Classical tragedy - Sample Essay

Arthur Miller was born on October 17th 1915 in New York; he won several awards for plays that he wrote while still at university, and continued writing after his graduation. Miller’s play ‘The Crucible’ was first produced in 1953 during the middle of the McCarthy political ‘witch-hunt’. Strong themes shared in each of Miller’s works are: the responsibility of each individual to other people, self-knowledge and self-realization. Also, Arthur Miller is intensely concerned with those who are vulnerable to and led astray by false values, ‘The Crucible’ is no exception to this.

‘The Crucible’ tells the story of the 1692 Salem witch trials which led to the execution of twenty people. The play is an allegory and uses the story of the 1600s witch trials to speak about the political ‘witch hunt’ of the 1950s; his accusations of Communism destroyed the careers of thousands. Many people were jailed for contempt of Congress after refusing to testify against their friends. Arthur Miller referred to ‘The Crucible’ as ‘a tragedy of the common man’. A tragedy is classically defined as the downfall of a noble protagonist containing a series of events ultimately leading to the death of the hero.

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The central character of ‘The Crucible’ is John Proctor. Proctor is a farmer in Salem where the play is set; he is married to Elizabeth and they have two sons. Previously John Proctor has had an affair with Abigail Williams, which he now deeply regrets and strives for Elizabeth’s forgiveness. When Betty first fell unconscious John asked Abigail the reason for this and she told him that it had nothing to do with witchcraft, ‘we were dancin’ in the woods last night, and my uncle leaped in on us. She took fright, is all.

‘ When Abigail and the girls begin accusing people of witchcraft Elizabeth prompts John to go to Salem and name Abigail false, but refuses until his own wife is arrested. Proctor then takes Mary Warren who works for him but is also a friend of Abigail and has cried witchcraft herself, and tells judge Danforth that Abigail is a liar. Mary Warren succumbs to fear of Abigail and names Proctor a witch, Abigail flees Salem and Proctor is convicted and hanged, his wife Elizabeth is spared as she is with child.

The first time that we see John and Elizabeth together she is very cool with him, not trusting him or forgiving him after his affair. In the stage directions at this point it is written that Elizabeth ‘receives’ John’s kiss, demonstrating that their relationship is not at this time warm and loving but Elizabeth is still very eager to pleas John, blushing with pleasure when he compliments her on her cooking but perhaps her actions are just in keeping with the social conventions of the historical period in which this play is set, when women were expected to domestically care for their husbands.

After the meal the stage directions instruct ‘Her back is turned to him. He turns to her and watches her. A sense of their separation arises,’ Elizabeth still has suspicions about John’s feelings for Abigail, when she suggests that he goes to Salem and declare Abigail a fraud he falters, ‘John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not. ‘ John resents her suspicions and believes that Elizabeth has no right to judge him more, ‘still an everlasting funeral marches around your heart.

I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies’. John believes he can do naught to please her and this quote shows that he believes her love from him has died. Elizabeth clearly does judge John, ‘I will be your only wife, or no wife at all! She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor. ‘ However when Cheever comes with an arrest warrant for Elizabeth John protests heavily her innocence and does everything he can to stop her from being taken; it is Elizabeth who allows herself to be taken, ‘John – I think I must go with them.

‘ The two now seem very loving, he cannot bear to watch her being taken and promises to free her, ‘I will bring you home. I will bring you soon’. ‘Oh, John, bring me soon. ‘ Proctor goes to court in an attempt to free Elizabeth, taking Mary Warren, and when the girls start screaming that Mary Warren is a witch and the judge seems to believe them Proctor is willing to forsake his own name and reputation to save Elizabeth, he calls Abigail a whore and confesses his sin, ‘(trembling his life collapsing about him): I have Known her, sir. I have known her. ‘ Elizabeth is then called to court to confirm or deny this.

Elizabeth’s love for John is now proven when, in an attempt to save John’s good name, which she does not know he has already forsaken, she in despite of her own view of John’s sin and her Christian ways, she has never in her life told a lie, denies that John has committed adultery. ‘(In agony): My husband is a goodly man’. At the end of the play Elizabeth no longer judges John, she will not prompt him to falsely confess to witchcraft which will save his life but rob him of his goodness, she forgives him and realizes she has her own sins to count, ‘suspicion kissed you when I did’.

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