The Crucible Digital Study Guide

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THE CRUCIBLE

Study Guide written by Luisa Appolloni, Education Associate- Enrichment Focus, Education Department, Stratford Festival

 

INTRODUCTION TO THE GUIDE

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"

- John Proctor, The Crucible, Act IV

What happens to a society when it finds itself in the grip of fear and mass hysteria? What are the implications of men abusing their power? How can integrity be restored after lies and injustice? Miller wrote this play during a time when Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the House on Un-American Activities Committee were holding hearings to hunt down suspected Communists. It was a time of wide-spread, malicious rumour-mongering; lives were ruined and many innocent individuals were blacklisted. Similarly, the Salem witch trials that took place several hundred years earlier, which resulted in many deaths and imprisonment, were brought about by the spreading of fear and false claims. The Crucible still resonates today. This production invites students to examine freedom and repression through a contemporary lens. By seeing the play and participating in the exercises in this guide, students will explore what happens to a society when it seeks to polarize a community, the impact of unbalanced power dynamics, and the need for justice and compassion amid wrongdoing.

Content Advisory for Students

Contains mature themes and strong language.

Curriculum Connections

Suitable for students Grade 9+

  • Global Competencies:
    • Creativity
    • Learning to Learn/Self-Awareness
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
    • Critical Thinking
  • Grades 9-12:
    • Language/English (listening to understand, speaking to communicate, reading for meaning)
    • Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Grades 9-12:
    • Health and PE (interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, harassment, bullying, leadership, decision-making, mental health, healthy relationships)
  • Grade 11:
    • Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology (explaining human mental processes and behaviour, socialization)
    • Gender Studies (power relations, sex and gender)
    • Equity, Diversity and Social Justice (the social construction of identity, power and relations)
    • World Religions and Belief (functions of human belief traditions, tenets, practices, and teachings, social contexts)
  • Grade 12:
    • Equity and Social Justice: From Theory to Practice (power relations, historical and contemporary issues, leadership)
    • World History Since the Fifteenth Century (social, economic and political context)
    • Adventures in World History (politics and conflict)
    • World Cultures (power relations)

Themes and Motifs

  • Social Order and Individuality: Empowerment and Manipulation; Expectations of Gender and Marriage; Community; Groupthink, Reason and Hysteria
  • Integrity: Reputation; Revenge; Compassion and Forgiveness
  • Justice: Innocence, Persecution, Guilt and Confession, Good and Evil

A Perspective on the Piece from the Director

With Jonathan Goad

Why did you choose to direct this production? What excites you most about it?
When Antoni first approached me about directing, I thought of doing something in the Studio Theatre, likely with a smaller canvas of characters. Then things started to shift, and suddenly I was at the Avon Theatre. The Crucible was one of maybe fifteen plays I initially suggested when it looked like I would be directing there.

In exploring the season and what might fit, it came around that maybe this would be the play, given the social and political temperature of our times. This is not because Trump is using the phrase "witch hunt" on a regular basis - but that said, there is something about the politics of the United States right now, the resurgence of populism around the world, the vilification of immigrants and the fear-mongering that is happening on a regular basis that this play parallels. Of course, when it was written it was in many ways Arthur Miller's reaction to McCarthyism and the McCarthy trials. Its current resonance was ultimately why we landed on this play.

I agreed to direct it because this is unquestionably one of the best plays by one of the greatest American playwrights ever. But first and foremost, I said yes because it makes me nervous. I'm nervous because this play requires its director to have a deft hand in helping realize seventeen spoken roles, all of which have their own vitality. There is a wide landscape of characters who in many ways end up representing a community. They are people we recognize: they're our friends, they're our neighbours, they're our small-town politics, they're our judicial system. It's my responsibility as the director to help those actors to their greatest imitation of life on the stage. That's a big responsibility.

