The Historical Context of Arthur Miller

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Dan Dando

The Historical Context of Arthur Miller’s Crucible

In 1953 Arthur Miller, who was born in New York in 1915, wrote his ‘Tony Award’ winning play ‘The Crucible’ which was first performed on the 9th of November 1954 in England at the Bristol Old Vic. He wrote the play when the United States was in a period of anti-communist hysteria, which was being fuelled by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Miller wrote the play at a time when he was being associated with the American public as a man who understood the deep cultural and traditional essence of the United States. The Crucible was Miller’s third major published play and succeeded his second ‘The Death of the Salesman’; a play labelled by may critics as the first great America Tragedy.


 In 1692 a small town in colonial Massachusetts, known as Salem, fell foul to mass hysterical accusations of witchcraft. Many girls had fallen ill and had become victim to hallucinations leading to and adding to the speculation of a number of girls dancing in the woods. To have a speculation of such hellish damnation was such a sin in Puritan society such as Salem. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8, a quote from the Puritan bible. Such quotes outline the real wariness or anxiousness that they had about them. The 17th century was incredibly strict in terms of Theological Law. The government and law system was very much influenced by its religion. Miller found that the trial records he had as aids were very much based on religious teaching. However, he said that the historical accuracy of the play was not very close but he had surmised a lot of the information from a few letters, the trial record and a few news-sheets. Miller found that for dramatic purposes numbers of characters had had to be reduced. According to the author himself the numbers of girls involved in the ‘crying out’ had been significantly reduced. However the accuracy of a number of characters is relatively close, for instance Miller found a lot of information on Rebecca Nurse, so her character was probably the most historically accurate of them all. As well as Rebecca Nurse, Giles Corey, whom objected to the accusations against the girls, was really pressed as Miller wrote in the book. This clearly highlights quite how mixed up a period in American history this really was.

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 Witches were seen as disgusting, evil people as can be seen in great influences within puritan literature such as Shakespeare. Shakespeare depicted the witches in his own play ‘Macbeth’ as foul-mouthed evil women, because he suggested they were so powerful and their power was channelled from the Devil. There is no way that in these times they could be depicted as pure or innocent as puritan were meant to be. Also Hathorne and Danforth actually represent several judges, all of equal authority in the 17th century witch trials, almost acting like a jury. After just a couple of weeks ...

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