Thurs 31 Jan - Sat 1 Mar 2008
An Octagon Theatre Production
By Arthur Miller
*oft are Prqduct - Go to 1.
Sue Hodgkiss, DL •
www.octagonbolton.co.uk Principal Patron Principal Sponsor
DIRE ORS fl otEs
Early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy leads special
congressional committees intended to root out
communist sympathisers in the United States. Like
the Salem trials in 1692, suspected communists were
encouraged to confess and identify other as a means
to escape punishment. False accusations perpetuate
a climate of hysteria as people attempt to save
themselves, but some, like Arthur Miller, refuse to
give in to the questioning. Those branded as
communists, and those people who refused to
incriminate their friends, are blacklisted.
Hysteria, paranoia and intolerance threaten and tear
communities apart, and one doesn't have to look
very far to see that The Crucible is an incredibly
Mark Babych, Director of The Crucible potent play for today.
Early 1692, Salem, Massachusetts. Over the past three seasons we have produced
A group of young girls fall ill, suffering almost all of the major works by Arthur Miller, a
man whose moral compass enables us to see the
hallucinations and seizures. In
world and ourselves with a startling naked reality.
theocratic Puritan New England, this
For these are real people that populate his plays
could only mean one thing; the devil and, as such, their lives burn deeper into you and
was on the loose. Unable to attribute expose and touch parts of you that sometimes you
the sickness to natural causes, the would prefer to lay dormant. One theme in
particular seems to permeate and weave its way
inexplicable symptoms spur fears of
through nearly all his work, and that is how difficult
witchcraft, and very soon the girls,
it is to lead a good and honest life. In John Proctor
and many other residents of Salem, this theme finds powerful expression in a man who
begin to accuse other villagers of casts away his reputation, and ultimately his life
consorting with the devil and casting because he will not lie and sign himself to lies.
spells. Old grudges and jealousies fan
Once again it has been a real pleasure to share the
the flames of hysteria. The theocratic
rehearsal room with this heavy weight of American
government machine rolls into action Theatre and like all great plays it still packs a punch
and within weeks, dozens of people as powerfully as it did when first it entered the ring.
are in jail charged with witchcraft. By
August 1692, nineteen people (and Octagon Artistic Director and
two dogs) had been convicted and Director of The Crucible
hanged for witchcraft.
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When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, the
American people had been, for some time, in the grip
of an anti-communist crusade that denounced not only
communism but any kind of leftist thinking which
challenged the rigid social Darwinism of the American
Dream. In the attempts to obtain confessions and the
names of others culpable, Miller saw a similarity with
the methods used in 17th century Salem. This inspired
him to write the play whose real subject - although
ostensibly an event of the distant past - cannot have
been lost on any of the audience at the time.
In the early 1950s, this latter-day witch-hunt was given
its ferocious drive, and thus its name, by Senator
Arthur Miller in 1960. Miller drew Joseph McCarthy. However, although McCarthy is
inspiration from modern day popularly associated with the House Un-American
McCarthyism to write The Crucible. Activities Committee, which largely pursued this
campaign, he was never in fact one of its members.
The HUAC was actually set up by Congress towards the
end of the 30s. America at that time was sharply divided:
right-wing ideology was spreading across Europe, and
to be a communist in 30s America was, among other
things, to put on record your opposition to this
ideology. Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal, instituted
to pick up the pieces of a Depression-shattered
economy, began to look disappointingly tame to those
on the left and alarmingly red to those on the right.
In response to the early HUAC investigations, the major
Hollywood studios rushed out propaganda films to
prove their loyalty. Life became precarious for writers
and performers, especially in the brave new world of
TV, where right-wing corporate sponsors called the
shots. In his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller
recalls how his friend Pert Kelton was summarily sacked
from her role in the popular sitcom The Honeymooners
because she and her husband had participated in a
May Day parade many years earlier. Book-burning also
became popular, and John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of
Wrath was one of the first literary casualties of the
American red scare.
When Joseph McCarthy was elected to Congress in
1946, he was not at all notable as an anti-communist.
