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.
Suitable for students Grade 9+
- Global Competencies:
- Learning to Learn/Self-Awareness
- 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?