There's also a responsibility in taking on a play that's iconic in many minds. It's been made into a couple of major films, and the politics of it are delicate. What makes the play extraordinary, I think, is that Miller is able to give us full-blooded creatures even if they don't have more than fifteen lines. He creates an amazingly vital and modern portrait of a marriage in crisis. Even in the character of Danforth, who might most represent McCarthy, there's still nuance and a full human being on stage. It scares me, because the play is a masterwork, so as a director you have a responsibility to try to meet that mark.

Are there aspects of this play, and of your particular production, that will resonate with things in the world today that we're maybe not seeing or that we need to re-examine?
There are a few things. Even in the early stages, I feel that an examination of gender politics is intrinsic to this play's storytelling. Of course, the gender politics of 1692 were different from those of today, but at the same time, the role of women, the subordination of women, the intelligence of women, the sexual and sensual nature of women are all things that still do not live in full freedom. From #MeToo to the resurgence of patriarchy and the white male power structure - those things are brought into focus with this play. The corruption and fallibility of a judicial system are explored. Most importantly for me, at this moment anyway, is that the play is an examination of the power of fear and hysteria, and how those things, mixed with politics, gender politics, orthodoxy, religion and, on some level, capitalism, impact a community. Ultimately, The Crucible demonstrates the power of fear - fear of the other or of the unknown or, in the play, literally fear of the Devil - and how that easily disintegrates society and pits people against one another.

Would you share a little bit about your vision for the piece?
It's very early days, but I can say that while we don't need to perfectly represent 1692, I think we will see its silhouette. I have watched a few productions now. I made a point of watching one from Broadway a couple of years ago that took a decidedly modern approach. It was set in a school classroom. It was interesting, but it didn't work for me. I don't think the play needs that kind of refresh. What it needs are actors, a vitality and a lively telling. In terms of the set, I want us not to be fully bound by realism. Part of the discussion I will be having with my design team is about just how bold we can be with the physical space.
 
What do you hope audience members will feel during the show? What questions do you want them to leave with? Is there anything that you hope young people might be particularly engaged by?
At this moment, I'd love them to leave with the question of "What would I do?" Not just for John Proctor but also for Abigail, for Mary Warren, for Elizabeth, for Giles. I will have gone a long way to doing my job in helping the actors if we all, at some moment in the play, see the world through the eyes of each character with a degree of understanding. I want audiences to consider how complicated it is to hold on to your moral centre when everything around you is disintegrating.

A big part of the play is the story of these young women and the powers of freedom and choice. I hope young people see something of themselves in those girls who are just entering into womanhood and who are experiencing sensuality and how that is stifled - and how it is given a certain degree of freedom. Peer pressure is a big part of their journey. For the younger characters, it also explores what might happen when they are on the edge of adulthood but are also still steeped in the rashness of youth: how does this impact their choices?

PRE-SHOW DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Ask students:

  • What are the duties and responsibilities of your various family members (e.g., parent(s)/guardian(s), siblings, etc.)?
  • What are the duties and responsibilities of each member of your school community (e.g., students, teachers, principal, custodians, etc.)?
  • What rules of behaviour are in place at your school (written and unwritten)? Who sets those rules? What happens when someone breaks those rules?
  • Discuss the importance of having social customs and norms in your community. What are the benefits and difficulties of having them in place? What would motivate someone to go against the community's customs and norms?
  • Discuss the importance of peer pressure in our society. What are the benefits and drawbacks of being in an "in group"?
  • What are some of the triggers that might cause mass hysteria? Have there been events in the news recently that have caused mass hysteria? What were the outcomes?
  • Miller wrote the play as an allegory about McCarthyism. What role did this play in 1950s America? What triggered it? What were the ramifications? Could something like this happen today?

WARM-UP EXERCISE: Voice the subtext

Objective:

In this exercise the students will demonstrate a deeper understanding of the play by exploring character, setting and relationship to mine the subtext and present a distinct perspective on certain issues.

Materials:

  • Paper, pencils
  • Script excerpt- Act II
  • A space in which to move

Directions:

1. Look at the beginning of Act II, starting from Elizabeth's "What keeps you so late?..." to her response sometime later: "Aye it is." Include the stage notes that follows this scene: "There is a pause…A sense of their separation rises." (See attached excerpt).

