THE CRUCIBLE: Beyond the Theatre

ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) presents THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller from October 13 to November 12, 2017. THE CRUCIBLE is Miller’s powerful, classic play about the Salem witch trials and a compelling allegory for the political repression of the McCarthy era. Librarians at Seattle Public Library created this list of books and films to enhance your experience of the show: ACT Theatre’s THE CRUCIBLE: Beyond the Theatre.

One of the squares on this year’s Summer Book Bingo was “Reread a book you read in school.” Knowing that ACT would be staging a production of Miller’s famous play in the fall, I picked THE CRUCIBLE, which I first read in high school.

I hadn’t revisited the play since then, so I was caught off guard by the liberties Miller took with the historical record. For example, he depicts Abigail Williams, one of the first girls to raise accusations of witchcraft, as a conniving 17-year-old temptress who seduced the thirty-something married farmer John Proctor. In reality, Williams was 11 years old and Proctor was 60 at the time of the trials and there is no evidence that they knew each other before the trials began, much the less had an affair.

Playgoers who want a more accurate account of the Salem witch trials should check out Stacy Schiff’s detailed and thought-provoking history, The Witches: Salem, 1692. Another book, Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials by independent scholar Marilynne Roach, also provides nuanced and engrossing portraits of several women at the center of this shameful episode in American history.

THE CRUCIBLE is more successful as an allegory for the political witch hunts of the McCarthy era (when Miller wrote the play) than a faithful rendition of the Salem trials. Learn more about this repressive period in American political and cultural life by reading Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America by historian Ellen Schrecker, or watching the film McCarthy Trials: An Exploration Through Archival Film.

If seeing THE CRUCIBLE has whetted your appetite for more fictional tales of Old Salem, you’re in luck. There have been several recently published novels inspired by the trials, most notably Crane Pond by Richard Francis, which takes the unusual approach of telling the story from the perspective of one of the judges, Samuel Sewall. And Katherine Howe’s teen novel Conversion draws some intriguing parallels between a mysterious epidemic among teenage girls in present-day Danvers, MA and the events of 300 years ago.

For these suggestions and more see the complete booklist for THE CRUCIBLE.

~posted by Abby B.


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