In a departure from our usual ‘interactive’ lessons, we trialed a ‘lecture’ style approach today. Miss Ryan spoke about key ideas and issues from the four acts of the play, while we made notes. There were plenty of opportunities for discussion and debate and we covered a whole range of ideas. Miss Belcher made notes on what we went through, and we have recorded them below to refer to for revision.

Overview:

  • It is a four act play.
  • Each act takes place in just one location: Act 1 – Parris’s house, Act 2 – Proctor’s house, Act 3 – The courtroom, Act4 – The jail.
  • The climax is ACT 4. However, Jack argued that you could call Act 3 the climax because of the dramatic scene and wild exclamation from Proctor that “God is dead!” Gregg also argued that Act 2 is a climax because it is a big turning point, when the consequences of Abigail’s accusations are felt by important characters in the play.
  • The plot is relentless, there is no comic relief, or real moments of joy. This makes it quite unappealing to some students. Miss Ryan commented that we should apply our criticism of the play in a constructive way to gain a few extra marks for providing personal opinions.

ACT 1:

An establishing act where we meet our characters, learn about the setting and understand the triggers that set off the events in the rest of the play.

Reverend Parris talks with Abigail about the girls dancing in the woods. Abigail knows that she will be severely punished if she admits to it, so she accuses Tituba. Parris is happy about the accusation as it means that he won’t have a dent in his family’s reputation.

Abigail is revealed as a very cunning and resourceful character, who has the power to manipulate and control people and events around her.

We learn about the ‘FACTIONS‘ in the Salem community where people, despite their strict religion, are warring with each other about land and power. We feel that this could help to explain the actions of the girls – if their elders aren’t setting a good example, how will the girls know right from wrong?

The strict religion of Salem is revealed in a negative way. This could allude to Miller’s own beliefs about the flaws in Christianity, and definitely relate the the ALLEGORY of Salem representing the McCarthy communist trials of the 1950’s.

The character of John Proctor is created as the voice of reason, a man who despises the ‘fire and brimstone‘ content of Parris’ sermons. Perhaps he represents the voice of Miller himself?

Another key moment comes when we see Abigail and Proctor’s secret meeting. Abigail is seen as desperate and lustful, showing none of the shame or piety that we would expect from a young girl in her time. When Proctor rejects her, her wild side is fully unleashed and we learn that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. We felt that this is quite a sexist myth and could definitely see Miller’s prejudices against her role in the affair. John Proctor isn’t really presented as having blame in the adultery at this point, despite the fact that he was a married man. Abigail’s motive of revenge against Elizabeth is revealed.

The arrival of Hale is a key scene in Act 1, he comes in ‘all guns blazing’ to ‘save the day’. He is presented as an expert in witches and manages to convince the whole village that there is a problem, and he is the one to solve it. We think that he is rather arrogant at this stage and provokes mass hysteria in the villagers.

ACT 2:

The stage directions of setting at the start of the play are very significant. The cold, bare Proctor household is described to mirror their cold marriage.

Elizabeth Proctor is presented as prim and proper, conservative and deeply religious. Their conversations are strained, revealing very little warmth between the two. The affair is still very much tormenting their relationship. John Proctor gets angry at his wife and accuses her of forgiving but not forgetting. Elizabeth takes the religious high ground, defending herself against Proctor. The atmosphere is definitely tense.

When Mary Warren returns with news from Salem, the atmosphere shifts. We learn that 39 people have been arrested, and hangings are due to take place. We get our first real glimpse of the growing danger of the hysteria in town.

Mary gives Elizabeth a ‘poppet’ (a rag doll) which will eventually lead to her downfall at the end of the act. Mary uses her new found power against Proctor when she stands up to him and reveals that Elizabeth has been accused. Elizabeth knows that Abigail is out to get her, “She wants me dead”, and pleads with Proctor to speak with Abigail to prevent the madness from getting even more out of control.

The Proctors are the most rational thinkers and, as a modern audience, we relate most to their mindset. We know that the accusations are false, and this adds to the growing anticipation in the play. The strong convictions of other characters seem almost comical to us, but it is important to remember that 17th century Puritans had very strict religious rules and a real fear of the devil – they blamed him for everything!

Hale arrives at the Proctor’s house and questions Elizabeth on her Christian faith. We learn that while Elizabeth is a devout Christian, she shares the same doubts about Parris as her husband, citing this as a reason why he has not baptised her youngest child. Ironically, Proctor forgets the commandment about adultery, bringing that problem to the forefront again. He explains to Hale that the whole episode is a farce and Hale seems to believe what the Proctor’s are saying. We see the first cracks in Hale’s arrogant convictions, and begin to feel that the Proctor’s may be safe.

At the end of the scene, Cheever and Herrick arrive with a warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest, this is when the purpose of the ‘poppet’ is revealed. They find a pin stuck in the stomach of the doll and link it to Abigail who was found with a needle in her stomach earlier that evening. Havoc ensues and while John tears up the warrant, Elizabeth is arrested. Elizabeth’s first thought it to protect her children, revealing the honest and loving nature as a mother.

The scene ends with a very aggressive Proctor forcing Mary Warren to go to court to tell the truth. Initially Mary is very scared of Abigail, but Proctor violently shakes her to convince her of what she must do.

Proctor: “Little crazy children are dangling the keys of the kingdom and common vengeance writes the law!”

Stay tuned for The Crucible Plot and Structure Acts 3 and 4!


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