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The Language of the Crucible

Arthur Miller used the actual language of the 17 C. to make the play ostensibly authentic. Though his intent may be to expose the damage done by hysterical and misguided authority figures to hapless victims during the McCarthy era of America in the 1950’s, he sets his scene in the time of the witch hunts of the 1690’s to gain perspective and remoteness; abuse of power is a perennial issue, not the exclusive preserve of any one time or place. Miller says he was struck by the “gnarled way of speaking, to my ear of the dialects or idioms of the interrogations.

Tone

The archaic and authentic language based on the actual transcripts of the trials of witches in Salem Massachusetts creates an air of realism, solemnity and verisimilitude. Its formality creates a tension and a sense of high drama and tragedy. Further it delineates the characters giving them their distinctive voices revealing their preoccupations and prejudices.

Time and Place

The diction (words) and syntax (word order) set the action in a distant past. Words like “Goody” and syntax like “I know not” rather than the present day “I don’t know” create the impression of remoteness. It is the language of the King James Version of the Bible.

 

Poetic language:

Originally Miller wrote the play in verse but found this too artificial so he redrafted it, however the poetic qualities have remained especially in some of Proctor’s speeches and adds to the emotional and melodramatic effects.

 

Depiction of Character

Most of the characters can be distinguished by their language.

 

Parris- Language of paranoia fear, hysteria and uncertainty (mystery of what happened in the forest and how it may affect his reputation) insecurity covered up with a false piety and relies on repression

 “fire and brimstone”.

Fear of factions,

“I have fought three long years to bend these “stiff-necked people to me”.

“Your name in the town it is entirely white, is it not?

“my ministry is at stake, and perhaps your cousin’s life” — a nice after thought.

  

Danforth and Hathorne - Bureaucratic, legalistic jargon, authoritarian. As figures of authority, they feel the need to project and bolster their positions with the language of authority and certainty. Their books and words carry weight and are capable of unmistakable judgements. They have a blind faith in their own total “rightness” and never suffer from self-doubt.

Language of force, power “affidavits”, “contempt of court”

They threaten a lot:  “I shall hang ten thousand that dare to rise against the law.”

To Mary:   (Your) neck will break for it”

To the Children:  “a very augur bit will now be turned into your souls”

Feels need to appear strong and resolute: “Postponement now, speaks a floundering on my part.......While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering”.

 

Proctor - Plain-speaking, simple, direct, frank, blunt, earthy, physical and concrete images of farming and animals.

“I am looking for you more than my cows” (Mary)

“The promise a stallion gives to a mare” (Abigail)

“It took place where my beasts are bedded” (97) (Abigail)

“before the eyes of God we are as swine”

“I like not the smell of this authority” (To Rebecca Nurse)

• Blunt —direct — “Your justice would freeze beer” (Elizabeth)

• Straight forward –

“shred of goodness ... but white enough to keep it front such dogs”

• Images of Hands:

“rather cut off my hand” (61)

“Pontius Pilate washing his hands (125)

• Most impact when he withholds information — silence - (tears up confession)

“Speech is silvern; Silence is golden” 

 

Hale    Mellows as play progresses /

- initially dogmatic, intellectual with biblical authority, pious, solemn,

- but irrelevant to situation, claims of scientific preciseness, but eventually not so self assured. “Books weighted with authority

- Eventually sees damage he has created and desperately pleads Elizabeth for John’s life.

 

Elizabeth: Early on very cold and suspicious, judgmental on John.

Later — more mellow, developed sense of self-knowledge:

 “I have read my heart this three month, John, It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery, It was a cold house I kept”

 

 Abigail With Parris; resentful, impertinent, defiant, even impudent:

Betty Parris – just out of her coma –accuses Abigail of drinking a blood charm to kill John Proctor’s wife. 

About her name: “there is no blush about my name”,

About Elizabeth Proctor:

 “She hates me uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It is a bitter woman, a lying cold snivelling woman, and I will not work for such a woman!”

 Why she can’t get work:

“They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them.

With John Proctor, relaxed casual, playful:

About the dancing:

“It was just a bit fun.” Later: “We were dancing in the woods last night and my uncle leapt in on us. We took fright is all”

Passion:

 “I have a sense for heat, John, and yours has drawn me to my window...”

In the court — hypocritical cant:

“Oh Mary, this is a black art to change your shape. No I cannot stop my mouth; it‘s God’s work that I do.

 

Obscure archaic terminology:

Incubi - in medieval times, a male demon that was believed to have sexual intercourse with women while they were asleep

 

Succubi - in medieval times, a woman demon that was believed to have sexual intercourse with men while they were asleep

 

The Language of Threats:

 

Abigail:

“let either of you breathe a word...and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. 

..I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down.  (26-27)

Parris:

There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning! 35

 

Putnam:

“you load one oak of mine and you’ll fight to drag it home”.  (36)

 

Proctor:

 I’ll whip you if you dare leave this house again!”  (To Mary Pg. 55)

 

Danforth:  The most overbearing of all – bullish in all his interrogations.

“you are either lying now or you were lying in the court, and in either case you have committed perjury and you will go to jail for it.”  (91) to Mary

 

“Children, a very augur bit will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is proved”  (92)

 

Corey Giles:

“I’ll cut your throat, Putnam, I’ll kill you yet!”   (88)

 


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