2. Divide the class into groups of four.

3. Each group will read the scene several times together for clarity and understanding.

4.They will then examine and determine the particular tensions inherent in the scene. What is not being said (i.e., subtext)?

5. Then two students will play John and Elizabeth Proctor, who will say their lines as written. The other two will be the inner voices of the Proctors: one student will play John and the other will play Elizabeth. After each of the "real'" spoken lines of John or Mary, the inner voice counterpart will speak their thoughts (subtext). The team members can help to shape and offer suggestions on each response as the student assigned that part writes down their inner-voiced lines. 

6. To help the students get started, here are some prompting questions:

  • What do you know about the characters?
  • What is their relationship?
  • When is this happening? Does the fact that it's set in the seventeenth century affect the status of the man and the woman? What time of day is it?
  • Where is this happening? Would a public or private setting affect the characters differently?
  • What is happening? Are there any clues that suggest there is more going on than what is being said?
  • What has happened prior to this scene or in their relationship?
  • What is going to happen?
  • What emotions do these characters experience in this scene?

7. Once these inner-voiced lines are written, get the scene up on its feet and have each team rehearse this new scene a few times. Students may wish to play a certain section of the scene with the "real" John and Elizabeth and then have the actors playing the inner-voiced John and Elizabeth repeat the same section of the script speaking their inner thoughts. Students may also choose to speak the inner thoughts immediately after the "real" characters have spoken, saying their lines in turn.

8. When ready, have each team present their scene to the entire class.

9. After the presentations, discuss what discoveries the students made about this scene.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you discover about the characters John and Elizabeth?
  • How do you think actors can portray what is not being said (i.e., subtext)?
  • What techniques did Miller use to create tension?
  • Which was more powerful: what was said or what was not said (subtext)? Why?
  • Who in this excerpted scene gained the most sympathy from the audience? Why?

EXERCISE: WITCHCRAFT, MANIA OR MANIPULATION?

Objective:

This exercise will have students critically analyse and develop interpretations of a text using a variety of drama conventions as a basis for their own presentations.

Materials:

  • Handout of Act III script excerpts, pencils
  • A space in which to move

Directions:

  1. Divide the class into three teams to investigate and play an excerpted scene with one of these three interpretations: as if the teenagers are under the spell of witchcraft; as if the teenagers are experiencing mental illness; or as if Abigail, the ringleader, has carefully manipulated the teenagers into compliance with the lie.
  1. To properly understand how they are to approach each version, have the students look up and discuss the definitions for hysteria, mania and manipulation. How would each of these interpretations impact the characters' actions and relationships with one another?
  1. Each team has the following speaking characters: Reverend John Hale, John Proctor, Deputy Governor Danforth, and teenagers Mary Warren, Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams and Susanna Walcott. There are also non-speaking roles in the scene reacting to what is being said: Judge Hathorne, Thomas Putnam, Ezekiel Cheever and Marshal Herrick. You may wish to add more courtroom characters if your teams are larger than eleven.
  1. Allow sufficient time for rehearsal. Students may choose to read from their scripts rather than memorize their lines.
  1. Have each team present their interpretation to the other teams.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you notice when you got your interpretation of the scene up on its feet?
  • What choices did you make to help clearly communicate your interpretation to the audience?
  • What did you discover while watching and listening to other presentations? What were the similarities and what were the differences among each group's versions?
  • To what do you attribute the courtroom people's acceptance of the teenagers' claims of seeing the supernatural? What arguments can be made that they were under the spell of witchcraft? What arguments can be made that the teenagers were experiencing mental illness? What arguments can be made that Abigail manipulated the teenagers into mass hysteria? Which version seems the most compelling? Why?