His parocular hallmarks were ambition,
unscrupulousness and a talent for manipulating the
press. It was not until 1950, while seeking an angle for
Like the alleged witches in The Crucible, witnesses senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or
before HUAC were told that if they admitted their our recklessness." As McCarthy tried in vain to defend
"guilt" and informed on their "co-conspirators", mercy himself, Welch added the now legendary line, "Have
would be shown unto them. If, however, they refused you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you
to cooperate, they could expect to go to prison. A few left no sense of decency?"
chose prison or voluntary exile, but they were a minority.
Some publicly confessed to having been "dupes" of the The case ended with a mild knuckle-rapping to both
communists and yet others embraced the full sides, but it spelled the end of McCarthy's career.
recantation charade, naming the names of former When the Democrats regained control of Congress, he
radical associates whose identity the committee already was officially censured and relieved of his posts.
knew. There were also, of course, plenty in Hollywood Although he continued to sit as a junior senator, few
who positively rejoiced in the anti-subversive crusade. now bothered to stay and listen when he made one of
The film Big Jim McLain, in which co-producer and star his increasingly rare speeches in Congress.
John Wayne played a HUAC investigator, was dedicated
to the men of the Committee. McCarthy died only two and a half years later, but
McCarthyism lived on. People in all walks of life
Meanwhile, McCarthy's nemesis was at hand. It came continued to be dismissed from jobs and to find
about partly through his Chief Counsel, Roy M Cohn, themselves on unofficial blacklists, not because some
whose close friend David Schine also worked for committee in Washington decreed it, but because ordinary
McCarthy. When Schine was drafted into the Army, people were willing to throw one another to the lions
Cohn pulled out all the stops to try to prevent it. to protect themselves. Americans were no longer just
McCarthy, who was already investigating alleged afraid of communists: they were afraid of each other.
communist influence in the Army, joined Cohn in taking
on that institution in a series of televised hearings run Gradually, towards the end of the decade, things
by the Investigations Subcommittee, with Senator Karl began to ease up. Arthur Miller was one of the last
Mundt sitting in for McCarthy as Chairman. The Army prominent victims of HUAC. He refused to co-operate
accused McCarthy and Cohn of using intimidation to with their enquiries, and the apologetic judge at his
seek special treatment for Schine, while McCarthy trial in 1957 imposed a fine and a suspended 30-day
counter-charged that the Army had held Schine as a prison sentence. The conviction was subsequently
"hostage" to prevent the investigation of communists overturned in the court of appeal.
in the armed forces.
As the 50s gave way to the 60s, the Cold War came to
During the 36 days of the hearings, people were able be fought more externally than internally.
for the first time to see their hero in full thrust, telling McCarthyism, however, never fully went away. It goes
blatant lies, presenting falsified evidence, and bullying without saying that, even now, a communist could not
witnesses and committee members alike. Fortunately, get elected to office in the USA.
the Army's counsel, Joseph Welch, was one person who
was not afraid of him, and fearlessly exposed his lies Dennis Feftham
Research by Robert Cohen
and fabricated evidence. He denounced McCarthy for
his ruthlessness, telling him that, "Until this moment, Lo John Good
Senator McCarthy with aides
Roy Cohn and David Schine
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punished, as dancing, games, gambling, insecure and paranoid. As
drunkenness and even idle conversation were Proctor says in the play, he was
regarded as means by which the devil could all too apt to "preach only hellfire
enter a soul. For girls and women particularly, and bloody damnation", provoking
life was passive and dutiful, as only men could some of his flock to withhold payment
vote and take an active part in affairs. Bearing all of the ministry tax.
this in mind, Frances Hill, in her book about the
witch trials, A Delusion Of Satan, contends that the It was in Parris' household that the
Salem girls were suffering from the same hysteria began. Betty Parris, the nine-
condition of clinical hysteria as Freud's patients - year-old daughter of Samuel and his
repressed members of 19th-century society - sickly wife Elizabeth, and Abigail, their
whom he and Breuer described, two hundred years eleven-year-old niece, who lived with
later, in Studies On Hysteria. them, started to behave oddly in January
1692. They were soon joined by Elizabeth
In Salem Village, where the outbreak took place, the Hubbard, the Putnams' young daughter Ann -
tensions felt by most colonists were exacerbated by a Ruth in the play, but in fact named after her
history of local antagonisms. The arguments were mother - Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis. As Betty
mainly connected with land rights and with efforts to confessed a few weeks afterwards, she and Abigail
gain independence from Salem Town, several miles to (possibly with others) had been passing the long, dark
the east. In 1672, the villagers had built their own winter days in the illicit pastime of fortune telling, and
meeting house, but there were those who did not wish scared themselves. There is no reason to think that
to sever links with the town, preferring Salem's more Tituba, the family's West Indian slave, was behind this.
