Adrian Pable adrian.pable at ENS.UNIBE.CH
Thu May 16 08:58:49 UTC 2002

thanks a lot for your reply. Especially the piece of information on
Paul Green seems very interesting to take a closer look.

Consider this: I do not believe Miller copied much of the verbatim
language into his play, since the latter depicts almost exclusively
situations that documents never do (intimate scenes between
husband/wife, husband/lover etc.). Miller had thus to re-create such
situations linguistically, whether he did that in a realistic way is
exactly what I want to find out.

yours, Adrian Pablé

>In a message dated Fri, 10 May 2002  9:26:34 AM Eastern Daylight
>Time, Adrian Pable <adrian.pable at ENS.UNIBE.CH> writes:
>>is there anyone who can give me some advice on how to proceed with
>>the topic of my phD thesis?
>>My research will be focused on the PERCEPTION / REPRESENTATION OF
>>SPOKEN EARLY AMERICAN ENGLISH in literary texts (prose but primarily
>>drama), as well as movies and live enactments in heritage parks; my
>>primary sources are Nathaniel Hawthorne (prose), Mary E. Wilkins and
>>Arthur Miller (drama) and I want to compare these authors' ways of
>>'re-createing' 17th-century colonial American in writing:
>    <snip>
>>  What choices do Hollywood producers/directors make
>>when having their characters speak through actors: do they simply
>>talk like people from the 20th century? Here I will rely on
>>productions of The Scarlet Letter (1926 vs 1995) and The Crucible
>>Yours sincerely,
>>Adrian Pablé
>>University of Berne, Switzerland
>I have some familiarity with "The Crucible", having been a stagehand
>on a 10-performance run.
>"The Crucible" appeared during the "McCarthy era" in the United
>States, at a time when there was much concern with "witch-hunting"
>(a term that I'm sure was derived from the events at Salem.)  It is
>widely believed (and may well be true) that Arthur Miller wrote "The
>Crucible" as a political polemic which just happened to be set in
>1692, rather than setting out to write a historical play about the
>While stagehanding, I wondered about this, and went to the trouble
>of going through the entire script to check this point.  (I was
>using a paperback containing the script and the author's directions.
>Unfortunately I could not find my copy so I'm going from memory.)  I
>discovered that there was not one word in the script that (to me at
>least) sounded specific to the 1950's.  HOWEVER, in one of the
>author's notes (somewhere in Act I Scene I if I remember correctly)
>there is a statement that makes it clear Arthur Miller was
>definitely thinking of the 1950's witch-hunting.
>You should also realize that the Salem witch trials are as
>well-known to Americans as, say, Francois de Bonnivard is to the
>Swiss.  That is not to say that all Americans are familiar with the
>details, but almost all will recognize the subject.  Descendants of
>the accused at Salem will boast of their descent; on the other hand
>Nathaniel Hawthorne was ashamed of being a descendant of one of the
>Furthermore, the Salem witch trials are well documented, down to
>actual speeches from many of the participants.
>The following conjecture is no more than an educated guess, but it
>is quite plausible:  Arthur Miller didn't give a damn about the
>niceties such as vintage dialect.  He was writing a 1950's polemic,
>and he knew that his audience, once cued in by the mention of
>"Salem" and "witches", would automatically accept that the setting
>was Salem in 1692.  As long as he did not make any gross blunders,
>such as mentioning George Washington, the audience had no need of
>subtle details such as vintage dialect to accept that the setting
>was 1692.
>Of course some of the dialogue is correct 1690's vintage, since
>Miller copied some actual wording from historical records and I am
>sure patterned some more of his dialogue to match the verbatim
>wording.  This however was not for the purpose of making for correct
>vintage dialect, but was rather the usual playwright's care to have
>each character's speech remain consistent.
>1.  There is reason to doubt that "The Crucible", due to its being a
>20th century political play, is a good example of a play with a
>historical setting.
>2.  Any correct 1690's diction in the script may be due to Miller's
>having copied verbatim from historical records giving actual
>speeches of actual people present at Salem.
>I would like to draw an analogy to Shakespeare's "King Henry V".  To
>the English of Shakespeare's day, Henry V and the Battle of
>Agincourt were as well known as Salem is to present-day Americans.
>The audience would accept the 1415 setting without needing to be
>cued in by proper archaic language.  I have not checked the script,
>but I doubt that Shakespeare went to any trouble to use the English
>(or the French!) of 1415 in the play.
>What historical drama could you replace "The Crucible" with?
>Here's a suggestion:  there was a playwright named Paul Green who
>wrote a number of historical dramas about specific areas of the
>Southern US, some of which are presented regularly in these areas
>for the benefit of tourists.  The only one I have ever seen is "The
>Lost Colony" at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and I was only 11 at
>the time so I don't remember much. (Its setting is a century BEFORE
>"Crucible"). For a list of these plays, go to URL
>For a horrible example of how NOT to write a historical drama,
>consider the Walt Disney movie "Pocahontas".  The legend of how
>Pocahontas saved the life of John Smith is well-known to Americans,
>which is lucky for the movie because it is difficult to find any
>historical detail in the movie which is depicted correctly.  The
>artists used a Filipino model for Pocahontas, so that she is drawn
>as an Asian rather than as an American Indian!  This is about as
>plausible as drawing slaves with purple skins.  There are no
>mountains anywhere near Jamestown; the area is flat and swampy.
>Etc. Even the minor details are wrong.  The artists drew a very
>buxom Pocahontas; the one known portrait of her shows her as
>      - Jim Landau
>P.S. a piece of non-verbal historical "dialogue":  for the
>production of "Crucible" I worked on, all the furniture was made in
>the theater's own shop.  The wood used was mainly "two by fours",
>which are 3 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches, or a ratio of 7 to 3.  The
>carpenter shaved the two by fours down to 3 inches, creating a ratio
>of 2 to 1, which is not standard for US lumber.  The idea was to
>show, subliminally, that the furniture was NOT modern.

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