This era was concerned with the political movement communism, for example the McCarthy trials. These were court hearings where people were accused of being involved with communism. Miller’s play was seen by the contemporary audience as relevant because of the effects of mass hysteria- the destruction of the community in Salem. Miller felt that the play had relevance although he didn’t no write it for that.
The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, involving a small community of Puritans. Puritans lived by the Bible and believed if you followed the teachings you were assured a place in heaven. The Puritans in the play have fled England from fear of prosecution. They fear for their lives because they have contradicted the Church of England. The Puritans accused the church of being too extravagant, such as the windows and the decoration being too bright and distracting. They also disapproved of the church being run by the King and not by the people.
Arthur Miller based the play on real evidence he collected from the transcripts of the Salem witch trials. Therefore he was able to base his main characters, the Proctors, on an actual couple who were tried for witchcraft.
Two of the plays main themes, which run throughout, are honesty and deceit, and the easily spread mass hysteria.
We first see the use of deceit in the opening scenes and both of them involve Abigail Williams. This is shown when she is having a passionate word with John Proctor, “I know you, John. I know you.” This seemingly innocent sentence has a hidden meaning, if she knows John Procter she is using the biblical term, which means that she has had an affair with him. This shows her being deceitful due to the fact she has slept with a married man, and hasn’t told anyone about it.
We also see her lying to others, for example when she is cornered and questioned by Parris regarding the events in the wood she says “not I sir, Tituba and Ruth” this lying is obvious as the audience is well aware that she was involved.
John Procter seems dishonest at the beginning of the play, but this is not continued through the remainder. The audience’s emotion towards him change dramatically when we find out he has told his wife that he has committed adultery. This shows very clearly that he is honest because he wants so save his marriage to Elizabeth, and has sacrificed a great deal by telling her about the affair.
The wide spread hysteria is shown at many points in the play but the majority is to do with the girls in the village and their ‘performances’ when accusing people of witchcraft. When one of the girls pretends to shiver the rest copy and the whole effect must be extremely terrifying to the person being accused.
In the “yellow bird” scene as soon as Abigail pretends to see a small bird high up in the rafters of the courthouse all of the girls start screaming and pointing this clearly outline the rapid spread of the hysteria. The judges and the other people present in court, all start to look for the small creature.
When we first see Abigail Williams in Act One the audience can see through the innocent and pure girl that she wants to be portrayed as, because they can see her sinister and bossy ways. “Now look you,” and “I’ll make you wish you’d never seen the sun go down.” She engages the audience emotions by being the character everyone loves to hate. She seems to be the “evil” person in the play to represent Satan. Arthur Miller has used stage directions excellently, when Abigail is talking, “an icy tone” and “with a flash of anger” really helps us picture Abigail as a spoilt girl who likes to get her way, no matter what she does. This character remains deceitful throughout the play so the audience’s emotions do not change towards her. Though we do feel sympathetic towards here when her uncle is constantly questioning her about the events in the wood.
The first appearance of John Proctor is a misleading one. We see him shouting in blind rage at his servant Marry Warren, “I’ll show you a great doin’ on your arse one of these days,” this gives the audience an image of a nasty, horrid man who likes to harm his servants, but this is not true. Later in the play the audience realises he is a very strong and moral character, and even poetic. He says, “lilacs have a purple smell. Lilac is the smell of nightfall.” This makes the audience feel sympathetic towards him, we see a good man who is ignored by his wife. Towards the end of Act Two, we see the emotion reach a peak, when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft. Again John Proctor shows his poetic nature when he says, “I will fall like an ocean on that court! Fear nothing Elizabeth.”
This also shows his deep love for his wife, using a simile of an Ocean that is large and strong, like his love for Elizabeth. The audience’s emotion’s soar when Proctor is lead to his death, for telling the truth, as this builds up the audiences sympathy towards him. He dies because, to him, admitting to witchcraft would be a lie. The way the character stands by his morals engages the audience building the tension to a climax. At the very end we see John Proctor as the tragic hero.
