The Crucible (Penguin Classics)
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Product Description

Based on historical people and real events, Arthur Miller's play uses the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence unleashed by the rumors of witchcraft as a powerful parable about McCarthyism.

Introduction by Christopher Bigsby

Customer Reviews:

  • An extraordinary play -- about McCathy"s witchhunt
    My wife and I first read this play about 35 years ago and we saw it performed (separately)in lackluster productions.

    In May, 2006 we saw in London "The Crucible" as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It lived up to exceptional reviews, including the first ever six star maximum awarded by TimeOut's theater section.

    Some plays read better than they ever perform. Others perform better than they read. Others are equal. This is a play that reads and performs well, but a theater production is extremely demanding, if for other reason the number of actors required. The RSC had the requisite numbers and quality.

    Miller was quite open about the play's symbolizing of the McCarthy era of smears, innuendos and attacks that ruined the lives of many innocent people. Miller made it clear that his play was fiction that was loosely based on the Salem witch trials.

    The play is also about human character -- how revenge, jealousy and other motivations sometimes bring out the worst. In the 50s, few played much attention to the allusions to the Puritans, who had no tolerance for other Christians, much less other faiths. For them, as the play says, you are either with us or you are against us. A familiar refrain. Well performed or well read, the play is thought provoking. But your mind must be open to at least consider putting yourself honestly into Miller's shoes and his era.

    There is a reviewer who condemns this play even while admitting he has never read it or seen it performed. He is only concerned with imposing his point of view. What he contends is that McCarthy was more right than wrong and that there was no witchhunt because there were communists -- and some in government. It's a popular theme among McCarthyism deniers

    Condemning a book or play you know nothing about is akin to book burning -- or witch hunting.

    Witch Hunt is defined as "an attempt to find and punish people whose opinions are unpopular and who are said to be a danger to society" My Webster defines "the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (as political opponents) with unpopular views." Miller got that right and the revisionists of facts get it wrong. From the earliest days, witch hunting has never really been about witches, but those who held those unpopular views or lived differently.

    You could get to be a "fellow traveler" by speaking to the wrong people. Most American communists had quit the party in disillusionment well before McCarthy came along. McCarthy in his "Crucible" style kangaroo court went after people anyone who could give him a headline. He gave no due process or fairness. It was about confessions and naming names in a Soviet-style show trial. Which is strange for a man who and other right wingers in Congress who succeeded in overturning the conviction of the SS troops responsible for the Malmedy Massacre. It was all in character.

    McCarthy won his first local election by smearing a respectedl jurist. And then, exaggerating his own war experience, he smeared Sen. La Folette as a draft dodger even though LaFollette was 46 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. McCarthy requested a DSC he almost certainly did not deserve (similar to LBJ's Silver Star). And he claimed to have flown missions (in varying numbers) when he was actually a desk bound intelligence cipher. And then he saw opportunity as a demagogue on the communist threat identified by George Kennan in the "Long Telegram."

    In February, 1950 he waved a list of people who he said were communists who in the State Department. A review is no place to recount basic history of who our WWII allies were -- or that Churchill, a devout anti-communists needed the Soviet Union against Hitler as did we. There were real problems. In 1946, the State Department itself prepared the list of security risks McCarthy eventually waved around. Most of them were dismissed as security risks, not as Communists, but for other reasons, i.e. sexual preference, alcoholism, bankruptcy, etc. McCarthy got the names from a Senate report done years before. Some had been guilty of having a contrary view on China, citing the corruption and weakness of Chiang Kai-Shek. McCarthy's, who attacked gays, could not have passed the security standards due to his own sexual preferences and alcoholism.

    McCarthy leveled the charge of helping the communist agenda against General Eisenhower, President Truman, FDR, General George Marshall, Secretary of State Dean Acheson and many other great men who were staunch anti-communists. In fairness to McCarthy, he did some of his worst smears while drunk or close to it. He would drink with reporters, then feed them their stories. Anyone looking at the old film can see that he was frequently intoxicated -- and his performance on the Murrow See It Now, was not only smear but out of control. Easy to see in Good Night and Good Luck. No one could damage McCarthy in the end as he did himself.

    Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican conservative, strongly condemned McCarthy in her Declaration of Conscience speech in June of 1950. Others joined her, but most were afraid. Eisenhower, who had despised McCarthy for years, did not respond until McCarthy went after the Army. McCarthy targeted political opponents, e.g. Sen. Millard Tydings was tarred by McCarthy's committee with a faked photograph of him with a Communist. He smeared a Connecticut Senator who questioned his actions. Even J.Edgar Hoover had to wash his hands of him. So the smears continued until 1954 when the Senate finally censured McCarthy for conduct unbecoming his office.

    McCarthy did no good and damaged the U.S. counter espionage program. It was in any event Richard Nixon who pushed the Alger Hiss case -- before the election when McCarthy discovered ?ommunism was his ticket. Other major cases involving communists, for good or ill, were accomplished before McCarthy came along.

