‘The Crucible’ English coursework
In what way does miller succeed in making the moment when Proctor tears up his confession particularly dramatic?
Miller creates a climatic dramatic atmosphere around John Proctor’s tearing of his confession through several methods.
Throughout the play Miller’s stage directions are precise and emotive but particularly during the majority of Act Four which revolves around John Proctor’s confession. Miller’s stage directions are consistent, graphic and poignant – giving no margin for error in one’s mind of how the characters are feeling and the dramatic tension in this closing period to the play. For example: Act Four where John is alone with Elizabeth discussing whether he should confess or not, Miller’s stage directions describe his movement “ …as though in physical pain, slowly rising to his feet with a great immortal longing…”
This is a perfect example of how Miller’s directions tell you exactly how the character is feeling and moving, his stage directions are very effective in creating the right dramatic atmosphere for the play.
In the final scene when Proctor tears up his confession, Miller’s stage directions become frequent and almost poetic in his deep, dramatic descriptions of John Proctor’s movements and emotions, in the speech where John tears up his confession Miller’s stage direction reads: “…( with a cry of his whole soul ) …” such directions for Proctor help to create a very dramatic atmosphere to this final scene as we can imagine his emotions and body language, these deep, dramatic descriptions are applied to the emotions of other characters at this scene in the play which creates an all round dramatic atmosphere to the moment as it describes the whole desperate tension in the play- e.g. Parris’ reaction to Proctor’s tearing of his confession “… hysterically, as though the tearing paper were his life …”
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Another way in which Miller creates such a dramatic atmosphere around John Proctor tearing his confession is the prolonged build up to this moment. The events leading up to this moment help set the dramatic scene, this final build up, after the court case with Marry Warren, starts around when Hale and Danforth approach Elizabeth Proctor trying to convince her to persuade John to sign the confession – In this scene Hale and Danforth know that John is innocent, this is the perfect beginning of the build up to John’s final scene as it shows the perversion of justice which has taken place in Salem this is shown through the way in which Miller has changed Hale and Danforth’s characters as they can both see that John is innocent and wish him to confess to save his life and their reputations in some cases.
Hale is trying to show Elizabeth that it is better John lies and signs the confession than his life be taken away over pride “…for it may well be that god damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride…” The desperation that Miller portrays in Hale makes this scene more dramatic and the whole situation surrounding Proctor - as Hale is knowledgeable about witchcraft and he who once was suspicious of Proctor has now realised he was wrong and an innocent man may hang. In this scene Elizabeth’s callous attitude towards Hale and Danforth is very dramatic as it creates a tension as we are left unknowing as to whether she will try to convince her husband to confess or not. This scene is also around the beginning of a ‘countdown’ of several scenes building up to when Proctor is due to hang. The way in which Miller has written these scenes is very dramatic as it leaves the reader unknowing to Proctor’s fate until nearly the very end of the play, with each page continuing the climax of dramatic proceedings which reach a breaking point with Proctor tearing up his confession.
The next scene leading up to Proctor’s dramatic tearing of his confession is his scene alone with Elizabeth where they discuss what they think John should do. This scene shows the great tension and emotion at this time in the play and is very effective in creating a dramatic atmosphere. In this scene Miller has written Elizabeth as the voice of moral conscience as she puts forth the most prominent arguments for Proctor accepting his own death despite her loving instincts to save her husband’s life. This is the last scene between Elizabeth and John and it builds up a lot of drama for the final scene approaching, Miller does this by showing the desperation and tension between them, and through the emotional and precise stage directions; for example when he finds out about the death of Giles Corey “…numbed - a thread to weave into his agony…”.
Another effective way of drawing drama from these closing scenes is the break in Elizabeth’s character; throughout the play she is shown as a cold hearted callous woman but during these final scenes to create the required drama, Miller changes Elizabeth’s character and she suggests that it is her fault John turned to Abigail and admits to being cold hearted. She shows great emotion for one of the first times in the play. John continues his desperate attempt for forgiveness from Elizabeth. When he is talking to her, the stage directions show that he does not directly look at her whilst they are talking until he asks her if he would have her forgiveness. Through this we can imagine John’s cowering body language allowing the reader to feel the dramatic tension, Elizabeth never commits herself to an answer for John repeatedly saying that she will not judge him, “... I am not your judge, I cannot be (as though giving him release) Do as you will, do as you will !...” This scene then becomes very dramatic as their time is cut short before Proctor has made a decision. He is still frantically seeking approval from Elizabeth whilst Hathorne is asking for John’s decision. These scenes, with their build up of emotion, have now perfectly set the dramatic climax for this final scene where John tears up his confession.
One of the factors which make this final scene so effective is John Proctor’s characteristics which show through in these last crucial moments.
Throughout the play we are given information describing John as a proud and overall good natured man although he may have strayed at times. Throughout the play John seems to be the voice of reason as he was one of the few individuals which did not get caught up in the witchcraft hysteria. Even at the very beginning when Hale comes to the town one of the first things John says to him is “…I’ve heard you to be a sensible man, Mr Hale. I hope you leave some of it in Salem...” and in his final scene John’s proud and dominant character comes through once more as John never says ‘I confess’ when Hathorne asks him for his decision. Instead John says “…I want my life…” and when he is asked if he’ll confess himself he replies “…I will have my life …” John’s reluctance makes this scene very dramatic as it shows the turmoil he is in as confessing is against his nature yet he wants his life, although he says that he is no saint and that to go like Rebecca, as a martyr, would be a fraud for him. When he sees the confession paper and it dawns on him that his good name will be blackened for the whole town to see, the reality of it all seems to strike John and his body language tenses; you can almost slowly see his decision changing. Miller has done this once again with small stage directions describing John’s body movement and his short answers to Danforth’s questions as though it is causing him pain to even shed those few words:-
“…Danforth: and when he came to you, what were his demand?
(PROCTOR is silent DANFORTH helps) Did he bid you to do his work upon earth?
Proctor: He did ….”
Another way in which we see John’s decision slowly changing is as he compares himself to the other characters around him- first with his wife Elizabeth when he addresses the question to her :-
“… Would you give them such a lie? Say it. Would you ever give them this? (She cannot answer) you would not; if tongs of fire were singeing you you would not! It is evil. Good, then – it is evil and I do it! …”
John then compares himself to Rebecca Nurse who is frail and can barely stand in this scene yet she remains strong and will not confess. John can barely face this woman as he knows that she is doing what he should be doing, and it is after his brief encounter with Rebecca that he starts to resist Danforth’s questions as he realises now what he is doing. He sees that he is being irrational over the subject of his ‘Good name’ but this is the climax to the dramatic build up of these last few scenes and the matter of his name being spoilt is somewhat of a pull at his conscience telling him that he is doing the wrong thing and with that last thought Proctor tears up his confession.
“…His breast heaving, his eyes staring, PROCTOR tears up the paper and crumples it and he is weeping in fury but erect…”