The Crucible

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The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller, published in 1953 and adapted by Miller for the screen in 1996.

The play tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Massachusetts in 1692-93 - though, of course, Miller invents his own characters for dramatic purposes and because not much is known of the actual personalities involved.

The central characters are John and Elizabeth Proctor, a simple farmer and his wife, and Abigail Williams, their former servant with whom John previously had an affair. Initial accusations of witchcraft leveled at the local preacher's daughter snowball into a witch-hunt that engulfs the whole town as Abigail and others use the trials as a way of seeking revenge for old wrongs and acquiring property from rivals.

The Crucible was likely written partly in response to the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who became notorious for his excessive zeal in rooting out Communist sympathizers.


Tropes used in The Crucible include:

"WILL you be SILENT?!"

  • Betty and Veronica: Prior to the start of the play John (Archie) was married to Elizabeth (Betty) while having an affair with Abigail (Veronica)
  • Break the Cutie: Hale starts out full of exuberance and intellectual glee at the situation, which has faded significantly by Act Two, and is shattered completely by Proctor's death.

"Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up."

  • Burn the Witch: Averted -- the suspected witches are hanged. This was accurate, and the witches were indeed hanged at the Salem witch trials.
  • Chewbacca Defense: When a feeble, elderly man incapable of walking without sticks is accused of climbing into a girl's room and performing witchcraft, he states that would be impossible to do in his health. The court then states he could have very well sent his spirit into the room using witch powers. The old man has no idea how to respond to that, which they claim proves his guilt.
  • Composite Character: Danforth's a mix of several judges.
  • Consummate Liar: Abigail. Oh boy is she ever...
  • Cool Old Guy: Giles Corey, both here and in Real Life.
  • Cool Old Lady: Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse.
  • Corrupt Church: Well, when you have a guy like Samuel Parris in charge...
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Thomas Putnam, who profits from his daughter's accusations by purchasing the then-forfeited property of the accused.
  • Dark Messiah: Abigail.
  • Deadpan Snarker: John Proctor.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Proctor attempts to puncture Abigail's veneer of righteousness by telling Danforth that she and her fellows were found dancing in the woods; a mortified Danforth repeats "Dancing" as if he had accused her of murder.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: All of the people accused of being witches who decline to save themselves by "confessing" are this.
  • Downer Ending
    • Could be seen as a Bittersweet Ending as well, since Proctor ultimately redeems himself (and the text version ends by stating that the power of the theocracy that made this possible was effectively broken by the aftermath).
  • Evil Plan: Abigail plans to use hysteria powered Batman Gambits to secure her crush and a powerbase. And possibly entertainment as well.
  • Foil: Abigail Williams is bad and beautiful while Elizabeth is good, plain, and follows her Puritan beliefs. Mary Warren contrasts Abigail in terms of plainness and weakness.
  • A God Am I: Abigail refers to herself as "God's Finger."
  • Hanging Judge: Danforth becomes something very similar over the course of the play.
  • Happily Married: The Nurses. The Coreys seem to be as well, despite Giles' innocent accidental accusation of witchcraft on his wife.
  • Deadly Change-of-Heart: Mary tries to testify against Abigail and no longer be her puppet, but her weakness wins out and she ends up accusing Proctor of witchcraft instead.
  • Heel Realization: Reverend Hale.
  • Heroic BSOD: Mary gets two. She's actually able to fight off the first one, but the second one completely breaks her and makes her testify against John.
  • Infant Immortality: The court can't legally hang a pregnant Elizabeth until she has her baby.
  • Inspector Javert: Danforth, who vows he would hang 10,000 men for challenging the law and never be swayed.
  • It Got Worse: And how.
  • I Won't Say I'm Guilty
  • Jerkass: Proctor starts out this way, but ends up being broken so much that it ironically turns him into a far nobler man.
    • Parris, Abigail, and Danforth are also this. They never change.
  • Kangaroo Court
  • Karma Houdini: Abigail. Though her plans to win Proctor for herself don't work out, she escapes Salem scot-free and ultimately has the last laugh.
    • It's implied in the play that Abigail prostituted herself and didn't live to see the age of 18. Though the real Abigail was very young and died at a young age.
  • Kids Are Cruel
  • Knight in Sour Armor: John Hale by the end of the play. Starting off intellectual, changes from idealistic to completely cynical. In the end, he attempts to convince Goody Proctor to persuade John to abandon his moral ideals so that he may live, reflecting Hale's own change in paradigms from valuing religious law to simply valuing that a human being makes it out alive, regardless of the moral cost. It doesn't work.
  • Knight Templar: Danforth and the judges.
  • Last Kiss: John and Elizabeth, immediately before he is escorted out of the prison and hanged.
  • Life Imitates Art: Three years after the play was produced, Arthur Miller was summoned before HUAC; he refused to name names, and was sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress, though this was overturned on appeal.
  • Love Triangle: Gone Horribly Wrong
  • Madness Mantra: I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
  • Manipulative Bitch: Abigail.
  • May-December Romance: Arguably Abigail and Proctor, since it's hinted that Proctor did actually have feelings for Abigail at one point.
  • Meta Casting: The film version casts Paul Scofield as Danforth; Scofield's most famous film role was as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, who faced much the same choice between moral compromise and death as Proctor and the others do at Danforth's hands.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Abigail attempts this on Elizabeth.
  • Narcissist: Abigail's ego makes Jupiter look like a speck of hydrogen.
  • Nude Nature Dance: At least one of the girls at the beginning dances naked in the woods.
  • One Steve Limit: Ann Putnam is renamed to Ruth due to her mother also being named Ann and in the original play she becomes a He Who Must Not Be Seen because of this despite being one of the more famous accusers. Strangely Betty Parris' name is unchanged despite Elizabeth Proctor being a main character. (They do, however, take care to refer to each always as Betty and Elizabeth respectively.)
  • Only Sane Man: Proctor. Also, Rebecca Nurse.
  • Our Acts Are Different: There are fours acts in the play, and Intermission is taken in between acts two and three. However, there is also a short scene, sometimes cut, between Proctor and Abigail that takes place in between acts two and three. When included, it is frequently placed right after the intermission.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Hale after Proctor's "God is dead" line

