Choose one scene from “The Crucible” that you consider to be particularly dramatic, exciting or tense. Explain you choice and discuss the importance of this scene to the play as a whole. Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” at a time when America had become obsessed with communism, and although the play is set in Salem during the seventeenth century, many believe it to be a reflection of a modern American society which became hysterical with the fear of Russia and its Communist rule.
It feared that there were communists who were trying to introduce their ideas into America as well as destroy the lifestyle to which Americans had become accustomed. To prevent Communists movement within America, laws were passed to restrict the activities of communists, and this campaign was lead by senator Joe McCarthy, hence McCarthyism, the name given to this period of American history when it seemed as though the American people had been overwhelmed with hysteria.
When McCarthy was at his most powerful he did a number of things. The first was to set up a Committee on Un-American Activities that was there to bring people who were believed to be involved in communist activities to trial. Many people were prevented from getting jobs if they refused to attend their trial, or were found to be communist. Three million names were given to the authorities and between 1953 and 1954, 6926 people who worked in government civil service jobs were fired.
Arthur Miller himself had been bought before this committee. He was asked to explain why he had taken part in a meeting with some communist party writers and to this he replied that he would give no names of the people he had been with because as he said, and I quote, “I take the responsibility for everything I have ever done, but I cannot take responsibility for another human being.” Miller was a very strong-minded person and this is probably why he decided to express his ideas on what he believed in, by writing “The Crucible”. I have decided to study the scene in which Elizabeth Proctor is brought from the cell into the court to testify as to whether or not her husband John Proctor had committed the act of adultery with Abigail Williams. It takes place in the court of Salem at a time where John’s fate is in his wife’s hands, although at the time she doesn’t realise the consequences of her answer.
It is a very tense scene and one which contains high levels of drama; not only because of the main storyline, and the result of Elizabeth’s lie, but because of the great usage of stage directions and the way in which there is such a deep sense of hatred between Abigail and Elizabeth. It is a vital scene and it epitomizes the stage at which the relationships of John and Elizabeth, and Abigail and Elizabeth are. It explores the way in which Elizabeth almost feels that she cannot trust John, and in many ways I believe that this is the reason for her lying. She was not to know whether or not he had told the court of his affair.
She has to act purely on what she believes will save her husband from almost certain death and save his name. John was scared that if it became clear he was an adulterer then the good family name that had been so well trusted within the village of Salem for a number of years would be ruined. This she thought would upset John greatly. Elizabeth would also feel very intimidated by Abigail’s presence in the room, and we know that they share no love for each other. In Act 2 we hear her claim that Abigail wants her dead and she feels very strongly about this. She says, “She wants me dead, John, you know it!” This is really quite a strong accusation, but it epitomizes the way Elizabeth knows that Abigail still lusts for her husband and wants rid of her so she can have him for herself.
The positions of each character as Elizabeth enters the court are of vital importance because she immediately cannot make any sort of contact with her husband and this would probably worry her. She also has the added hatred for Abigail who she can see standing almost alongside her husband, and this is likely to bring back unpleasant memories for her. Miller is very clever in the way he does this, and the audience would get the same interpretation as Elizabeth gets, so they would in many ways be able to put themselves into her position and so feel the tension even more.
The main tension in this scene comes from the audiences’ knowledge that if this trustworthy Elizabeth Proctor does not tell the truth in answer to one question then her husband will be condemned to death. The audience don’t want Elizabeth to lie, and would be very anxious, because they know, unlike Elizabeth that this would further build upon Abigail’s case that she is in fact innocent. John obviously has faith in his wife’s honesty or he would not have put his own life in her hands, although he had little choice once he had accused Abigail Williams of lechery. He would not be able to see his wife and so his anxiety would be even greater than it already was, knowing he cannot communicate with her at all. He had to have somebody back up his story, and the only other person who knew was his wife and Abigail. As Abby would never have testified to such a claim after being heralded as the town’s saviour, he relied on his wife to make the right decision.
The stage directions of Arthur Miller play a major role in adding to the tension which is being built up. In Danforth’s first speech, Miller is very specific as to whom Danforth is speaking, and the way in which people are responding to him. When it says, “(To Abigail)” and “(To Proctor)” it shows that Danforth is being very direct and the audience would get a very good impression of this because he would be emphasising his movement towards them.
This just adds to the tension and when Proctor and Abigail are asked to turn their backs it says that Abigail does it “(With indignant slowness).” She is being almost provocative and acts as an instigator for Danforth’s coming lines, and her actions are shown in his tone of voice. He is very stern and direct with both Proctor and Abigail when he says, “Turn your back. Turn your back,” and this would imply an air of tension. The repetition is also effective as it reinforces his message with monosyllables.