2016-2017 Season,  Crucible

The Two Histories of The Crucible

by Kristin Perkins, assistant dramaturg

crucible-1140x600-1024x539What excites me as the assistant dramaturg for The Crucible, is the level of depth in this play. There is so much to dive into between the rich dramatic themes, vivid characterization, and, not to mention, the exploration of how BYU’s production handles the script in unique ways. I get especially excited about the history; drawing connections, revealing embedded themes, and separating what is historically true from the dramatic “truth” of the play. There is really two histories that inform The Crucible. Most obviously, the play is loosely based on the events of the Salem Witch Trials. Miller certainly did his research but also felt free to adjust some of the history in order to fulfill the dramatic structure he wanted. The other history that deeply informs this play is that of the Red Scare which Miller lived through and felt strongly about. We will be exploring these dual histories in The Fourth Wall but we figured it would be best to start here: in a Puritan settlement, in 1692:

A Brief Chronology of the Salem Witch Trials

  • Early February – The first written records appear of adults in Salem being concerned about the behavior of several young girls in the town who had been experimenting with “witchcraft.”
  • February 29 – Three arrests are made (Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba). Tituba confesses to witchcraft and all three women are jailed.
  • March – Reverend Deodat Lawson travels from Boston to join Reverend Parris in investigating the claims of witchcraft.
  • March – Martha Corey becomes the fourth person accused of witchcraft.
  • March 23/24 – Dorcas Good (the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good) is imprisoned. Rebecca Nurse is also jailed.
  • April 11 – The extent of the problem means that examinations from here forward were moved from Salem Village to Salem Town, and the examinations were carried out in front of the deputy governor and six magistrates. More and more people are jailed.
  • April 21 – Abigail Williams accuses George Burroughs, a former minister of Salem Village, of being a Wizard and the mastermind behind the outbreak. A warrant is sent to Maine for his arrest.
  • *Up until this point Massachusetts was without a legally established government since the previous government had been overthrown in a bloodless coup d’etat in 1689. This means that for the last three months lots of people were being jailed but no one could be sentenced without a working court system. This becomes important because finally:
  • May 14 – Sir William Phips arrives with the new charter for Massachusetts and establishes a special “Court of Oyer and Terminer” to decide on all the witchcraft cases. Phips himself serves as the chief justice of the court.
  • June 2 – The first trial is finally held by the special court and sentences Bridget Bishop to death. She is hanged on June 10.
  • June 29 – The court holds its second round, this time trying five women instead of one. All five women are sentenced to death; they are hanged July 19th.
  • August 5 – Six more people are sentenced to die including John Proctor and George Burroughs; five are hanged August 19th. Elizabeth Proctor, the sixth, is reprieved because of her pregnancy.
  • Early September – Six more people are condemned. One is reprieved and one manages to escape from prison and go free.
  • September 17 – Nine more people are condemned but five confess and are reprieved. Giles Corey refuses to plead to the charges and is pressed by heavy weights progressively piled on his body. He dies after two days of this torture.
  • September 22 – The eight people who had been sentenced and not reprieved in the month of September are hanged. There are more than 100 suspected witches in jails.
  • Early October – Under the leadership of Increase Mather, a group of ministers publicly condemn the trials. They emphasize the need for strong evidence and to avoid killing innocent people at all costs.

Death Toll:

June 10

Bridget Bishop

July 19

Rebecca Nurse

Sarah Good

Susannah Martin

Elizabeth Howe

Sarah Wildes

August 19

George Burroughs

Martha Carrier

John Willard

George Jacobs, Sr.

John Proctor

September 19

Giles Corey*

September 22

Martha Corey

Mary Eastey

Ann Pudeator

Alice Parker

Mary Parker

Wilmott Redd

Margaret Scott

Samuel Wardwell

Died in Prison

Sarah Osborn

Roger Toothaker

Lyndia Dustin

Ann Foster

(with the possibility of others)

* Crushed instead of hanged.

Boyer, Paul and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.

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