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Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Fact & Fiction

3286 words - 14 pages

ARTHUR MILLER'S THE CRUCIBLE:FACT & FICTION(OR PICKY, PICKY, PICKY...)BY MARGO BURNSNEW CONTENT ADDED 02/01/04A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ACCURACY OF THIS PLAYby Arthur Miller"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. ...view middle of the document...

This is simply not history. The real story is far more complex, dramatic, and interesting -- and well worth exploring. This page, however, is only dedicated to separating the fact from the fiction in Miller's work.Most popular understandings of the tale include their own inaccuracies -- for instance, that the witches were burned to death. People condemned as witches in New England were not burned, but hanged, and in the aftermath of the events in Salem, it was generally agreed that none of them had actually been witches at all. Some modern versions cast the story as something that has to do with intolerance of difference, that the accused were really just oddballs that the community tacitly approved getting rid of, but most of the people who were accused, convicted and executed in Salem were remarkable by their very adherence to community norms. In the 1970s, a theory was put forth that the afflicted had suffered from hallucinations from eating moldy rye wheat -- ergotism -- and although that theory has generally been refuted, its life continues in the popular explanation of the events. (A recent biological theory which also fails to hold up under the scrutiny of medical and Salem scholars alike, however, is that the afflicted suffered from encephalitis lethargica.) Lastly, Rev. Parris' slave woman, Tituba, is usually assumed to have been of Black African descent, but recent research indicates she was Amerindian, probably South American Arawak, always being referred to in the documents of the period as "an Indian woman." Had she been African or Black, she would have been so described.As for Miller's tellings of the tale, I am always distracted by the wide variety of minor historical inaccuracies when I am exposed to his play or movie. Call me picky, but I'm not a dolt: I know about artistic license and Miller's freedom to use the material any way he chooses to, so please don't bother lecturing me about it. This page is part of a site about the history of 17th Century Colonial New England, not about literature, theater, or Arthur Miller, even though you may have landed smack dab in the middle of the site thanks to a search engine hit for information about Miller.One reason I am providing this page is because 1) actors contact me about making their portrayals of characters in the play "more accurate" -- when that is impossible without drastically altering Miller's work because the characters in his play are simply not the real people who lived, even though they may share names and basic fates, and 2) students are given assignments in their English classes to find out more about what really happened. (American high school juniors in honors and AP classes seem to be the most frequent visitors.) I can be an ornery cuss when it comes to being asked the same literature questions that I've already said I don't care to answer because I am an historian, so before you even think of writing to ask me a question about the play, please read through my list of...


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