Erin Doherty as Abigail Williams
and the cast of The Crucible
National Theatre London 2022
photo: Johan Persson
054 – The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
The curtain rises on a candlelit bedroom in a home in Salem Massachusetts in the spring of 1692. The Reverend Samuel Parris kneels praying beside the bed of his inert 10-year old daughter. He is praying for her recovery from a mysterious affliction that has overcome her, an affliction that the local doctor suggests has no natural cause. An affliction from which she has not woken since she was discovered in the woods the previous night dancing with her cousin Abigail. Not only is their dancing a sacrilege in this Puritan community, they were also observed enacting some form of pagan ritual led by their black servant Tituba, a ritual that rumour now construes as the work of witchcraft. Has Betty Parris succumbed to a spell cast by spirits in the service of the Devil?
It is not long before this tight-knit Christian community is gripped by hysteria at the threat of witchcraft from within, a threat that many genuinely fear and that some will exploit to their own advantage. This is Arthur Miller’s powerful, cautionary play, The Crucible, which recreates the real-life terror of the notorious Salem Witch Trials. Miller wrote the play in 1952-3 at a time when America was going through a modern witch-hunt, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who sought to prosecute anyone with sympathies or connections to Communism. The Crucible was not an unqualified success on its premier on Broadway in 1953, but it has gone on to become Miller’s most frequently produced play. There is clearly something universal in its exploration of individual betrayal and institutional tyranny.
To help us explore the origins, meaning, and enduring relevance of The Crucible, I am joined from New York by an indisputable expert on Arthur Miller, Dr Stephen Marino.
As we recorded this episode a new production of The Crucible can be seen at the National Theatre in London. It runs until 5th November 2022. Click here for more information.
Dr Stephen Marino
Dr Stephen Marino is the founding editor of The Arthur Miller Journal, which features essays on all aspect of Miller’s life, work, and career. It is published by the Arthur Miller Society, in cooperation with the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia and St. Francis College in Brooklyn, where Dr Marino is also on the faculty.
He is also the former president of the Arthur Miller Society, and his work on Arthur Miller has appeared in many journals and essay collections. He is the editor and author of several books on Miller, including Death of a Salesman & The Crucible – A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism (2015), Arthur Miller’s Century, Essays Celebrating the 100th Birthday of America’s Great Playwright (2017) and most recently Arthur Miller for the 21st Century – Contemporary Views of his Writings and Ideas published in 2020.
Loyal listeners may also recall that Steve did me the honour of appearing on the podcast in episode 13 about Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Steve recommended two plays:
A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, and
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.
The Footnotes to our episode on The Crucible include some facts about the Salem Witch Trials and Miller’s invention; the meaning of the title of the play; and the instinct for self-preservation that drives many of the characters’ behaviour.
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