The Crucible


Act One

The opening act of the play is parenthetically subtitled “An Overture.” Thus, in addition to establishing the play’s setting and dramatic premise, Act One also introduces the reader or viewer to the play’s central themes, much in the way that the overture to a musical composition introduces its musical themes. Additionally, many (though not all) of the play’s central characters make their initial entrance, and Miller interrupts the action of the play after each entrance with a long passage describing the character in question. These passages, of course, are not part of the play’s production, and are never heard by someone attending a live performance. However, they provide valuable clues and instructions to the director and the actors concerning the author’s intent.

Act One takes place entirely in an upstairs bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of the colonial village of Salem, Massachusetts. The year is 1692. The opening act is efficient and clear in communicating a great deal of background information, all of it crucial to the action of the play. The most obvious dramatic fact is that two young girls are bedridden with a mysterious ailment. Their condition, and the way the various characters choose to interpret it, is at the outset the driving force of the play. Beneath that surface level, however, are additional, more subtle layers concerning divisions and tensions within the town, many of them political in nature.

There is a good deal of conflict regarding land—specifically, who has legal claim to what land. Some of this involves historical circumstances that Miller only hints at. The entire colony of Massachusetts was in the midst of political turmoil at this time. The colony had been founded in 1628 as what was called a “charter colony,” which meant that the King of England granted a settlement company certain rights and privileges in developing the fledgling societies of the New World. Wanting to have more control over the colony, the king revoked the charter...

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