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Long Essay - The Crucible
q How is language used in The Crucible to express the emotional
intensity if characters in conflict with each other and/or society and
to convey the abstract ideas that emerge through that conflict?
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. It is a prime
example of dramatic theatre using powerful language to express
emotional intensity of the characters in conflict with each other and
their society. The language used also helps to convey the abstract
ideas that emerge through that conflict by providing insights into the
characters’ personality and values through their dialogue.
The language spoken by the characters in The Crucible is intended to
give us the feeling of a society which is different from ours in both
time and manners. When he was researching for the play, Miller was
intrigued by the language of the court records and adapted some of the
forms and usages for his dialogue. Of course, he didn’t use the exact
form of English that the people of Salem would have recognised as this
probably would have proved too difficult for a modern audience to
understand. Instead, Miller drew influence from the language spoken in
seventeenth century America.
In some characters’ speech, there is a strong element of poetic form.
For example, take a speech of Proctor’s during Act II.
‘I have gone tiptoe in this house this seven month since she (Abigail)
is gone. I have not moved from here to there without I think to please
you and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart.’
Such poetic dialogue gives the reader an insight into Proctor’s
character. It indicates that he is a man who thinks deeply, and is
possibly more educated than some of the other characters.
There is a great deal of religious and biblical references found in
The Crucible. As the Puritans took the Bible literally they probably
would have quoted it frequently in their everyday speech. While trying
to persuade John Proctor to save his life by confessing, Reverend Hale
says, ‘I have gone these three months like our Lord into the
wilderness’. He is comparing his experience to that of Jesus when,
according to St Matthew, he was, ‘led up of the Spirit into the
wilderness to be tempted of the devil’. When Elizabeth is speaking
about Abigail in Act II, she says, ‘where she walks the crowd will
part like the sea for Israel’, which is a reference to the parting of
the Red Sea, when Moses led the Israelites in their escape from Egypt.
In Act IV when Danforth is asked to delay the executions, he replies,
‘God have not empowered me like Joshua to stop the sun from rising’,
which refers to Joshua, 10.
Such prominent references to the Bible provide a powerful, dignified
way of speaking for the characters. This helps to create the
impression of a different society, one which is isolated and deeply
religious. It is a deliberate and simple language, which is
appropriate to the period in which the play is set, without being too
difficult for the modern audience. Within this form of language, some
characters are made to be more expressive than others. For example,
Abigail is a very articulate speaker, whereas Mary Warren is more
subdued and timid.
The English spoken at the time of the events in Salem was strongly
influenced by Latin. Most educated people would have used Latin for
written communication and as a result, many important texts were only
available in Latin. In Latin, the verb usually comes at the end of the
sentence, for example, ‘Up the stairs she climbed.’ As a result of
this unusual word order in The Crucible, modern readers may find it
difficult to follow, as we have long since moved away from this form
of sentence construction.
Miller uses double negative and inverted sentences structures in his
adaptation of the language. For example, John Proctor says, ‘I never
said no such thing’, and Giles Corey tells Danforth, ‘I will not give
you no name’. In Act IV, Danforth tells Elizabeth ‘we come not for
your life’, whereas nowadays we would say ‘we do not come for your
life’; the same as ‘What think you, Mr Parris?’ would be said ‘What do
you think?’ In his autobiography Timebends, Miller commented on his
use of language in The Crucible:
I came to love its feel, like a hard burnished wood. Without planning
to, I even elaborated a few of the grammatical forms myself, the
double negatives especially, which occurred in the trial record much
less frequently than they would in the play.
Apart from the obvious use of double negatives, some words are used in
a way that we would not use them now. A prime example of this is when
John Proctor expresses amazement that Hale would ‘suspicion’ his wife.
Modern usage would be ‘suspect’. Another example is when complaining
about his wife’s reading habits, Giles Corey says, ‘It discomforts
me!’, using ‘discomfort’ as a verb, whereas we would say, ‘It makes me
Most characters in The Crucible use a lot of simile and metaphor. A
simile is a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between
things of different kinds, whereas a metaphor is where an expression
is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in
order to suggest a similarity. Some examples of simile and metaphor
used in The Crucible are, “There be no blush about my name", “A very
augur bit will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is
proved”, “My daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen
in the forest”, and “I know how you sweat like a stallion whenever I
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