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Dramatic Tension in Miller's Play

How does Miller create dramatic tension between John, Elizabeth and Abigail in Act 1, Scene 3 (pages 17-19) and Act 2 Scene 1 (pages 41-46) Tension is the most important thing in plays, films, books and all other types of entertainment. Dramatic tension can be established by conflict between characters and twists in the plot. It can be built up further by more of the plot unfolding, body language and movement of the characters. The strong religious society of Salem does not allow fun, games or even dances and colourful dresses.

A seventeenth century puritan’s life would of consisted of working and praying, this strong society may of caused characters to act the way they did. Salem, as a puritan society, has many strict laws and anyone who broke these laws must be punished but, unlike modern Christianity, the sinners cannot be forgiven and therefore must live in shame throughout the rest of their lives. The most hideous crime in Salem was to compact with the devil and commit witchcraft.

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Miller uses a range of stage directions to express that Abigail and Proctor are more than good friends. “(Abigail stands as though on tip-toe absorbing his presence)”

“(Proctor, looking at Abigail, gives the faintest suggestion of a knowing smile)” The first quote is used immediately to instantly create dramatic tension, it is created as it suggests that Abigail has a love interest in Proctor. Miller uses the second stage direction to further identify that Abigail and Proctor are more than friends and to build up even more dramatic tension.

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In Act 1, Scene 3 the audience see Proctor and Abigail together for the first time and they are alone, Miller uses this to instantly create dramatic tension by hinting and eventually establishing to the audience that Proctor and Abigail had an affair.

“Give me a word, John. A soft word” “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion” The affair builds up dramatic tension as it creates conflict between Proctor and Abigail. The conflict between these characters builds up further dramatic tension throughout the play. Although Proctor has a weakness in Abigail and the affair he shows his strength and resistance in refusing to continue the affair despite Abby’s persistence. This shows Proctors strength of being even-tempered and being firm in his own beliefs. “No, No, Abby. That’s done with”

“Abby, you’ll put it out of mind. I’ll not be comin’ for you more” ‘you’ll put it out of mind’, this shows Proctor ordering Abby like a superior as he thinks she is a child. This confirms Proctors strength to continue to refuse Abigail. The strong religious society of Salem do not approve of forgiveness of sins therefore Proctor must wrestle with his guilt throughout the play. This furthermore builds dramatic tension as Proctor, instead of looking for forgiveness, shows the strengths and will power of a good Christian man. “I never give you hope to wait”

‘never’, is such a strong word so this shows that Proctor is being extremely firm and decisive, he knows he can’t continue the affair so looks to repent his sins by pleasing his wife. This builds dramatic tension as Proctor tries hard to please her but cannot fulfil her as seen in Act 2, Scene 1. As Proctor keeps calm Abigail is forced to use different emotions and approaches to convince Proctor to continue the affair. As Proctor evades the approaches Abigail resorts to crying and eventually anger, Miller shows this in the stage directions and all of these outburst create more dramatic tension.

“(with a flash of anger) How do you call me child! ” “(she is weeping)” ‘flash of anger’ this phrase shows how erratic and short tempered Abigail is, these character traits can easily create dramatic through conflict. Elizabeth’s and John’s relationship is totally different to John’s and Abigail’s. Proctor and his wife have a very quiet and formal marriage as if they hardly know each other. Proctor has to constantly prove to Elizabeth that he loves her and is sorry of what he has done. “I mean to please you Elizabeth” “I think you’re sad again. Are you? ”

The second quote shows how eager Proctor is to please Elizabeth this shows how committed he is to his marriage despite his affair. The first quote identifies how dedicated Proctor is to his wife and this fact, which arises later on in the play, builds up tremendous dramatic tension as Abigail begins to realise it. The main difference between Proctors relationship with Abigail and Proctor with Elizabeth is that with Elizabeth their relationship is based on love while Abigail’s relationship with Proctor is based on passion and secrets. “I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart”, (Abigail)

When Abigail says “knowledge” the audience assumes it means love but it could mean that it was the knowledge that turned her from a girl into a women. This shows that Abigail thinks that John wants to leave Elizabeth for her but John sees their relationship as lust which turned into something that should never of happened. Miller created his own form of language so people could understand the strict society the puritans had to live in. If he had not a lot of dramatic tension would have been lost, for example when characters are angry they often dropped ‘g’ from ends of words. “Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’,”

Proctor, who says the above quote, is obviously angry so Miller purposely drops the ‘g’ to try and make the audience feel as they are part of the Salem so they understand the immense pressure and expectation pushed upon them. This creates an enormous amount of dramatic tension and without this style of speech the play would of lost a considerable amount of dramatic tension and would not of been seen as such a masterpiece. Miller uses a range of techniques to create dramatic tension between John, Abigail and Elizabeth such as staging, language and conflict. Without these techniques the play would of lost effect and the audience interest.

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Dramatic Tension in Miller's Play. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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