The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller’s use of language in this play ensures naturalistic acting on stage throughout the play, and that all the actions and events flow smoothly from scene to scene. In fact it could be said that it is even more important given that the play is based on a true story. He uses a writing style that makes for a very absorbing play which is very believable and realistic. His central subject matter was the hysteria and the witchhunts of the ‘puritan christians’ in the late 17th century in the New England region of what is now the United States of America, specifically Massachusetts.
For the jewish Arthur Miller this may have been awkward in itself, although he tackles the subject superbly, for it was through the deft use of authentic 17th century New England english that he developed a play that although set almost three centuries before it was written, and was ostensibly about the mass hysteria of the witchhunts, was in reality a thinly veiled portrayal of his contemporaries in 1950s America, and the mass hysteria generated by McCarthyism, and the white house committees’ ridiculous charades.
Miller’s style in this play is very simple, although at times he uses somewhat poetic dialogue (reflecting the idiom of the era in which it is set), such as John Proctor’s prosaic verbal impugning of Danforth during the trial in which he delivers an acerbic and ireful speech in court: “For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your blackened hearts that this be fraud”, he uses simple sentences and words which are easy to understand.
For example he brings out the nefarious nature and treacherous disposition of Abigail and the other girls and also the gullibility of some of the judges, His style is easy to understand by the modern day reader and this is necessary in order to be successful as a contemporary play. While using the simple style, Miller does not take anything away from the suspense in the plot. The dialogues of his character are like actual speech, and are very naturalistic. His words are used expertly and do not include anything that is not necessary for making an exciting and enjoyable play.
Many clever metaphorical, literary tools are employed, for example at one point in act one Abigail says that John “sweated like a stallion”, (Abigail: “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near! Or did I dream that? “) and later in the play Elizabeth says of Rebecca “She is one foot in heaven now” Although his writing contains many such poetic elements throughout, the writing as a whole is very that memorable since it was not really written as prose or poetry in the style of Shakespeare for example.
It is written is a style that is very appealing to a modern audience and very readable in the present day. Throughout each act the action rises to a crescendo and comes to a dramatic climax at the end, and thus ensuring the audience or reader of the play is gripped by the story. Miller very adroitly couples the old fashioned english with his dramatic theme and plot to ply the audience with tension and to inspire trepidation in them.
Miller’s command and use in this play of the New England idiom and it’s idiosyncrasies is so extensive that some published editions of the play contain a glossary at the back, to guide the reader who may be unfamiliar with certain colloquialisms, and the argot used by the people in the play, lest they perhaps mistake them for neologies. An example would be the use of the rather controversial term ‘covenanted’ – the modern form of which will be familiar to quite a few modern American readers as ‘saved’.
Other such fine examples abound, such as to ‘break charity’: to fall out of friendship, to ‘plough on sunday’: to break the fourth commandment, ‘proof so immaculate’: proof without any doubt, and so on. In summary then, Miller has produced a play that in spite of it’s rather old fashioned setting translates to the modern day very well and possess still today very relevant and far-reaching themes about human nature. He achieves this through the use of characters who are not only very believable and convincing, but through language that is very lucid and convictive in spite of the seemingly antediluvian nature of the story and setting.