James A. Landau
JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri May 17 00:36:35 UTC 2002
In a message dated Thu, 16 May 2002 4:57:37 AM Eastern Daylight Time, Adrian
Pable <adrian.pable at ENS.UNIBE.CH> writes:
>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.
I would delete the word "never". The written records of Salem witchcraft
include a good deal of "I told X that..." or "I was told by Y that he
said..." so you may be surprised at how much supposedly intimate talk was
As far as I know, Miller used no material on Salem that is not publicly
available in any good library in the USA. In the 1930's the US Government
(through the Writers' Project of the WPA) catalogued all existing written
materials from Salem, and Miller writing half a generation later presumably
used these same catalogued writings. Hence you can, with some assurance, say
that "Miller used the following materials on..."
NOTE: in the United States, a "producer" is the person in charge of the
FINANCES of a movie or theatrical production. The person who selects the
actors and tells them how to act is called the "director". Sometimes the
producer and the director are the same person, and sometimes the producer
tells the director in great detail what to do, but in general the artistic
values of any stage or Hollywood production are due to the director, not the
("The main function of the producer is that he's the only man on the set who
can tell the director to go to Hell")
In England, however, usage is different. What Americans call a "director" is
in England called a "producer", which can cause confusion, especially among
native speakers of English.
In a message dated Wed, 15 May 2002 8:46:38 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> writes:
>I don't know if the production Jim stage-handed for was particularly
>unimaginative, but I've seen several productions of The Crucible as
>well as reading it, and I would beg to differ with the
>characterization of it as a polemic. While it is indeed politically
>engaged, it's essentially a human drama with (potentially) wonderful
>scenes and confrontations between real people--not just ideas--and
>while of course you're right in saying that Miller was inspired by
>the connection with the McCarthy trials, it can be understood and
>enjoyed by audiences unaware of the allusion, which would certainly
>not be the case if it were a simple polemic.
I agree with everything you say and still beg to differ.
I have seen "The Crucible" in professional, college, and little theater
productions, and each one featured some superb acting. Apparently an
intelligent director does not agree to do "Crucible" unless he/she is certain
of being able to recruit a skillful cast. For the production on which I
worked, the actresses playing Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Mary Warren
were good enough to scare us stagehands, which is a high compliment.
Our director was a woman who apparently specialized in doing hard plays with
amateur casts (the following year she directed "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for
us; I have not seen her since). She did nothing I can recall to bring out
the political (i.e. McCarthy-era) aspects of the play, and she included the
forest scene (which I have never seen in any other production) which does
much to bring out the psychology of Abigail. I can't say how "imaginative"
she was, but I think you would like the way she directed the play.
I have the program in front of me. There is no political commentary or
director's notes in the program, so I guess I would have to say that we did
the play as a straight historical drama. Of course the political context of
the day had changed.
One possible reason that she avoided the political implications was that most
of her cast was too young to remember McCarthy. (It should be mentioned that
the actor playing Giles Corey was 77 years old. He took some ribbing when in
his next play he portrayed the "relatively young" 75-year-old lead of "The
Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia".)
The director also insisted on each actor answering to his/her stage name
only, which is a great way to confuse us stagehands when someone slipped up
and used an actor's real name.
Yes, I agree that "polemic" (which means "loud, rude, angry criticism") is
the wrong word to use, but I could not think of a better one. To say
"Crucible" is "a political work" is to be technically correct yet is damning
with faint praise, implying that the play is hackwork (which it definitely is
not). Therefore I too state that "Crucible" is much more than a "simple
polemic". Like many great works of art, it is a multi-level creation, the
two most obvious levels being the political and the human-interest.
Actually, your words point out some flaws in the human-drama level of the
DIGRESSION: another common feature of many great works of literature and
drama is that they have significant flaws. For example, in "Don Quixote"
Cervantes obviously started out writing a straight satire and then fell in
love with his title hero, which may well have given the work much of its
humanity, at the expense of a consistency of tone.
Perhaps great works are great BECAUSE of their flaws. A perfectly polished
literary work would go down as easily as a Harlequin romance, with none of
the little itches in the back of the brain that lead the reader to re-read
and re-read the work.
End of digression.
It was obvious, not just to me but to all of my freshman American lit class
in college, that Miller intended to focus on John Proctor and the moral
predicament Proctor found himself in. However, Miller's pen went off on a
tangent to his intentions, with the result that Proctor ended up as a
cardboard almost-stereotype, outshone by the colorful three-dimensional
characters around him, such as Giles Correy and Abigail. The sexual tension
between Proctor and Abigail illuminates Abigail's character but leaves
Proctor looking like a piece of furniture.
In my opinion the "Crucible" is mainly a play about three people: Mary
Warren, Reverend Hale, and to a lesser extent Abigail Williams. The college
production I saw frankly featured Hale as the lead character. Our little
theater production had a less prominent Hale but emphasized Mary Warren.
Caveat: I may of the above opinion for purely geographical reasons. For the
forest scene (featuring Abigail) and the vestry scene (dominated by Mary
Warren and Abigail) I was assigned as flyman on the pinrail. In the theater
we used, the pinrail was almost directly over the stage, uncomforably close
to the playing area. On the pinrail you felt you were almost part of the
action (and you could see the audience). However, during the final (jail)
scene, which is Proctor's dramatic moment, I had no assignment and was exiled
to the vomitory, where I had no reason to pay attention to the play.
Here's a mental exercise for you: would "Crucible" succeed as a drama if the
last scene, the one showing Proctor in jail, were removed?
- Jim Landau
P.S. Are you familiar with the theory that Don Quixote was Jewish and that
Cervantes was writing a political piece about conversos?
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