    The climate of fear and division McCarthy engendered was perhaps Stalin's greatest victory. The McCarthy hearings called those who would make a good show confession-- or provide a list of names already given. Artist and writers and bureaucrats who had done nothing feared for their jobs for youthful indiscretions, or knowing a wrong someone -- or for nothing at all. McCarthy not only stifled dissent, he cast a pall over American intellectual life more in line with Stalin than the US.

    Carl Foreman, who co-wrote the script for "High Noon" and co-proiduced it, is an example of those forced into exile (to Britain). As it happens, High Noon, once wildly condemned by the right, is one of the most requested film for presidential viewing. Reagan loved it. So did Lech Walesa, who cites use of its imagery, i.e. the movie poster of Gary Cooper, in Poland's first almost-free elections. Why? As Walesa said in the Wall Street Journal: "Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual." Some conservatives now rave over its depiction of duty and courage.

    So too, is The Crucible about core American beliefs of nothing going along with the crowd, joining the lynch mob. The unpopularity or even complete wrongness of some views does not make it correct to punish people for having those beliefs. If you want to criticize it, first you have to see the play and understand it....more info
  • .
    Okay, so all sorts of historical details are altered for the sake of character drama, but so what? It does not change the fact that this is one heck of a great play that offers it all: romance, betrayal, psychology, murder, and more, all set in a sleepy little Puritan town obsessed with witches that has become the victim of the "games" of a few young girls.

    While I would hardly recommend it to someone going for deep facts of the Salem Witch Trials, this still draws on historical characters and does an excellent job of portraying them as real people. You feel for them, even the ones you hate.

    "The Crucible" is well-named as the pot that heats everything up, and Miller takes minor events and shows how they become the tragedy that was the witch trials.

    This is an incredibly powerful and important story that teaches messages as the drama entertains. ...more info
  • The awful price of "extremism in the pursuit of liberty"

    Just as 'High Noon' shows the courage of a man who refused to cut and run from great danger, 'The Crucible' is usually regarded as an allegory which attacks the 1950s intolerance of anti-communist zealots.

    Perhaps it is much more. Liberals get a warm fizzy feeling over Miller's portrayal of fundamentalist religious persecution run amok; but, this limited acumen ignores the terrible "engine" of such persecution - - - the American adversarial judicial system.

    The play portrays hapless victims accused of imaginary evils and then convicted by a judicial system based not on truth, justice or mercy but on the absolutes of guilt or innocence. No mitigation is allowed. In Act III, Deputy Governor John Danforth states, "But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there is no road between."

    It's the same idea used by President George Bush to justify whatever he wants to do, always of course within the law and within the Constitution, in his War on Terror. Likewise, Gov. Danforth in 'The Crucible' always acts within the law. Miller asserts all power corrupts, and the power to kill someone corrupts absolutely.

    It sums up the essence of the play; our court system is either win or lose based on adversarial confrontation. It's origins are in ancient "trial by strength" rituals. It was thought God would not allow the guilty to triumph, and so victory was considered proof of absolute innocence with no room for doubt. In Act IV, a plea to delay the executions a week was rejected by Gov. Danforth because, "Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now."

    Sound familiar? We are now told that a withdrawal from the War on Iraq "must cast doubt upon the sacrifice of them that died till now." Miller is very clear in portraying the corrupting power of government: Never admit a mistake, regardless of the cost to the innocent.

    As the play ends, one condemned man is urged to sign the false confession he has just spoken. He responds, "You have all witnessed it; what more is needed?"

    Why sign? One preacher explains it has nothing to do with guilt, innocence or mercy, instead it is solely because "the village must have proof that - - -"

    The man responds, "Damn the village! I confess to God, and God has seen my name on this! It is enough!" He tells the governor, "You are the high court, your word is enough!"

    But judicial rules reject God. Mercy is not by God's truth, but only by the lie demanded by the court. There is no interest in truth, justice, guilt, innocence or mercy. The man refuses, because personal honour means more than arcane rules. He explains, "Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How can I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"

    The court refuses. Justice, says Miller, is not truth or fact; it depends solely on court rules. 'The Cruicible' uses real events from 1692 to illustrate the basic weakness of an adversarial judicial system. It applies today, as much as to the McCarthy era.

    This is a play for today. It applies to our procedural-bound courts, to religious fundamentalists and to intolerant political extremists. It shows what happens when government officials believe "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice." It applies to us, now.

