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Arthur Miller creates dramatic tension Essay

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The Crucible is set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It starts when Parris, the local- and rather unpopular- reverend in Salem discovers his daughter Betty, niece Abigail and many other young women from the village dancing and chanting in the forest, led by his slave Tituba. Tituba is from the West Indies, so has a set of traditions and beliefs which seem very alien to the Puritan citizens of Salem. When Betty and another girl involved in the dancing don’t wake up the next day, and just lie in a trance-like state, there are rumours of witchcraft afoot.

With the arrival of Hale, an open- minded but overly righteous witch- hunter, Abby and Tituba claim to have been possessed by the spirits of ‘witches’ in Salem. Abby, along with some other girls, start accusing many people. Those who confess to devil worship are saved; those who do not are charged to be hanged. In court, the girls faint, and claim to have terrible pains and see horrific visions, all induced by the ‘witch’ on trial.

Their tactics are powerful, so those conducting the proceedings do not really consider they may be faking.

Also, no one dares express sympathy for those charged, for fear of being accused themselves. As Abby and the other girls become ‘court officials’, people are wary of crossing them. Abby is a very overpowering character. She is seventeen and ravishingly beautiful. Whilst working as a maid for Elizabeth Proctor, she had an affair with her husband John. Abby still has feelings for him, and consequently despises his wife Goody Proctor. In the forest, she cast a spell to try and kill her. The affair has created a lot of tension between the married couple, and it seems John has never quite won back his wife’s trust.

When the couple’s maid, Mary Warren, reveals that Elizabeth’s name has been mentioned in court when witchcraft was being discussed, Goody Proctor is desperate for John to appeal to the court before she is formally charged. This is because Abby revealed to Proctor there was no witchcraft involved in Betty’s trance-like state, claiming, ‘She just took fright, is all’. Proctor is a highly passionate man, who can be hot-headed. He has to live with the terrible guilt of his affair, which he greatly regrets.

He still has feelings for Abby, but he is too ashamed of his weakness in character to do anything about them, seeing what the initial affair did to his relationship with his wife. He still loves Elizabeth, but succumbed to the beautiful girl who had been a temptation to him whilst his wife was ill. When Hale arrives at their house to question the couple, Proctor questions Hale to see whether he has considered the fact the girls might be lying, and reveals what Abby told him. This appears to send Hale into turmoil. Before Proctor has a chance to make an official complaint, Cheever arrives with an arrest warrant for Elizabeth.

She is one of sixteen arrested, along with other respected women like the godly Rebecca Nurse. Giles Corey’s wife, Martha, is arrested because he informed Hale he found it difficult to pray when she was reading. Proctor’s servant Mary knows Abby is making false accusations, so he forces her to tell the court officials of this the next day. Act Three takes place in a courtroom. It is the site where many have been condemned to die and many horrific accusations have been made, so there is already an ominous atmosphere. It is then that we are introduced to Danforth, a court judge with a very rigid view.

Proctor, Corey and Frances Nurse, husband of the condemned Rebecca, are all anxious to prove their wives’ innocence. Mary Warren has come to admit she was faking, but she is petrified about speaking out against Abby and the possible consequences. When it is revealed Elizabeth is pregnant, and therefore will not be hanged for around a year at least, Proctor is given the option of accepting this and doing no more. However, he feels he has to save the others who have been charged as well. To Danforth, this seems to suggest Proctor is just trying to ‘undermine the court’ rather than just save his wife, as he initially claimed.

To us, it is evidence of Proctor’s bravery and conscience. Hale, who has in the past acted quite righteously and tried to root out witches, finally sees that Abby may be lying. He decides to support Proctor, which might put pressure on Danforth to accept that some of the condemnations were untrue. If Danforth admits this, however, he will be publicly disgraced, as he will be seen as responsible for the deaths of many innocent citizens, based on juvenile, callous accusation. The climax of the scene is brought about by Abby’s quick- thinking.

She is relieved when Elizabeth lies about the affair, and sees the moment as her chance to turn the situation to her favour. She, and subsequently the other girls, claim to see a ‘yellow bird’, possessed by the spirit of Mary Warren. Abby does this to pressurise Mary into lying again, to avoid being condemned as a witch. The scene becomes highly charged as Proctor and the others struggle to convince Danforth the girls are faking, Abby becomes more hysterical and Mary is in a dilemma about whether she should listen to her conscience and risk being condemned or lie to save herself. There is conflict between Mary Warren and Abby.

Before all the witchcraft incidents, Abby was very dominant in her relationship with Mary, possibly resenting the fact Mary took her job when Elizabeth discovered the relationship between Abby and John. As Mary is used to be treated like an inferior, she is scared to speak out against Abby. Abby seems to be the more intelligent and powerful of the two, and Mary is afraid that if her claim against Abby is deemed a lie, then Abby will find a way to get back at her. Tension is created as Mary is under pressure from Proctor to admit she and the other girls lied and contributed to the execution of innocent villagers.

In contrast, Abby is desperate for Mary to keep lying to avoid being exposed. As the audience, we are tense to see if Mary will overcome or succumb to the peer pressure. When Abby claims to see a yellow bird, this forces Mary into a decision to support her rather than Proctor. She is close to being tried as a witch and has to find a way to shift the blame, which is basically the foundation of all the trials. There is also a sense that her will is simply overpowered by Abby’s will. The characters in this scene are all very important, and all contribute to the tense atmosphere.

There is lots of conflict between them, causing a feeling of suppressed emotions that are being forced out. In particular, there is conflict between Proctor and Abby, and this is complicated by the fact that we know that Proctor is both physically attracted to and yet hates Abby. When Proctor admits to the affair he has so strenuously kept secret before, it shows the depth of the battle between him and Abby. Miller uses dramatic irony in this scene. We, as the audience, know that Proctor, Corey and Nurse are telling the truth and so we see through Abby’s act and want the truth to prevail.

However, characters such as Hale and Danforth have no evidence either way, but are perhaps pre-disposed to believe Abby as they have executed people on her word (and would lose face if it became known she was lying). Miller plays with us, and builds up the tension, by alternately giving us cause to hope that the truth will be revealed and to fear that it will not.

For example, there are times when we are led to hope that Danforth will give credit to what he is told by Mary, as, contrary to what Parris advises, he does hear her out, and, in response to Parris’ immediate denunciation, states, ‘…it strike hard upon me that she will dare to come here with such a tale. ‘ Similarly, there are times when Hale’s response gives hope. He admits to always having had doubts about Abby. However, we lose hope when Danforth orders that those who signed Giles’ petitions must all be arrested, when Abby convincingly protests her innocence, and when the girls claim to be affected by witchcraft. Proctor’s dramatic revelation of his adultery with Abby looks at one point as if it may sway Danforth, but our hopes are dashed when Elizabeth denies he is a lecher, believing she is doing so in his best interests.

When Mary is won over by Abby, we see that Abby has decisively triumphed. After the drama of the girls’ hysteria, we are left feeling deflated. To conclude, Miller uses a variety of tactics to create tension. He uses theatre techniques like dramatic irony to do so. The conflicting characters are also a major contributor. The scene is a battle between good and evil, and the constantly changing winning side makes us tense. There are moments where everything looks hopeful but then the evidence is turned around to go against what it proves.

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