The Crucible Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name The Crucible
image caption Penguin Classics edition
author Arthur Miller
country America
language English language
genre(s) Social issues
publisher Penguin
release date 1953
media type Paperback
pages 143
The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play written in 1953 during the time of McCarthyism, when the US government blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956. The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953. The reviews of the first production were hostile, but a year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic. Today it is studied in high schools and universities because of its status as a revolutionary work of theatre and for its allegorical relationship to testimony given before the House Committee On Un-American Activities during the 1950s.

The play was adapted for film twice, first by Jean-Paul Sartre as the 1957 film Les Sorcières de Salem and by Miller himself as the 1996 film The Crucible, the latter with a cast including Paul Scofield, Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. Miller's adaptation earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Previously Produced Material, his only nomination. The play was also adapted by composer Robert Ward into an opera, The Crucible, which was first performed in 1961 and received the Pulitzer Prize.

The play has also been presented several times on stage and television. One notable 1967 TV production starred George C. Scott as John Proctor, Colleen Dewhurst (Scott's wife at the time) as Elizabeth Proctor, and Tuesday Weld as Abigail Williams.

Character Summaries

John Proctor

Elizabeth's husband, and a local farmer. Despite being stern and loathing hypocrisy, he is having an affair with Abigail. He doesn't want Abigail to be investigated because he doesn't want his affair being known.

Abigail Williams

Accused of witchcraft. She is very intelligent. Abigail is having an affair with John Proctor, her employer. She is the niece of Parris.

Reverend John Hale

A supposed expert on witchcraft. He does regret what his arrival has caused amongst the townspeople.

Elizabeth Proctor

Wife of John Proctor. She fires Abigail upon the discovery of the young woman having an affair with her husband.

Reverend Parris

The uncle of Abigail. Very concerned with his status in the community.

Judge Danforth

Danforth believes that he is pursuing the righteous cause when trying to get ride of witchcraft in the community.

Giles Correy

An old farmer whose wife is accused of witchcraft.


The black slave of John Proctor.

Thomas and Anne Putnam

Wealthy citizens. Thomas tries to profit off of the witchcraft accusations, and Anne thinks that witchcraft was responsible for the premature death of seven of her babies.

Ruth Putnam

The Putnam's daughter. She is caught dancing in the forest with the others. When she becomes sick afterwards it fuels rumors of witchcraft.

Betty Parris

Parris' daughter. She is caught dancing in the forest with the others. When she becomes sick afterwards it fuels rumors of witchcraft.

Mary Warren

Part of Abigail's group caught in the forest. She takes back her confession as she is easily led by others.

Francis and Rebecca Nurse

Both respected in the community, however Rebecca is accused of witchcraft but refuses to confess to the allegations.

Plot Summary

Act 1

The play begins in the bedroom of Betty Parris, the daughter of the local preacher Samuel Parris. She has fallen ill and into a mania. It is soon discovered that Betty was found with some local girls who were dancing and chanting around a fire in the woods with Parris' slave, Tituba. Panic spreads through the village as people believe that witchcraft is afoot. Reverend Parris sends for the Reverend John Hale, an authority on witchcraft, to investigate what is going on. Reverend Parris questions the manipulative Abigail Williams, who is the unofficial leader of the group of girls, regarding what took place in the forest. Abigail denies any witchcraft and claims she and the girls were simply dancing. Abigail then threatens the other girls to prevent them from revealing what really happened in the forest the last night. John Proctor enters, and Abigail confronts him, alluding to her having an affair with him. When Parris and Hale interrogate Tituba, she confesses to witchcraft after Parris threatens to whip her to death. She accuses Sarah Good and Goody Osborne, and she is only sentenced to a short term in prison. Betty and Abigail take Tituba's cue, confess witchcraft, and start accusing almost all of the women from town.

Act 2

Late one evening in the Proctor household, John Proctor comes home from planting in his fields to his wife, Elizabeth. Their forced conversation eventually grows into an argument concerning John's past infidelity and Elizabeth's inability to either forgive or forget the incident. Mary Warren, their house servant, comes home in a disturbed state. She is serving as a clerk of the court and witnessed the first handing down of a death sentence to one of the accused witches that very day. She gives Elizabeth a poppet that she made during the trials that day. Mary then goes to bed, but only after telling the Proctors that Elizabeth's name has been mentioned in the court. John and Elizabeth continue their argument, now enhanced by Elizabeth's fear of Abigail and the other girls' vicious power in the courts. They are interrupted by the sudden appearance of John Hale at their doorway. He is traveling from house to house, speaking to those mentioned in the court to gain more information about them. During their discussion, John reveals that he is aware that Abigail and the other girls are lying. They are all then interrupted by two Salem citizens that have had wives arrested, and they are shortly followed by a party come to arrest Elizabeth. They find a needle stuck in the poppet Mary gave Elizabeth, which appears to confirm the accusation of witchcraft made upon Elizabeth by Abigail (this is also called a voodoo doll). The act closes with Elizabeth being taken away and John telling Mary that she will come to the court to dispute the claims made by Abigail.

Act 3

Act Three takes place thirty-three days after the events in Act Two, in the Salem courthouse. Mr. Corey and Mr. Nurse have come to disrupt the proceedings so that the judges can be presented with evidence that the girls are lying. Judge Danforth, the lead judge in the trials, has little patience for them and dismisses them quickly. Soon, however, John Proctor and Mary Warren arrive to dispute Abigail's claims. Danforth questions Mary and Proctor, revealing that Elizabeth has been found to be pregnant, and decides to investigate the situation further, calling in Abigail and the other girls. The resulting actions result in Corey being arrested for contempt of court and warrants issued for several citizens that had supported the claims of Mr. Nurse. While examining Mary further, Parris and others try to get Mary to demonstrate how she and the other girls would faint. She cannot, and Abigail and the girls start to make accusations against Mary. To attempt to break the hold that Abigail has, John admits to his infidelity with Abigail. In order to determine if John is telling the truth, they call Elizabeth into the courtroom. Despite John's assertion that Elizabeth never lies, she does not admit to any belief that John has ever strayed, in an attempt to save his name. This results in Mary and John's claims being dismissed. Abigail and the other girls then go into violent fits, accusing Mary of dark witchcraft. Mary becomes completely desperate and turns on John Proctor, saying that he is in league with the Devil. John states that if these events can occur, then "God is dead." The courtroom erupts into chaos and the act ends.

Act 4

Act Four starts with Proctor chained to a jail wall totally isolated from the outside. The authorities send Elizabeth to him, telling her to try to convince Proctor to confess. Proctor gives in to the authorities and the advice of Reverend Hale. Hale is now a broken man who spends all his time with the prisoners, praying with them and hoping to save their lives from their unjust fates. Hale advises prisoners to confess to witchcraft so that they can live. Proctor signs a confession but retracts it when he realizes that Danforth intended to nail the confession to the church door (which Proctor fears will ruin his name and the names of other Salemites). The play ends with Proctor and Rebecca Nurse (an accused witch) being led to the gallows.

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Categories: Classics, Plays