Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Crucible: Structure, Style and Language

Compared with some of Miller's other plays The Crucible is a straightforward work written in a traditional way. Events on stage occur in order and occupy roughly the same amount of time as they would in real life. In this type of realistic drama, the playwright will concentrate on important episodes and fill in what happens between acts as unobtrusively as possible.

The internal structure of The Crucible is of course far more complicated than this. Miller employs a different pattern of pace and climax in each Act, and unifies all four by interweaving John Proctor's personal history with the fate of Salem village. Act 1 is 'an overture'. The main characters introduce themselves as neighbours invading Mr. Parris’s house to ask about the rumours of witchcraft. Their rapid entrances and exits create an atmosphere of anxiety and turmoil. In the midst of this, the scene between John and Abigail alerts us to another storyline, but the topic of witchcraft remains dominant.
Act 2, in contrast, opens quietly, and explores at length a different situation: the relationship between John and his wife. These two perspectives are brought together when the court officials burst in to arrest Elizabeth.
Structurally, Act 3 is the most complicated section of the whole play. Miller does not place his trial scene in the courtroom itself. We briefly overhear what is happening there, and then, by a natural sequence of events, judges and defendants remove themselves to an anteroom on stage. Thus Miller can bring into play the cut and thrust of legal drama, but in a much freer setting. In this act there is also a striking example of what he calls the holding back of climax.
After the uproar of the court, comes the chilly isolation of Salem jail. In Act 4, the witchcraft theme gives way entirely to the resolution of John Proctor’s personal crisis. It is a proof of Miller's dramatic skill in blending the public and personal themes of his play that the transition seems entirely natural.
One of the most remarkable aspects of The Crucible is Miller’s creation of believable dialogue for his seventeenth-century Puritans. Although partly based on what he found in the Salem records, most of it is his own invention. It is convincingly old-fashioned, without being hard to understand. It is a language that carries echoes of the King James Bible; but word by word, apart from a few archaic terms - such as 'harlot' and 'puppet' -the vocabulary is essentially modern. Miller achieves his effect by linking words in an unusual way, using double negatives, changing verb tenses, and other devices of the same kind. Here are some examples:
'He cannot discover no medicine for it in his books';
I know you have not opened with me';
'Seeing I do live so closely with you, they dismissed it';
'I am thirty-three time in court in my life';
'He give me nine pound damages';
Within this shared language, Miller varies the way his characters speak to suit their background and personality. Ministers and judges naturally use more elaborate phrases than the villagers; Giles Corey is blunt and even coarse: 'A fart on Thomas Putnam, that is what I say to that!'  John Proctor utters some of the most poetic lines in the play, whether describing his delight in the Massachusetts' countryside, or crying out in despair at the end of Act 3.
Most characters use simile and metaphor. 'There be no blush about my name, Abigail reassures her uncle. Judge Danforth tells the children, A very augur bit [a corkscrew-like tool] will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is proved'.
'My daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like  heathen in the forest'I know how you sweated like a stallion whenever I come   near!'

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