by Amanda Alley, dramaturg
Salem was a town founded on Puritan beliefs. In fact, the settlement was designed to set an example of righteousness for the rest of humanity. Their goal was to separate themselves from the world and create a unified society centered on the principles of their faith. This Puritan community in the New World would be governed by Puritan doctrines, and all would abide in peace. Even the name of the town reflected that ideal: Salem was derived from the Hebrew word Shalom, which means “peace.” The settlement would be an example of righteous living that would shine forth to the rest of the world.
Of course, we know this wasn’t the case, but their religious statutes gave them hope for such a place. A few of their commonly held beliefs were:
- Witches were a real threat and should be rooted out. In Exodus 22:18 it reads, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Convicted witches were excommunicated, executed, and buried in shallow graves outside the bounds of the consecrated church cemetery.
- Only men could be clergymen, which meant women were considered the lesser sex. It was believed that they were more easily led away by the devil to join his ranks because of Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit. This is why more women were accused and convicted of witchcraft.
- The appearance of evil was always avoided. Solemnity, devotion, and chastity were essential, and laughter and dancing were deplorable. Public displays of affection were not tolerated.
- Church attendance was mandatory. You were subject to fines if you did not attend.
- The devil was always looking for ways to subvert the communities of God’s righteous.
As you watch BYU’s production of The Crucible, think on how these statutes might build tension in Salem, and lead to a witch hunt.