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“Crucible” by Arthur Miller: The madness in Salem Essay

How does Miller use the ending of each act to make the audience feel the madness in Salem?

Miller is able to portray the madness of Salem in a variety of ways, throughout the whole of the play however the ending of each act allows the audience to fully feel the hysteria. By incorporating changes of key themes and ideas as well as using links throughout the text and a variety of dramatic techniques towards the end of each act, Miller is able to leave the audience with a sense of this madness. The ways in which he reflects the madness change from scene to scene however each technique is just as important as others.

Occurring frequently throughout the play, but particularly predominant at the end of Act I is the use of stage directions to increase tension and hysteria. After Tituba confesses to allegiance with the Devil, Abigail realises that this has saved her and so she decides to repeat Tituba’s actions in order to save herself. She understands that in order to prevent being accused she must become the accuser. Miller emphasises this as immediately after Hale states “God will bless you for your help”, Abigail rises and is quoted as “staring as though inspired.” She goes on to become “enraptured as though in a pearly light” which shows the progression from a quiet confession to a loud, more hysteric declaration.

The passage which follows shows a huge rise in tension and irrational incidents as suddenly Betty rises from the bed after a long period of time in a collapsed state, also chanting confessions. Betty and Abigail exclaim the names of people who they claimed to have seen with the Devil, and Miller once again uses stage directions to show the craziness by describing them as “calling out hysterically” and “rising to a great glee.” The curtain falls on the girls crying out the names of people seen with the Devil, with a progressive increase in intensity and so the audience is left with a clear feel of the hysteria.

Another way Miller is able to portray the madness towards the end of Act I is by using short sentences to increase tension and reflect the condition in Salem. During the confession of Abigail short, quick sentences are used such as “I danced for the Devil!” or “I saw him”, both of which show a peak in hysteria. These are followed by Betty and Abigail accusing people of allegiance with the Devil and all these claims follow the same, generic format of “I saw ____ with the Devil!” This makes the girls seem as though they are possessed and are under the influence of the Devil – once again giving the audience a feel of the madness in Salem by building up a mad atmosphere.

Towards the end of Act II Miller uses the actions of John Proctor to make the audience feel the madness in Salem, with his violent acts indicating how emotions have spiralled out of control in the village. After the arrest of his wife, Elizabeth, Proctor becomes aggravated and begins to take a violent approach towards the matter. As soon as he is left alone with Mary Warren, she is described as speaking in a “fearful squeak of a voice” which begins to suggest Proctor’s threatening presence. This is followed by Proctor “moving menacingly toward her” which gives the audience an instant insight on Proctor’s anger.

Even though Mary Warren proclaims that Abigail will “kill [her] for sayin’ that” (referring to telling the court who stuck the needle into the poppet), Proctor still “continues toward her” which also indicates the madness of Proctor and the community around him. Mary then begins to “back from him” and speaks “in terror”, however Proctor “strides and catches her” which shows a progression from mere verbal abuse to physical violence and an upsurge of anger. This anger proliferates into Proctor “grasping her from the throat as though he would strangle her” before “throwing her to the floor where she sobs”. Miller is able to use this forcefulness to give the audience a taste of how things have progressed from illogical thoughts to outright madness in not just the Proctor household but the whole of Salem.

Along with the use of Proctor’s violence to reflect the madness in Salem, Miller uses the intense dialogue between Proctor and Mary Warren to show how insanity has grown in the Salem community. Miller utilises Mary Warren’s repeated refrain of “I cannot, I cannot” to reflect how crazy she has become. Despite Abigail’s wrongdoings Mary states that she “cannot charge murder on Abigail” which shows how much Abigail has manipulated her. She then states that “they’ll turn on [her]” which demonstrates the pressure placed upon Mary to lie to the court. Mary’s mind has been twisted into believing that staying loyal to the girls is more important than saving the lives of innocent people accused of witchcraft and this gives the audience a glimpse of the absurd ideas implanted into the brains of the Salem community. The curtain falls on Mary repeatedly sobbing “I cannot, I cannot” and this tells the audience that the madness is not at an end but will continue into the scenes to come.

In Act III, Miller utilises Mary Warren’s change of heart to fully epitomise the extent of which the madness in Salem has grown. As previously stated, Miller used the end of Act II to show that the madness in Salem would continue into the coming scenes, and by making Mary Warren and John Proctor the subject of drama once again he has shown this. The end of Act III begins with Abigail conversing with an invisible bird which is acclaimed to be controlled by Mary Warren. This, not unlike most other claims of witchcraft in the play, has no substance or evidence apart from the victim’s claims and is irrational which links in with the general madness of the play.

Abigail has made this accusation in order to avoid being accused; drawing parallels with the ending of Act I. Abigail once again asserts her dominance over Mary which can be seen, as when Abigail shouts that the spirit is “going to come down” and is “walking the beam”, Mary changes from saying that previous cases were “pretence” to now saying that John Proctor is “the Devil’s man.” Mary is described as “screaming in horror” – antics associated with someone gone mad. Ultimately, this extreme change of heart is used by Miller to show that the hysteria has reached its peak and now people are no longer willing to argue anymore.

The idea that arguing is of no use anymore as the judges fail to understand good reasoning is shown again through John Proctor’s change of heart as well. After spending so long arguing for the freedom of his wife and so many others, when asked if he has any allegiance with Satan he replies that “God is dead!” Proctor recognises Judge Danforth’s hypocrisy in that Danforth previously stated that witchcraft was only visible to the victim and the accused, however now he says “I have seen your power” which is contradictory to the previous statement. Miller uses this case of hypocrisy to show the audience how a lack of logic has overrun Salem causing the aforementioned madness.

Proctor follows by “laughing insanely” and saying that he “hears the boot of Lucifer” and “sees his filthy face” – a sharp contrast to saying the Devil is not present in Salem just a few moments before. Imagery of burning in Hell and the damnation of himself and Danforth contribute greatly to the madness and they give the audience an idea of the graphic culmination of the madness in Salem. Also, Hale “denounces these proceedings” and “quits this court” which leaves the courtroom itself in a state of madness. Danforth attempts to control the room but is unable to and this symbolises how power is no longer with any of the officials and all chaos has broken loose in Salem, giving the audience a full on feel of how a total loss of control has culminated in Salem.

All in all, Arthur Miller is able to use the ending of each act to make the audience feel the madness in Salem by incorporating multiple techniques into the play to add tension and hysteria. These techniques, ranging from stage directions to symbolism and imagery, are able to give the audience a glimpse of the insanity going through Salem and they are developed well as the audience progresses through the play; building up to dramatic climaxes and culminating in the loss of all order in the Salem community.

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