Tension in Arthur Millers ‘The Crucible’” Essay
In The Crucible there is a lot of tension that builds gradually throughout the play. Tension is a very important factor in The Crucible and Arthur Miller uses a lot of different techniques to create and illustrate it. The tension repeatedly rises, and then falls. This could be displayed in a graph.
The graph would start with small peaks, and as the tension escalates the peaks would gradually become higher. Note every peak would be higher than the previous to show a gradual build of tension throughout the whole play.
I am going to focus mainly on the end of act one, and the start of act two. I will explore the two scenes in great detail, and compare how the tension is similar and how it is different.
The first thing that is striking to the audience is the setting of an act or scene. Straight away the audience is intrigued by this play. The end of act one takes place in Betty Paris very small and intimate bedroom. There is only a little bit of light in this scene, which comes from a small window and a single candle that burns on a table. There are 12 people, if not more, cramped in to this claustrophobic space. This makes the scene seem even more tense. Also the secret private conversations intrigue the audience and raise their involvement.
The second thing that makes the audience feel on edge, is when Hale and Paris start interrogating Abigail. They continuously fire non stop questions at her, barely even giving her time to think:(quickly) What jumped in ?(blanched) She called the devil ?This continual use of interrogatives would be unnerving to the audience as they would feel pressured and on edge. The script is very jumpy and has a fast tempo. This adds to the tension, as the audience doesnt know what is going to be said. I think if the script flowed, it would not have the same effect.
The scene starts with an intimate comment which makes everybody watching the exorcism feel slightly uncomfortable. Hale uses Latin, archaic, words during the exorcism, this adds mystery to the scene. All the adults move in closer and the anticipation rises. Hale tries to catch Abigail off guard by asking her questions:Is there any figure bids you fly?He is foreshadowing the future here, stating what is about to happen in the courtroom. The intrigue of Hale is quite deep. He continues to ask questions, this hypens up the tempo, and the fast jumpy dialogue continues. The hyphens and interruptions make the scene more tense. Question. Answer. Question. Answer. Hale doesnt even leave time for Abigail to make up any excuses.
Abigail starts to feel the pressure and as a result of this, starts to use Tituba as a scapegoat. In one instance she says:She triedbut I refusedAbigail is playing the adults, she is trying to make herself look innocent and seem as though she is in the right, and Tituba is in the wrong. She reverts the questions to put Tituba in the spotlight and make her feel under pressure.
Abigail is one of the main characters in The Crucible and is the main leader in the group of girls. Her main aim is to split John and Elizabeth up, so she has John Proctor all to herself. She plays the innocent so that everybody thinks she is the victim.
The scene ends with the mass hysteria. Paris forces Tituba into revealing names of the villagers that she has allegedly seen with the devil. He offers her salvation, and a chance to go back home to Barbados. He also threatens her with physical punishment. This aids her into making her decision about revealing names. She is receiving all of the attention from the adults, which makes Abigail jealous. Abigail decides that she wants all the attention for herself, so she declares:I want to open myselfI want the light of GodI want the sweet love of JesusShe is deliberately manipulating the situation for her own gain; saying exactly what the adults want to hear.
She starts to recall names that she has heard the adults mention previously. She encourages the other girls to do exactly as she does, so the group of girls join in and start repeating the names that they have heard mentioned. Eventually the girls are dragged off the stage screaming. The crescendo of voices causes mass hysteria on the stage. Also the repetition of I saw with the devil dominates the stage by creating on extremely tense atmosphere. This crescendo of voices increases the mass hysteria.
This contrasts enormously with the beginning of Act 2. There is no dialogue at the beginning of the scene, and the only sound heard after the mass hysteria, is Elizabeth singing a peaceful lullaby to her children. The room instead of being full of people, is actually completely empty. The juxtaposition between the two scenes would affect the audience enormously and add a sense of anticipation and involvement.
The first thing that happens in this scene is when John Proctor enters the room. He looks around and notices a pot of stew simmering over the fireplace, he tastes the stew but however he is not quite pleased with the taste. He Takes a pinch of salt, and drops it into the pot. He does this secretly as not to upset Elizabeth. This shows the secretive element to their relationship as well as his underlying consideration for her feelings.
As Elizabeth enters she does not embrace Proctor nor does she greet him with any physical contact; metaphorically this implies distance. She just asks:What keeps you so late?The first dialogue spoken is a question. She obviously doesnt trust him and in the back of her mind she imagines he has been with his mistress, Abigail. He answers her questions in very little detail. His answers are quite short and it is silted dialogue. There seems to be no natural conversation between them at all. The tension is conveyed to the audience and makes them feel slightly uncomfortable.
Elizabeth tells John about the rabbit that walked in to the house. It is apparently good luck if a rabbit walks straight into your house. Miller could have chosen a rabbit as a sign of superstition; a rabbits foot. She hands Proctor a bowl of the rabbit soup and watches him eat. She wants thanks for making the soup. John notices this and compliments her on the seasoning, even though he did it himself. The audience know this, but Elizabeth doesnt, adding a sense of dramatic irony to the scene.
The couple seem suspicious of each other throughout the whole of this scene. John is treading on egg shells trying not to upset Elizabeth, however there is still a lot of irony within the conversation. There are a number of pauses – silences as though they are testing each other.
John mentions to Elizabeth about buying George Jacobs heifer. He is desperately trying to please her. The audience notices a link with this scene and act one, because the name George Jacobs was mentioned by Abigail as she claimed that she saw him with the devil. John gets up from the table and kisses Elizabeth on the cheek. Normally, kisses are reciprocated and the lack of this implies distance. This is the first piece of physical contact in the whole scene. He returns to the tablewith a certain disappointment.
He notices that there is no cider on the table and builds up his courage to not upset Elizabeth and ask:(As gently as he can) Cider?The couple seem as thought they are leading two separate lives. Their marriage is undermined by guilt. It is a sham! The tension between the two is communicated to the audience in many different ways. Elizabeth is desperately trying to please John. She keeps flowers in the house, John notices this and compliments them. Proctor is desperately trying hard not to start a row, however there is one brewing and they are nearing it. They are beginning to question each other about everything. This leads to an argument abut Mary Warren.
Mary Warren tells John and Elizabeth about the latest news from Salem and who is being accused of witchcraft. Elizabeth tells John that he should go to Salem to tell Ezekiel Cheever that Elizabeth has lied and that last week she told John that it had nought to do with witchcraft. However, John feels not so strongly about the idea, as he fears Abigail might tell Elizabeth that they were alone together, something John has previously lied about to Elizabeth.
Nearing the end of the scene, voices begin to be raised with talk of Salem. The room is like a courtroom; cold with Elizabeth judging Johns every move. Eventually the tension erupts in to an attack on Mary.
The play is now at a very tense climax; the audience is very keen to know if John will go to Salem or not. In the back of their mind they are also wondering whether Elizabeth will find out Johns secret or not.
Arthur Miller, The Crucible
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