cosmopolitan outlook. The colonists had carried with them, from Europe, a
belief in witchcraft and interest in the occult, so the
The pro-separation faction was led by the Putnam ideas of which the children made use, although
family, prosperous landowners who displayed a prohibited, were all around them.
tendency for bullying tactics, especially when frustrated
in their attempts to run village affairs. An ongoing Tituba, however, was the first person accused by the
subject of dissent was the appointment of a local girls of bewitching them. Parris found his slave a
minister; Samuel Parris - a Putnam nominee - was the convenient scapegoat and was eager to elicit her
fourth, his predecessors having fled the curitentious confession, but Tituba, aespite i.s beatings, did not
community rather sooner than expected. But Parris was confess to guilt straight away. While she held out, the
which my reading of American history could not
reconcile with the free-wheeling iconoclasm of the
country's past. I saw forming a kind of interior
mechanism of confession and forgiveness of sins which
until now had not been rightly categorized as sins.
New sins were being created monthly. It was very odd
how quickly these were accepted into the new
orthodoxy, quite as though they had been there since
the beginning of time. Above all, above all horrors, I saw
accepted the notion that conscience was no longer a private matter but one of state
administration. I saw men handing conscience to other men and thanking other
men for the opportunity of doing so.
I had known of the Salem witch-hunt for many years before "McCarthyism" had
arrived, and it had always remained an inexplicable darkness to me. When I
looked into it now, however, it was with the contemporary situation at my back,
particularly the mystery of the handing over of conscience which seemed to me
the central and informing fact of the time. One finds, I suppose, what one seeks. I
doubt I should ever have tempted agony by actually writing a play on the subject
had I not come upon a single fact. it was that Abigail Williams, the prime mover of
the Salem hysteria, so far as the hysterical children were concerned, had a short time
earlier been the house servant of the Proctors and now was crying out Elizabeth
Proctor as a witch; but more - it was clear from the record that with entirely
uncharacteristic fastidiousness she was refusing to include John Proctor, Elizabeth's
husband, in her accusation despite the urgings of the prosecutors. Why? I searched the
records of the trials in the courthouse at Salem but in no other instance could I find such
a careful avoidance of the implicating stutter, the murderous, ambivalent answer to the
sharp questions of the prosecutors. Only here, in Proctor's case, was there so clear an
attempt to differentiate between a wife's culpability and a husband's.
The testimony of Proctor himself is one of the least elaborate in the records, and
Elizabeth is not one of the major cases either. There could have been numerous reasons
for his having been ultimately apprehended and hanged which are nowhere to be found.
After the play opened, several of his descendants wrote to me; and one of them believes
that Proctor fell under suspicion because, according to family tradition, he had for years
been an amateur inventor whose machines appeared to some people as devilish in their
ingenuity, and again according to tradition he had had to conceal them and work on
them privately long before the witch-hunt had started, for fear of censure if not worse.
The explanation does not account for everything, but it does fall in with his evidently
liberated cast of mind as revealed in the record; he was one of the few who not only
refused to admit consorting with evil spirits, but who persisted in calling the entire
business a ruse and a fake. Most, if not all, of the other victims were of their time in
conceding the existence of the immemorial plot by the Devil to take over the visible world,
their only reservation being that they happened not to have taken part in it themselves.
It was the fact that Abigail, their former servant, was their accuser, and her apparent
desire to convict Elizabeth and save John, that made the play conceivable for me.
As in any such mass phenomenon, the number of characters of vital, if not decisive,
importance is so great as to make the dramatic problem excessively difficult. For a