Written by Arthur Miller in the early 1950’s, “The Crucible” notes the story of the quiet town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. As the play progresses, a major witch hunt takes place after a group of young girls claim to have danced with the Devil. Although the play is fictional, Miller based it on real people and events documented in records made after the actual witch hunts took place, at around the time the play was set it.
I have chosen to analyse the conversation in Act 1, between Abigail and John where she attempts to entice him back to her, however John is adamant he will not be drawn in by her charms and appears to not be tempted. I shall also analyse the section of Act 4 where John Proctor ‘confesses’ to partaking in witchcraft, but then changes his mind after realising he values his morals more than his life.
The first episode begins with Betty in bead and, after supposedly dancing with the Devil; she is in an apparent trance-like sleep. At the same time, John and Abigail are talking about their affair, something that took place before the play began. In this extract, Miller uses a variety of techniques to create tension on stage and in the audience.
One such technique is the way in which variations are created in language; this creates a mix of emotions from the audience. Take, for example, Abigail’s line of “Give me a word John, a soft word” where she appears to be attempting to seduce John. In this part of the play we see how Abigail can manipulate how she speaks to, in a way, toy with John’s emotions, however it is likely that at this point in the play the audience will be aware of how young Abigail actually is, and will therefore realise she is embarrassing herself.
Although this isn’t creating high levels of immense tension, the embarrassment the audience is provoked to feel due to Abigail’s actions is likely to leave them feeling highly uncomfortable in the situation causing a tense atmosphere to be created. In contrast to Abigail’s approach, John talks more as a father, giving a very patronising response, which begins with him calling her “child”, thus furthering the embarrassment felt.
Another technique used in this section of the play is the contrast between how Abigail appears towards John and how she appears towards her Uncle Parris slightly earlier on in the play. To Parris, Abigail seems to be the angelic niece who made the simple mistake of dancing in the woods. However, when she talks to John she says things such as “I am waiting for you every night” and “I know you, John. I know you.”. Both of these examples show how Abigail can change from being an innocent little girl to an apparently seductive young woman. After watching this episode, the audience are undoubtedly aware of how Abigail attempts to manipulate people, and shows how the character is likely to progress, using her ‘skills’ in manipulation to full advantage. The feeling that something is waiting to happen may cause unrest in the audience, which would build up tension levels slightly.
The pace of speaking varies a lot in this small section. We see Abigail’s ‘seductive’ speech, alongside John showing remorse for the situation that has arisen saying “I never give you hope to wait for me”. This is calm, and clear – John is not interested. He sees being open and honest, stating how he feels in the plainest English imaginable as the best way to prevent this conversation ever developing again.
This would keep tension levels low, creating a feeling in the audience that they want Abigail to understand, and see nothing can happen. However, when this is obviously not the case, John begins to lose his composed presence and when Abigail begins crying, the volume of the conversation increases. This, in itself, will cause an increase in tension. Following this emotional outburst, Abigail pleads with John, running to him and crying “pity me, pity me!”. Such a change in a once strong and grown up character, along with the urgency with which the lines are delivered will create huge tension and, probably more embarrassment felt for Abigail.
This is a particularly emotional part of the play, which relies far more upon vocal talents than any physical contact to create the tension we feel when watching it. There is, however, one point in this episode where John grabs Abigail and whilst shaking her shouts “Do you look for a whippin’?”. By this point in the conversation the audience are likely to be in the belief that John Proctor has effectively ‘lost it’ and needs to find a way to make Abigail understand, whatever that way may be. Following John grabbing Abigail, the audience see violence as one way of this conversation finishing which will obviously raise the tension levels considerably.