The theme of Our Featured Book for October is the Salem Witch Hunt Trials!

Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1944-1961  is the featured Book of the Month for October.  This book contains a collection of some of Miller’s most famous works, including the “The Crucible.”

Crux

Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1944-1961.  Edited by Tony Kushner. Library of America : Distributed to the trade in the United States by Penguin Putnam, New York. 2006.

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The John Hagan Collection, Special Collections.  Call number:  PS 3525 .I5156 A6 2006

The play is set in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, during the last days of the witch hunt trials in New England.   Most of the characters in the play are based upon actual villagers, and information about them was gleaned from primary sources such as letters, trial transcripts and broadsides. However,  in creating a work for the stage, Miller made no attempt to represent the real, historical people on whom his characters are based: he developed them to meet the needs of the play. The surviving records offer little evidence about their personalities on which a playwright might draw.

Miller fused several people into one character: for example, the judges “Hathorne” and “Danforth” are representative of several judges in the case and the number of young girls involved was similarly reduced. Abigail’s age was increased from 11 to 17 to allow a relationship with Proctor, for which there is no historical evidence. However, most of the historical roles are accurately represented, and the judicial sentences pronounced on the characters are mostly the same as those given to their real-life counterparts.

Written in 1953, “The Crucible” was an allegory of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government blacklisted accused communists.  Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of “contempt of Congress” for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.    It was first performed at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway on January 22, 1953.    Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold and the reviews for it were largely hostile (although The New York Times noted “a powerful play [in a] driving performance”).   Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 “Best Play” Tony Award.   A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic, and has been a  central work in the canon of American drama.

For additional reading about the Salem witchcraft trials, please see BU Professor Bernard Rosenthal’s book:  Salem Story, Reading the Witch Trials of 1692. Cambridge University Press:  New York. 1993.

salem story

 Faculty Archives, Call number:  BF 1576. R67 1993

Both books can be viewed in the Special Collections department of the Binghamton University Libraries, Monday – Friday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

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