POST-SHOW DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Ask students:

  • Miller wrote the play as an allegory about McCarthyism, but some would argue that the play is about power, feminism and economics. Would you agree or disagree and why?
  • What role did sex and sexual repression play in this production?
  • Discuss the treatment of women in the play. How did the female characters shape your understanding of the play?
  • Who had power and voice in the play? Who was marginalized? What statement do you think Miller was trying to make?
  • Is John Proctor a tragic hero?
  • How did Proctor's dilemma change over the course of the play? Did these changes alter your view of the character? If so, how and why?
  • To what extent does "mob mentality" apply to this play? How does it play out in our own society today?
  • Discuss the sacrifices made in the play by certain characters. Do you believe their sacrifices were necessary to restore the community?
  • Would it have been possible for the play to have a different ending? Why or why not?
  • Does this play resonate with today's politics, economic and gender issues? What are the similarities and differences?
  • How did the director's and designers' visions (e.g., staging and character development, costumes, set, lighting, sound) in this production affect your experience?

CULMINATING EXERCISE: INTERVIEWING THE CHARACTERS

Objective:

In this exercise students will demonstrate a deeper understanding of The Crucible through character analysis by way of dramatic engagement such as role play.

Materials:

  • Scripts, notebook, pens, pencils
  • Open space in which to move

Directions:

1.Working in pairs, assign a character to each pair of students. Each student will then separately make notes about their character in the play, gathering facts, values, beliefs, etc.

2.Then, one student in each pair will be a reporter, investigating and preparing notes and listing a series of questions they want to ask their character.

3.The other student in each pair will become the character, jotting down what they know about this character, the situation in which they find themselves and the emotional state they are in.

4.Allow for a sufficient amount of time for the students to gather their information.

5.Gather the students together and have them sit in a circle. Ask for volunteer pairs to come to the centre to perform their interview. Place two chairs facing each other: one for the reporter and the other for the character. Note: if comfortable, the reporter and character may also choose to stand up and walk around in the circle as the questions are being asked.

6.During the interview, the other students in the circle should, in role as reporters or as characters, make note of any questions or relevant points that come up as they are listening to each interview.

7.Some characters may require more time than others. If you wish, set a time limit of five minutes for each interview, with an additional two minutes given to the reporters and other characters in the circle to ask questions or point out a relevant fact.

8.After everyone has presented, debrief with the class to find out what they discovered while doing this activity.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What new insights did you discover while interviewing the characters?
  • Did listening to these characters describe their feelings, motives, dilemmas and choices alter your opinion about them at all? Why or why not?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Is it possible to have multiple interpretations of a character?
  • Is there a clear villain in this story? Is there a true heroic figure in this story? Which characters, in particular, seemed morally ambiguous? Why or why not?
  • What questions would you want to ask Arthur Miller about this play were he alive today?

SOURCES & RESOURCES

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE CRUCIBLE STUDY GUIDE

 

The Crucible

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Penguin Group, 2003.

 

WEB RESOURCES

History Channel. "Hollywood Ten." https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/hollywood-ten.

Library of Congress. "Pointing their Pens: Herblock and Fellow Cartoonists Confront the Issues - Red Scare." https://loc.gov/exhibits/pointing-their-pens-editorial-cartoons/red-scare.html.

Miller, Arthur. "The Crucible: Threats" (video interview). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umryHVzZRzY.

PBS - American Masters. "Why Arthur Miller Wrote The Crucible." http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/arthur-miller-elia-kazan-and-the-blacklist-none-without-sin-why-arthur-miller-wrote-the-crucible/5911/.

Schrecker, Ellen. "What is McCarthyism? And how did it happen?" TED Ed. https://ed.ted.com/lessons/what-is-mccarthyism-and-how-did-it-happen-ellen-schrecker.

 

THE CRUCIBLE ON FILM, VIDEO and DVD

1967 (U.S.) The Crucible. Directed by Alex Segal; starring George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst and Melvyn Douglas.

1996 (U.S.) The Crucible. Directed by Nicholas Hytner; starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Paul Scofield.

2014 (U.K.) The Crucible. Directed by Yaël Farber; starring Richard Armitage, Harry Attwell and Samantha Colley.

Education Program Partner

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Tools for Teachers sponsored by 

 

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The Tools for Teachers program includes Prologues, Study Guides, and Stratford Shorts.

 

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