The Crucible: Arthur Miller's Style

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The Crucible: Arthur Miller's Style

Post by Archer on Sat Jan 15, 2011 12:31 am

Arthur Miller had a reputation for being pedantic. He maintained, and his estate continues to maintain artistic control over his plays. Miller never ever let anyone else have more creative input than himself. He was a visually descriptive playwright both in his stage directions and settings. Miller’s plays, including The Crucible include pages of detailed information addressing the concerns of both the actors and the audience.

In preparation for writing The Crucible, he studied pages and pages of court transcripts of the Salem witch hunts in order to develop ideas and to create an authentic dialect. He took small ideas from the testimonies given in the courts and fleshed them out into stories. In fact, the basis for John Proctor’s and Abigail Williams’ affair was based on the tension he discovered that the two of them shared throughout the actual court proceedings.

'This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian. Dramatic purposes have sometimes required many characters to be fused into one; the number of girls involved in the 'crying out' has been reduced; Abigail's age has been raised; while there were several judges of almost equal authority, I have symbolized them all in Hathorne and Danforth. However, I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history. The fate of each character is exactly that of his historical model, and there is no one in the drama who did not play a similar-and in some cases exactly the same-role in history.

As for the characters of the persons, little is known about most of them except what may be surmised from a few letters, the trial record, certain broadsides written at the time, and references to their conduct in sources of varying reliability. They may therefore be taken as creations of my own, drawn to the best of my ability in conformity with their known behaviour, except as indicated in the commentary I have written for this text.'

Plays can be classified in two major varieties: plays of episodic action and plays of continuous action. Shakespeare's plays are episodic. No one scene is very long, and the action jumps from place to place, sometimes skipping over years in between. On the other hand, Greek tragedies like Oedipus Rex and some modern plays such as Eugene O'Neil's Long Day's Journey into Night, follow what are called the three unities: of time-the action usually takes place within a 24-hour period; of place- there is only one location,, and of action-there is no break in the action from beginning to end.

The Crucible falls somewhere in between. The time span is about three-and-a-half months; the action occurs in four different places, although it never leaves Salem; and there is a gap of at least a week between each act (between Acts III and IV almost three months elapse). But within each act the action is continuous from curtain to curtain.

One advantage of the continuous-action method is that it allows the author to build tension or suspense gradually. It also can be less confusing for an audience, because we don't have to stop and figure out where we are every few minutes. And, finally, it allows us to get to know the main characters very well, by letting us watch them for a long time at a stretch. This is especially important in The Crucible, where we come to understand what happened in Salem in 1692 through the experience of one man, John Proctor.

The Crucible was written in an historical style, marking a shift in Miller's preferred writing style from the "naturalistic dialogue of the American middle class" in his first three plays, to a formal, New-England-Puritan style. Miller "makes exemplary use of this new style, its biblical echoes, its metaphorical richness, and its ethical basis". The Crucible concerns the dilemma of "making moral choices in the face of community pressure and about the irrational basis of that pressure". The similarity between the Communist and Puritan witch-hunts allows Miller to formulate an explanation for their inception, along with the destructive effect that speculations can have on individuals when brought before an unsympathetic, judgmental and irrational public. The public's trepidation toward the subject matter of The Crucible was due to the play's remarkable similarity to the political pulse at the time, causing critics to give it "polite, lukewarm reviews", and closed after only a few months. Ironically, The Crucible was successful in an off-Broadway production five years later and was given ample praise by the same critics who previously rejected it. This performance ran over six hundred shows, establishing it as Miller's second most popular play.

Miller’s style is very simple. He uses simple sentences and sentence structure with a simple vocabulary. While using the simple style, Miller does not take away from the suspense in he plot. The dialogues of his characters are like actual speech. His words are used effectively and does not include anything not necessary to convey the idea. He makes the plot and idea interesting by foreshadowing future events.

In The Crucible, the characters do not speak in fragments, and some do occasionally string together phrases. Also, they do form their thoughts carefully before speaking. The sentences are simple and the structure does not vary too much.

In the first passage spoken by Reverend Parris, the speech is more formal that speeches spoken by other characters. This displays that Reverend Parris is more educated than the others. It has a somewhat fatherly, yet commanding tone.

The second passage spoken by Abigail is markedly different from the first passage. The sentences are less thought out and more fragmented. She repeats the phrase “I know you” several times. This shows less education but more deep emotion than the first passage. The tone for this line is moving, but when compiled with Abigail's character, becomes deceiving.

The third passage spoken by Elizabeth shows a clearly though out idea. It shows that while Elizabeth may not be as educated as someone like Parris, this is a subject that she has thought about a long time. This gives a tone of something like a bottom line or an ultimatum. While Elizabeth does not give a specific choice to Proctor, it is obvious that he must make a decision on what to do.

Miller does not rely too much on imagery. There are few cases of imagery in this play. One remarkably memorable one is the statement by Abigail about the way John Proctor “sweated like a stallion.” While this statement is also a simile, it provides an unforgettable image in the minds of the audience.

The most memorable case of simile is the line, “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I came near!” This statement compares Proctor with a stallion.

Miller rarely uses metaphors or personification in this work. His people generally referred to as people and items as items. Occasionally he alludes to some portion or person in the Bible, but rarely to anything else. For example, while John Proctor is speaking with Rebecca in prison, she alludes to the martyred apostles. Rebecca says, “Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits us all.” This is an allusion to idea from the Bible that man is judged by God in heaven.

Miller has few cases of verbal irony. He uses it in act 3 while Elizabeth tell she court that Proctor did not sleep with Abigail she knows that he did.

All parts with the girls lying about witches and ghosts are cases of dramatic irony since, while the audience knows that the girls are lying, most of the characters do not. For example, in court, Abigail and the other girls pretend to be attacked by spirits and the people in court fear them to be in danger. However, the audience knows that they are faking it.

Miller’s attitude towards witchcraft is satirical. The tone is serious, cynical, and formal. He achieves this tone by the terrible tragedy of the innocent people executed, and the mental struggles of John Proctor. Miller shows the irony and the unjustness of the witch trials, and thereby the irony and the unjustness of the McCarthy trials.
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