Dramatic tension in act three of The Crucible Essay Sample
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How does Miller create dramatic tension in Act Three of The Crucible and what purpose does it serve?
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, written in 1953, is a play about two subjects. Set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, theoretically a pure, god-loving community, this play exposes the witch-hunts that took place at that time, and the atmosphere around them. But The Crucible also is a play about what happened in America in the 1950’s: the McCarthyism communist hunts. Indeed, Miller was very touched by these, as he was himself imprisoned by false accusation. This play therefore presents the atmosphere in McCarthy America through an older but very similar story.
By Act Three, the audience has a sense of the atmosphere of America 1692. We have seen how it all begun; the start of mass hysteria. The dramatic tension that will be exposed here, though, reaches its summit in Act Three.
The very beginning of Act Three already is tense. Set in the antechamber of the court, it opens with the trial of Martha Corey, but which we cannot see. When the curtain rises, the audience is faced with an empty stage and strong, authoritive voices. This is a tense beginning, both visually, and because by not seeing the court proceedings, he audience is left to imagine what takes place. By doing so, Miller creates audience involvement, and thus shows how, in 1950’s America, no one ever saw the court proceedings, which in people’s minds became even more horrible.
Martha and Giles Cory are a very good example of perfectly good and godly people who make an innocent comment about ordinary things such as “what signifies the readin’ of strange books?”, and are accused of something bigger. Martha Corey is reputated in Salem for her godliness. The stubbornness of the court, though, will not hear it: “Why do you hurt these children?” These false accusations reflect those of America 1950’s, and create very dramatic tension. Indeed, the audience knows of their innocence, yet cannot do anything. The dramatic irony and powerlessness of the audience used by Miller are very frustrating, and create involvement. They also reflect the powerlessness of people in the 50’s.
(Redo paragraph about Giles Corey)
Following this scene is Mary Warren’s dramatic entry with Proctor. The character of Mary Warren is a very useful one in Miller’s creation of dramatic tension. Indeed, she comes in, “keeping her eyes to the ground”, and “as though she were near to collapse”. Visually dramatic, this entry does not convey much hope to the audience. By making her seem so fragile, Miller creates audience anticipation around Mary Warren. We feel that she will not go all the way and denounce Abigail, even if we do not wish this to happen.
Additionally, Mary Warren does no talk fo
r herself: She has been strivin’ with her soul all week, You Honour; she comes now to tell the
This same fragility is shown again later on in Act Three. Mary is faced with Abigail, whom she is very afraid of. Her presence in the court makes Mary speak even more “faintly”, and when asked to faint, find she cannot. This shows how hard it is for Mary to turn against the majority. All eyes and all pressure are onto her, and being so shy and timid, she finds that she has “no sense of it”. This is the result of mass hysteria. Before, Mary “heard the other girls screaming”, and Mr Danforth “seemed to believe them”, and so she “thought (she) saw them but (she) did not”. This explains why she has “no sense of it” when asked. She is afraid, and doesn’t find the “passion to faint”, but also is not in the middle of a shrieking group of hysterical girls. She is no longer lead by Abigail to perform amazing acting, and therefore cannot. This is a very tense moment for the audience, as we wish her to faint, or even to pretend to faint, for we know it could solve all. But what follows is even tenser.
We then get the privilege of seeing this fantastic role. This scene, where the girls pretend that Mary is witching them is unbearable for her. This is shown by the use of short sentences, “pleading”, “stamping her feet”, “screaming it at the top of her lungs, and raising her fists: Stop it!”, “Abby, you mustn’t!” And then, eventually, when she can’t take anymore, Mary returns to Abigail, as a prodigious son, and is the cause of Proctor’s ‘fall’. Mary Warren’s fragility is thus presented by her inability to faint, drawing a parallel to mass hysteria and its consequences in Salem and 1950’s America, and by the use of language and distressed acting, all representing once again the fragility of McCarthy’s opposition.
The dramatic tension in Act Three also lies in the way that truth is manipulated, or forced out. In The Crucible, everyone has a different motive for hiding, or telling the truth. It has become clear by Act Three that court proceedings are one big war between John Proctor and Abigail. Her motive for lying (as the audience knows she lies) is that she “thinks to dance with (Proctor) on (his) wife’s grave”, for they have “known” each other and” there is a promise in such sweat”. She accuses many people of witchcraft, but only to make her accusation of Elizabeth Proctor more credible, and thus to win Proctor over. On the other hand, his motivation to “cast away his good name” and confess his lechery is to denounce Abigail and save his good wife.
The way Miller makes the whole notion of truth dramatic is to have so many different motives, for the tension lies in the way these motives work off each other. Elizabeth, who “cannot lie” does so at the crucial moment when she has to tell the truth and admit her husband a lecher. This instant is very frustrating for the audience, for Proctor, but Elizabeth’s lie was “a natural lie to tell”, with a noble motive, for she “only thought to save (her husband)’s name”. Miller’s point in this is to show how people were condemned by their love for one another, as Proctor confessed to save Elizabeth, and Elizabeth lied to save Proctor. He means to show the audience how truth can be manipulated, or used in different ways, and somewhere, he is also warning us about lying.
Similarly to the notion of truth in The Crucible is the notion of proof, and this, centred on the character of Deputy Governor Danforth. Anyone who knows about Joseph McCarthy and 1950’s America knows that Danforth represents McCarthy. The irony of the situation is that Danforth thinks he represents justice, and more importantly God. The gap between what Danforth represents and what he thinks he represents is a subject of tension.
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