Higher Results Consultancy

An Introduction to The Crucible

 

The action of the play is based on an historical event, the Salem witchcraft trials which took place in Massachusetts in 1692. But the drama has more recent parallels with the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s carried out by the Un-American activities Commission based in Washington. In a contemporary context, one could even see parallels with the recent media witch-hunts against a number of prominent figures from the worlds of politics, business, sport and show business.

The drama centres around a husband and wife, John and Elizabeth Proctor and a young girl, Abigail, with whom John Proctor has committed adultery. In order to remove Elizabeth from the scene, thereby leaving John free to marry her, Abigail accuses John's wife of witchcraft, a crime still punishable by death in the seventeenth century. The play builds to a tense and moving climax in which both husband and wife come through a series of moral tests in order to atone for what each sees as his/her own sin against the other. Finally John Proctor, having saved his wife from death by publicly confessing to his adultery with Abigail, refuses to sign a document which could save his own life because signing it would require him to lie. He chooses death as his final act of atonement.

Set in the small, tightly knit community of Salem, the play's setting provides an appropriately claustrophobic atmosphere for the events which take place. The world of Salem is enclosed by strict moral and religious codes which inevitably encourage the growth of hypocrisy and the abuse of power. The confined setting of the play effectively reinforces the trapped emotional state of the principal characters.

The two central characters are both very strong but flawed individuals who have to come to terms with their own weaknesses. Each is put to the test as is their marriage which survives despite, or perhaps because of, what each has to suffer. The play charts the growth in self knowledge of both of these characters and explores the nature of their guilt, their pain and, above all, their moral courage, in facing up to the consequences of their actions.

Not only do these central characters exert a fascinating influence over the audience but, so also do the play's powerful themes. Betrayal, guilt, love, compassion, moral integrity, self discovery and fearless courage all feature as thematic strands running through the course of the drama. Despite the play's period setting, these themes appear timeless and universal, equally relevant today as they would have been in past centuries.