Hale: I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court! *leaves and slams the door behind him*

  • Smug Snake: Which characters fit this trope depends a lot on the actors and director, but it's hard to imagine Samuel Parris as anything except this.
  • The Sociopath: Abigail again.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Abigail just can't listen when John Proctor tells her the affair is over.
  • A Taste of the Lash: In the movie adaptation, used on Tituba in front of Abigail and others.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Giles Corey intentionally keeps on saying "More weight" while pressed so he won't lose his property, so he gave his life to protect his name for his children.
    • To make it more awesome, his Thanatos Gambit broke the Xanatos Gambit of his accusers. If he confessed, then as a witch his property is confiscated, but if he denied then his "lie" would still cause him to lose his property. His third option exploits a loophole. He didn't break it entirely because he still died but he destroyed the main goal.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Parts are very historically accurate, but many significant details were changed, such as the fact that Abigail was 12, Proctor was 61, there was no affair between them, and Proctor was hanged before Corey was pressed.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Danforth and the judges start out this way, and it all goes downhill from there...
  • Wham! Line: "I say--I say God Is Dead!!!"
  • Witch Hunt: Literally.
  • With Us or Against Us: "A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it."
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Abigail sticks a needle in a poppet (doll) and tells Mary to give it to Elizabeth to frame her for using witchcraft (though Mary's involvement is left ambiguous). She goes a far as to stab herself with a needle to make it believable. More broadly, the whole affair is one giant giant version of this with shades of Thanatos Gambit, Xanatos Gambit, Batman Gambit, and, of course, Gambit Pileup thrown in.
  • Yandere: Abigail
    • Or Yangire, depending on interpretation.