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The Crucible takes place in Salem, a small town in seventeenth century Massachusetts, where religion, fear and hysteria ultimately lead to the famous witchcraft trials in 1692. At the time The Crucible was produced, Senator Joseph McCarthy was in power as the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Due to relative events and the paranoid hunting of pro-communists, The Crucible is seen to be a metaphor for the McCarthy era.
Throughout The Crucible, Miller employs several techniques and writing styles to create tension and suspense and to stimulate the audience’s interest. The most important reason why The Crucible retains the interest of the audience is because the plot maintains a slow burning, yet consistent pace. Act one is a prime example of how information is released gradually and atmospherically. The very start of the play leaves us oblivious to what has happened, with Parris praying over his inert daughter.
This is a great method to grab the audience’s attention immediately as we are in the dark right from the start, and naturally are curious about what has happened. As the act progresses, patches of information are revealed, but the uncertainty and contradiction present engages the audience as they are forced to decipher for themselves the truth; at one point Abigail is denying all charges profusely: ‘We did dance, uncle, and when you leaped out of the bush so suddenly, Betty was frightened and then she fainted.
And there’s the whole of it. ‘ However, later, as other charges are brought about, she concedes to them. This way the story keeps momentum as well as suspense. Act 2 employs the same technique to maintain tension when Mary Warren comes home and the information in reference to the court is informed to us. Acts 3 and 4 stay true to this structure and a good example is in act 4 when John Proctor is undecided over his confession, whether or not to sign it- ‘No, it is not the same! What others say and what I sign to is not the same!
‘ The audience is on tenterhooks, hoping he will sign (or perhaps not, in some cases). Another main element to The Crucible, which engrosses the audience, is the technique of dramatic irony. In The Crucible’s case, dramatic irony is where the audience is aware of something in the play that not all of the characters are. In The Crucible the dramatic irony is that we know that there is no witchcraft, and that Abigail and her friends are pretending, but most of the other characters believe it, or at least take advantage of it.
Some of the characters must be left ignorant in order to form a basis to the theme of hysteria and madness, but the idea of dramatic irony is so that it creates the ironic and incredulous situations, and involves the audience more proactively as they know what is going on. In act 1 we think that the girls’ lies will be dismissed as they seem to us so ridiculous, but in Act 2 the true impact of the situation starts to take shape as information of arrests and trials is revealed.
By Act 3 the original accusations have manifested into sheer madness which we, as the audience, can see, but the characters cannot. Act 4 does not utilize the tool quite as much as by then Abigail and her peers have unofficially been exposed. The dramatic irony concerning the presence of witchcraft helps to emphasise the theme of hysterical behaviour which, in that respect, has a larger impact on the audience and produces more interesting scenarios from the audience’s 0point of view.
Another example of dramatic irony is during Act 3 when Elizabeth Proctor is asked to explain to the court her reasons for dismissing Abigail as her servant, unaware that John had just admitted his affair with her. This scene is perhaps the tensest in the entire play as the fate of Salem rested on Elizabeth confirming that Proctor was an adulterer. However, she lies and tells the court Proctor was not a lecher, not wanting to get him into trouble. ‘Excellency, it is a natural lie to tell’ This is said by Reverend Hale as he too is trying to stop this insanity, and the audience is also frustrated with the situation.
Which is one of the key emotions that dramatic irony provokes to sustain the audience’s attention- frustration. Our hopes that the situation will be resolved and our almost angry views to some of the characters ignorance involves us in the plot and helps to share what John Proctor and some of the other characters must be feeling. In order to maintain the suspense and atmosphere in-between acts, Miller makes sure to end the first 3 acts with suspense and cliff-hangers and Act 4 with a big finale.
In the ultimate scenes of Act 1, the tension created throughout the start of the play reaches its climax with Abigail and the other Girls accusing various Salem citizens of witchcraft to relieve themselves of attention. Miller has chosen a fantastic way to draw the Act to an unmistakeable close but still retaining the interest of the reader; it draws the events of the night together, satisfying the reader in one element, but has at the same time unleashed a larger and more complex crisis upon Salem, rousing the inquisitive eagerness experienced right from the very start of the play.
Act 2 also ends dramatically with Elizabeth’s arrest after Abigail utilizes Mary’s poppet to frame Elizabeth. As in Act 1, it draws the night’s events to a satisfying climax with Elizabeth’s arrest, but also leaves the reader expectant of Act 3’s events with Proctor and Mary planning to expose Abigail. ‘My wife will never die for me! I will bring your guts into your mouth but that goodness will not die for me! ‘
This powerful sentence from Proctor gives the audience hope for Elizabeth and, at the same time, makes sure the audience knows that dramatic events are yet to come. Additional to suspense-filled endings, Miller employs the use of time lapses in-between acts in order to maintain the pace. Between both Acts 1 and 2, and Acts 3 and 4, there is a significant time jump. This way it stops the plot from appearing too dragged out and makes sure that the suspense doesn’t die down so the audience’s interest is still at its peak.