Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Crucible

If you're a snooker fan who's clicked the link hoping for comments about the home of said pastime (it isn't a sport, don't argue that it is), unlucky.

No, this is a review of Arthur Miller's classic play from 1953, the one that focusses on the Salem witch trials in a cutting criticism of mass hysteria surrounding McCarthyism in the USA. The two don't initially seem linked, but throw in the words 'mass hysteria' and suddenly they are. Miller deals expertly with a situation getting out of hand as public hysteria takes over from reasoned thought. Normally, the salient phrase is 'witch-hunt' but on this occasion, it's just too obvious.

I don't normally read plays for fun, and this one is no different. Although that isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did. Greatly. When reading Shakespeare (yes, I have read and do read old Shakey's stuff, deal with it), I often struggle with the poetry and getting a beat to the whole thing. The prose in Miller's play is much easier on the brain, but is no less profound for it. There's a frenetic tempo the the thing, the play whipping by (when reading it) in just a couple of hours.

The intensity is just one of the things I liked the most. Combine the intensity with a gripping tale in the first place, of deceit and murder, and you're on to a winner, and the adaptation of the Salem Witch Trials are certainly that tale. I can't pretend to know much about them (other than the references in Harry Potter, which is pretty poor going for someone who professes to be fairly educated), but from what I do know, the events depicted are accurate and, when one applies them to the era in which the play was written, the allegory between the era and the play becomes far more obvious.

McCarthyism was in full swing when the play was first performed. People were being hauled in front of senate committees for being 'un-American' (which is ironic, considering America is allegedly the land of do whatever the flip you want). A witch-hunt was in progress in a metaphorical sense. People were running scared of a Communist threat that was, at best, minimal, and certainly had few links to the Soviet Union, but, oh look, it's an uninformed public and we have mass hysteria through the actions of a few who know how to manipulate the masses.

What has been said about McCarthyism has been said a hundred times and a slightly uninformed student with socialist tendencies isn't going to be able to add to the debate, other than to say that the Americans need to grow up when it comes to politics. Miller had his finger on the pulse and understood the situation. He was probably one of only a few.

I apologise for this being a pretty rushed review focussed more on political issues than the play at hand.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I don't think you can be faulted for focusing on the socio-political dimensions. Admittedly it's been a fair few years since I read "The Crucible", but from what I remember the socio-political analogy was largely the point- far more than any in-depth comment about a persecution that happened hundreds of years ago.

    And I think the Cruicible and it's context is as relevant today as it ever was. McCarthy may be dead and gone, but his legacy sure isn't. Just look at right-wing America, attacking Obama for being a Marxist and a communist. It's all horseshit, but the fact is that McCarthy instilled a fear of anything not right-wing and capitalist into a whole society. On the one hand, a fairly impressive achievement, and on the other utterly terrifying.