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.