    ...more info
  • ok
    the book was ok, its used bud if just need to read it its perfect....more info
  • Playing Tituba
    When I was up at Cambridge back in the olden days when there were only three women's colleges and men's colleges were single sex, I tried my hand at acting and ended up joining an "indie" production of "The Crucible. By "Indie" I mean that it was not produced by either the of the two drama societies the Amateur Dramatic Club and the Mummers, nor by a college drama society. It was instead produced by this second-year student and performed in a church and performed by people who answered an ad in Varsity. That was how I got into it.
    I probably got the part of Tituba because I am Chinese and they didn't have a more authentic applicant. I also was a member of the ADC. What we did have was the up and rising freshman actress to play Abigail Proctor. We happened to be reading English at Griton in the same year. She was a much better actress.
    But one thing that really struck me when I was reading this play was how it was basically the McCarthy Treason trials and Miller's take on them. I didn't know about the trials first-hand but I was certainly aware that they had happened and the kind of hysteria behind it.
    Having said that, I also did not think that Miller was trying to portray Salem, Massachusetts when those trials took place. Gone from the picture in spite of the presence of a minister is any sense of the religious fervor and fear which also played a significant role then. This went beyond orthodox political thinking. I don't think that we ever quite got the crying-out scene right, but I don't think there was all that much guidance either. And actually, looking back now, I am not so sure that the rest of the cast were quite as aware of the McCarthy trials as perhaps they should have been. Certainly they were never mentioned at any rehearsal I ever attended. And the copy we used was not footnoted or anything, nor did it have an introduction.
    All this indicates to me that Miller's play did not travel all that well, as is the case with a few others I have read. Not "Death of a Salesman" though.
    That little production did all right though. It was also the last time I acted in Cambridge. I didn't figure there were going to be too many opportunities for a not-so-wonderful Chinese actress (of course I didn't think so then) and started working for the newspaper rather more seriously. But I still have the play, and I read it again every so often.

    ...more info
  • Prompt service
    Daughter needed it for a project for an accelerated class. It came in time and she was able to complete her assignments with a new book....more info
  • Courtesy of Mother Daughter Book
    The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a great book to read with a mother-daughter book club. It provides an outlet to talk about issues the girls are covering in school, and to find out about how their perspectives differ from those of their moms. The issues of witchcraft and socially sanctioned violence against a targeted group seem eerily relevant to some of the things going on in our world today. This book challenged all of us to think about the most important things in our lives and what we're willing to sacrifice to achieve a higher cause....more info
  • A heretical view
    What was Miller writing about in this play? Was it an examination of the psychological and social phenomena that led to the Salem witch trials? If so, it failed, because the story departs too much from historic fact and thus changes the motivation of the protagonists. Miller makes Abigail older and Proctor younger than they were in reality, and makes them erstwhile lovers, which they never in fact were. So Abigail is motivated by the jealousy and resentment of a spurned lover. Another character is motivated by a desire to seize the property of the victims. Although greed and the settling of old scores no doubt played a part in the terrible events of 1692, they could not have been the whole story. Deeper and broader religious forces must have been at work to bring about the execution of 20 innocent people. The Crucible does not enlighten us on what those forces were. That play remains to be written.

    The conventional interpretation is that Miller was really writing about the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings, and likening them to a witch-hunt. This too is problematic. Miller draws the parallel in the notes in this book and elsewhere, but never explicitly states that it was the real, prime theme of the play. And once again, the essentially domestic and personal themes of the play do not shed light on the political forces that shaped the McCarthy hearings.

    What is clear is that the play stands as a dramatic tour de force. It is a gift to actors, being one dramatic, emotional crisis after another. So, if it lacks the intellectual density that Miller said he aimed at after his success with Death of a Salesman, it has the dramatic force to keep it a perennial favorite in theaters. It has one weakness dramatically, and that is an excessively large cast, particularly in the first scene, where all the entrances and exits in Betty's bedroom are rather ludicrous.

    The Penguin Classics edition has a good introduction by Christopher Bigsby and incorporates notes by the author. It also includes - as an appendix - Act 2, Scene 2, which is omitted in most productions.

    ...more info
  • The Play and Joe McCarthy have Nothing in Common
    Have not read the book or seen the play. However, in reviewing the item in light of the fact that the local High School is putting on the play, I am struck by a common theme many of the other reviewers have touched upon. That being some common thread between witch trials and Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was many things, many of them bad. However, the substance of his claims were far more right than wrong. America, including many high offices in the government, of the 1940's and into the early 1950's was substantially infiltrated by Communists. That fact is provable by records opened to the public after the fall of the USSR....more info
  • Very well written
    The Crucible, one of Arthur Miller's best, and most well known books, is based off the Salem witch trials.

    John Proctor, a middle aged farmer, is in a town run by the local preachers. Abigail Williams, a 17 year old girl, gets the town to follow her, after accusing many of the town leaders, of being witches. Something happened between John and Abigail, and it obviously hurts John. John tries to stop Abigail, while keeping his secret underwraps dduring the trial.

    The play is pretty short, aroung 150 pages, and is in a somewhat old-southern language, so the reader should understand it before reading.

    I highly recommend this to any play reader and any avid reader.

    "He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him."...more info