Reverend Parris is praying at Betty’s bedside, when the play begins. This first scene makes us think that he is a good and holy man, but as the play progresses we see greed, jealousy and hatred appear in his character. He shouts at his Negro slave Scrambling to his feet in fury “Out of my sight!” This man of God shows his true colours, when we see him more worried about his money and status, than the innocent people who are dying ” thirty-one pounds is gone, I am penniless.” The audience thinks that he is stupid to trust the cheating, lying Abigail, but being her uncle, he always looks out for her. Judge Danforth supports the audience’s emotion when he tells Parris “you are a brainless man!”
At the beginning of the play there is serious rivalry between Parris and Proctor, but towards the end when Parris realises what a fool he has been he forgets his difference and tries, with Reverend Hale, to save John. Parris’ last words in the play are “Go to him, Goody Proctor! There is time yet!” where he is urging Goody Proctor to rush to her husband and make him see sense.
I believe Reverend Hale to be the voice of reason in the play. He has been called to Salem to solve the problem and it is ironic that no one listens to his answers, especially Reverend Parris. The author’s voice comes across in the character of Hale to express his own views and to support the audience’s emotions. Hale states that “the girls are faking” and that’s exactly how the audience feels. You can tell by the dialogue used by Hale that he is a sensible man and John Proctor feels the same, “I believe you a sensible man Reverend Hale, I bid you leave some of it in Salem.”
Miller uses three different types of stage directions to direct the characters and story line.
When a new character is introduced Miller likes to give a brief description of their appearance and character to the reader “Enter Mercy Lewis, the Putnam’s servant, a fat, sly, merciless girl of eighteen.” Miller uses explicit words to describe the character , so that the actors and director know exactly how to perform.
Miller gives clear stage directions when he wants to show the characters emotions. When there is high tension between John and his wife Elizabeth in act three, Arthur Miller has introduced lots of stage directions, “He gets up, goes to her , and kisses her. She receives it. With a certain disappointment, he returns to the table.” This stage direction is an explicit way of telling the characters how to behave. The kiss is one sided, John kisses her and she “receives” it. She does not kiss him back or accept the kiss. She is cold towards him due to the affair with Abigail. Throughout the act Miller continues to give very precise stage directions so the play is performed like he wanted.
The audience’s emotions are played with dramatically at the end of each chapter. At the end of act one, the tension is high because the girls have just accused certain people in the village of being witches. “I saw Goody Hawkins with the devil! I saw Goody Bibber with the devil! I saw Goody Booth with the devil!” This builds up the tension due to its short snappy sentence structure and repetition. In the second act the end again is full of drama as Abigail accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft, and John’s true love for Elizabeth is shown, “I will bring you home, I will bring you soon.”
In the last part of act three John is double-crossed by Mary. She says that Proctor is in league with the devil, “he wake me every night, his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I signâ€¦” The audience is stunned at this revelation of Mary Warren. When she was supposed to be against Abigail and the other girls, she has changed and gone running back to them these again shows deceit amongst the characters.
In the final chapter the tension is feverishly high throughout but nevermore so then in the last five pages. John Proctor goes against all of his morals and lies to save his life. He is about to hand Danforth the written confession but will not part with it “I have confessed myself! God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough!”
This makes the audience realise how courageous and brave John Proctor is. It also presents to us how Holy he is, by saying, “God knows” this shows the audience that Proctor believes God knows he is innocent and therefore all knowing, like the Bible states. This is when the audience emotions are engaged to the play the most because we feel sympathetic to John Proctor for needing to die for his beliefs and being accused of something that he is so opposed to.
The tension reaches a dramatic climax towards the end of the play when Miller uses dramatic irony to great affect. Elizabeth is called into the courthouse to announce her husband a lecher, we know that John has admitted to it, but Elizabeth doesn’t. It is ironic that the audience knows something that the characters in the play don’t. This scene had a gradual build up and you know something sensational is about to happen; Elizabeth “the woman who cannot lie”, does lie. When she clearly states to all of the court that her husband is not a lecher, she has lied thus putting her husband in great danger and compromising Christian ideas.
Having discussed the many ways in which Miller engages the audience I believe he has accomplished this successfully through his use of many techniques including stage directions dramatic irony and the use of characters. He engages the audience’s emotions effectively by building up tension throughout the play and reaching a climax in the final chapter. By doing this he allows the audience to become involved in the play and the characters situations.