American Civilization and AP U.S. HistoryDr. Salinger
Assignment Sheet for The Crucible project Dr. Schulkin

          In his "A Note on the Historical Accuracy of This Play," Arthur Miller writes: "This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian.…However, I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history."

         Critic Margo Burns disagrees.   She describes The Crucible as a play in which "a lovelorn teenager is spurned by the married man she loves, and in her revenge, she fans a whole community into a blood-lust frenzy."   Although acknowledging Miller's literary license, his right to use historical events as he sees fit, Ms. Burns maintains that the changes Miller made were both unrealistic and unnecessary.   "The real story," she insists, "is far more complex, dramatic, and interesting."

         Ms. Burns' critique of The Crucible offers us the opportunity to do a case study in the relationship between history and literature.   Her assertion that "the real story is far more complex, dramatic and interesting" challenges us to decide whether there was, in fact, a way for Arthur Miller to write a play about the Salem Witch Trials that was, at one and the same time, historically accurate, dramatic and interesting.   Consider the following possibilities for writing such a play:

   1)   A slave seeks revenge against her oppressors by playing upon their fears and religious beliefs to set her oppressors against one another (Tituba assumes the role of the protagonist)

   2)   Concerned that his critics will use suspicions of witchcraft in his own household to oust him, a minister prompts his daughter, his niece and his slave to deflect the witch hunt to other residents of Salem Village (Reverend Samuel Parris replaces Abigail Williams as the real protagonist)

   3)   One of Salem's wealthiest citizens seizes the opportunity to brand many members of the anti-Parris faction as witches and to profit personally from their misfortunes (Thomas Putnam, abetted by his wife and daughter, assumes the role of protagonist)

   4)   An overzealous justice of the peace takes advantage of one of the periodic outbursts of fear of witchcraft to fulfill what he regards as his religious obligation to expose the work of the Devil (Judge Hathorne assumes the role of the protagonist)

         Keeping in mind the four scenarios suggested above, examine some or all of the following historical sources with the objective of determining which one, if any, seems most promising as an historically accurate, dramatic and interesting alternative to Arthur Miller's plot.   Then write a FOUR TO SIX PAGE (1000 TO 1500 WORD) PAPER in which you:

   1.   narrate and/or explain the plot of your alternative dramatization;

   2.   create a sample scene (introductory, climactic, or concluding); and

   3.   briefly explain the advantages and disadvantages, both literary and historical, of your alternative dramatization.

         The paper, which will be worth 100 points in each class, will be DUE ON MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 30.

         The following list of sources is intended to be helpful rather than exhaustive.   You are not required to draw upon all of them.   You should strive to draw upon a variety of sources, print, Web-based and CD-ROM.   You should include internal citations to your sources in the body of your paper and a list of works cited at the conclusion.

   The Crucible CD-ROM, especially the section entitled "17th Century"

   Christopher Bigsby's Introduction to The Crucible (New York: Penguin Books, 1995)

   Marion L. Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts (New York: Anchor Books, 1949)

   Famous American Trails.   Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692

   "Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: Fact & Fiction"

   Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project