The Crucible is a play that was written by Arthur Miller in 1952. It is based on the events surrounding the 1692 witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts. Miller wrote about the event as an allegory for McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which occurred in the United States in the 1950s. Miller was himself questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956.
The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production were hostile, but a year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. Today the play is often studied in high schools and universities.
The play has been adapted for film twice, once by Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1957 film Les Sorcières de Salem and nearly forty years later by Miller himself, in the 1996 film of the same name; Miller's adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Previously Produced Material, his first and only nomination. The play was also adapted by composer Robert Ward into an opera, which was first performed in 1961 and received the Pulitzer Prize. The Crucible is generally regarded as one of the best plays of the modern era, due to its deep, captivating plot; four act, 3 1/2 hour entirety; and fearless dealings with controversial topics. It has therefore been taken quite seriously, and has even been banned from production at certain schools throughout the United States.
Historical Road to the Crucible
Miller himself has stated that he wrote the play to comment on the parallels between the unjust Salem Witch Trials and the Second Red Scare from 1948 to 1956. During McCarthyism, the United States was terrified of Communism's influence. Like the witches on trial in Salem, Communists were viewed as having already silently infiltrated the most vital aspects of American life and security, presenting a clear and present danger to the community at large.
Political dissidents at the time were regarded with suspicion, and, to many under the influence of the Red Scare hysteria, presented an unsubstantiated threat to national security. The implication of a person's name offered up to the House Un-American Activities Committee by a testifying witness carried the same weight as irrefutable evidence of guilt, and any refusal to name names by a witness was a clear sign of a Communist conspiracy. Miller, seeking to protect his business and personal friends from a prevailing hysteria of injustice, and admitting in private his own desire to keep his inner-conscience and sense of self inviolate, refused to testify to the Committee and was blacklisted by the American government.
Many of Miller's peers, fearing the wrath of the court, provided the names of their associates to the Committee in an attempt to save themselves from public and professional disgrace. Most of these accusations were procured out of fear and were largely uncorroborated and had no legal basis of proof. Miller, portraying a stark similarity between the collaboraters of both the McCarthy era and the Salem Witch trials, depicts cowardly neighbors accusing each other falsely to save themselves from the high court of Salem. To Miller, only those who refuse to cooperate to such a system of plain injustice even to the point of death, most notably John Proctor and the seven condemned villagers who hang with him for their silence, hold onto their honor and sense of self and die as vindicated martyrs. Despite this it isn't intended as a historically accurate play, as Miller said "The play is not reportage of any kind…what I was doing was writing a fictional story about an important theme"