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Crucible, The

Les Sorcières de Salem

elizabeth miller seventeenth abigail

a play by Arthur Miller, first directed by Jed Harris at the Martin Beck Theatre on 22 January 1956, when it ran for 197 performances. John and Elizabeth Proctor employ Abigail Williams, the promiscuous niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris. Elizabeth dismisses the girl. In revenge, Abigail accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft, a volatile charge in the political/religious atmosphere of late seventeenth-century New England. John Proctor defends his wife at her trial, but admits to adultery with Abigail. Compelled by a brief ambition to save his own neck, he signs a confession of Elizabeth's guilt, but then recants, and is sentenced to death. Miller's skill in this play was to use the notorious seventeenth-century Salem witch trials as a historical parallel to the contemporary witch hunts of the McCarthy era, in which the House Un-American Activities Committee pursued all those in public and artistic life tainted with known or implied political unorthodoxy. The difficulty faced by Miller was in the invention of vocabulary and speech rhythms which were at once authentically seventeenth-century, and yet accessible to modern audiences. Miller disliked the French film adaptation, Les Sorcières de Salem (1955), with a screenplay by Jean-Paul Sartre, starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, because it ‘imposed a simplistic class analysis on the play’, making it ‘Marxist in the worst sense’. Two notable productions in London were those by George Devine at the Royal Court Theatre in 1956, and by Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic in 1965.

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