the dramatic effectiveness of Act 3.
Mary being unable to faint is a dramatically effective part in Act Three because to prove Abigail wrong and to convince the court Abigail is lying all she has to do is faint. This would prove the girls as frauds. But for fear of her own life she cannot do it. If Mary had been able to faint then the girls would have been stopped right then and Proctor wouldn’t have been accused and eventually hanged. The whole structure of the play would have been changed.
Hathorne : (with a gleam of victory): And yet, when people accused of witchery confronted you in court, you would faint, saying their spirits came out of their bodies and choked you – Mary : That were pretence, sir. Act 3, page 85 To set of the scene Mary admits that her and the other girls were only pretending that they saw and felt the spirits of the witches attacking them. This is what Proctor wanted her to do and it makes the audience think that the truth could come out and everything is going to be all right but Arthur Miller had other plans for the play.