Comparing historical Salem and Salem portrayed in Miller's play The Crucible

Contrasting the Fictional Salem with Real-Life Salem

The tragic Salem witch trials that took place in late 17th-century America were deeply dramatized by Arthur Miller's The Crucible, according to many. The incidents, which claimed the lives of 20 people, would go down in history as a pivotal moment for the fledgling country that would become modern-day America. Even though experts concur that the play accurately captures many of the events that are known to have occurred during that turbulent time, it has many obvious errors. Understandably, Miller's decision to distort or misrepresent some of the events stemmed from the fact that he is was not a historian but rather, a creative artist seeking to entertain. The Crucible was designed as an art with minimal intention to educate. As such, the historical inaccuracies were intentional added for dramatic effect. However, it would be improper to entirely dismiss these misrepresentations as the play still remains one of the most powerful and common pieces of information on the events of that horrific period in Salem. This article shall discuss the differences between the actual events and those depicted in the play. It shall investigate how The Crucible changes historical record as well as how it informs today's interpretation of the Salem witch trials.

Differences between Events in the Play and in Actual History

A common inaccuracy in The Crucible is the depiction of the main character, Tituba, as an African-American from Barbados who in actual sense, was a Native American (Breslaw 3. She never engaged in any ritualistic dances in the woods as is shown in the play. Also, Miller depicts the panel of judges at the trials as made up of three judges. Historical records recount at least eight judges. Therefore, The Crucible misrepresents the significance or the weight of the delivered judgment. Another significant inaccuracy is the disparity in age of a notable character, Abigail. Most Historical records place her age at 11 whereas in The Crucible, she was 17 (Miller 14). The difference in age is significant and alters the traditional reaction of a potential audience to her persona.

Inaccurate Portrayal of Relationships and Events

In The Crucible, Abigail Williams is portrayed as having a romantic relationship with John Proctor. Historical accounts do not mention this piece of information as it never occurred. The two key personalities were located too far apart to engage in an affair. Another noteworthy distortion of historical facts by Arthur Miller is a scene in The Crucible where Reverent Hale signs seventeen death warrants. No historical record makes mention of the event. As such, it is proper to add that it was intended add drama to the play.

The Crucible's misrepresentation of historical facts spread throughout the entire play. While most of the characters from the actual events are present, their influence in the activities that occurred has been altered. For instance, in the play, Abigail informs Betty of her mother's demise and burial to prevent her from creating further disturbances (Boyer 189). Historical accounts reveal that Betty's mother lived through the trials, only passing away long after they ended in 1696. Additionally, the crucible depicts Betty as an only child. Miller's play is historically inaccurate as it misrepresents the composition of Betty's family. As it is in most historical records, she had a younger sister, Susanna, and an older brother, Thomas, who she maintained little regard for (Rosenthal and Karlsen 274). Betty was sent off to reside with the clerk of the Court, Steven Sewell in Salem town soon after the commencement of the trials. Therefore, she was not present to witness the horror, unlike as depicted in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

The play's inaccuracies include the profiles some of the major cast members. For instance, John Proctor, whose real age is not mentioned in the play, was, in fact, a tavern keeper and not a farmer. He lived with his two children and a third one from a previous marriage. Elizabeth was his third wife. The entire Proctor's family was accused of witchcraft. As Elizabeth was pregnant during the trials, she was subject to a stay of execution until her delivery. Ultimately, her life was spared as her pregnancy extended past the period of the witch trials. Not only were some key events changed by Miller, but also the characters' names. One such incidence is the Putnam's daughter, Ruth, who was in fact, called Ann (Norton 301). A possible explanation for this was the fact that both Putnam's Wife and Daughter were referred to as Ann.

How Miller's Play has Changed the Historical Records

Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, has significantly impacted the modern understanding of the Salem witch trials. The seemingly numerable deviations are immensely consequential to today's understanding of the events. For instance, much of what is known about the trials is greatly influenced by the play. It has assumed a monumental role in contemporary history lecture and has effectively replaced actual historical records.

Tutors are increasingly pointing to the play as a near-actual depiction of the 1692 episode, further validating its content as entirely truthful. The Crucible's dramatic nature has seen its assumption as a piece of history with the few inaccuracies being brushed off as insignificant to the general message.

How The Crucible has Changed Today's Perception of the Salem Witch Trials

The play's exaggeration of key events has enormously affected present day interpretation of the witch trials. Its alterations have served to endear the plight of the participants to modern audiences. For Instance, the changing of Abigail's Age from 11 to 17 years was to make the play more realistic to an overly critical American audience. Ideally, an eleven-year-old would not steal money to sustain herself and her 60-year-old love interest, a 16-year-old would. This event is wholly missing in most historical records, and as such, is concocted by Miller to enable the audience to identify with the play. The play depicts the Salem witch trials as a period of gross insensitivity. This fact is depicted in a scene where the condemned are hanged as they recited the Lord's Prayer. Prisoners would be allowed to recite a prayer and mention a few last words before their execution (Rosenthal and Karlsen 127). Only twenty people lost their lives as opposed to the colossal masses depicted in the play.

On the same note, the theatrical portrayal of the mystic loss of all but one of Putnam's depicts the practice of witchcraft as widespread. In essence, this is not true. Ruth was not the only surviving child and neither was entire region affected by the vice. The Salem Justice system was fundamentally flawed as it involved an inquisitional approach as opposed to an adversarial court system (Hall 9). The former involved the collection of evidence from witness testimonies by the court which were then presented to the court to deliberate (Boyer 192). In contrast, an adversarial court process is depicted in the film. A legal representative was present to advance the accused's perspective. Therefore, the play fails to correctly depict the actual judicial processes, hence, inspires a totally different and perception from the audience. In conclusion, the play preys on the modern audience's mortal sense to deliver both an educative and entertaining summary of a grim entry in America's history. Though it may not accurately portray all events as they occurred, it is close enough.

Works Cited

Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, reluctant witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan fantasies. NYU Press, 1995.

Boyer, Paul. Salem Possessed. Harvard University Press, 1976.

Hall, David D., ed. Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History 1638–1693. Duke University Press, 2005.

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: Revised Edition. Penguin, 1996.

Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Vintage, 2007.

Rosenthal, Bernard, and Carol F. Karlsen. "The Devil in the Shape of a Woman." (1988): 468-471.

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