Choose a play in which the historical and/or geographical and/or social setting is important to your understanding of the play.
Explain how the dramatist presents the setting and discuss why it is important to your understanding of the play as a whole.
Setting in both time and geography are key elements to the success for Arthur Miller’s 1953 drama, “The Crucible”. He grafts the ideas of forgiveness, betrayal, integrity and hysteria onto the very real Salem witch-trials of 1692, and then uses the names of real individuals in order to explore these themes. By using real events, the play has a greater sense of verisimilitude, and the lessons which the play has to teach become all the more believable because of this choice of setting.
Setting 1 – Salem – Theocracy
- The wider setting
- Establishes a location where the law is not flexible
- A location where misdemeanours count heavily against a person
- A setting where resentment between people bubbles under the surface but Christian morality prevents it coming out
Setting 2 – Parris’s House
- “sunlight streams” through the window – contrast with the darkness in later acts
- “a candle burns” on the table – symbolic that the rule of law is still alive – has not yet been extinguished
- The setting is apt because a) Parris is hated by many of his congregation and, b) his niece Abigail is the ringleader of the chaos to follow.
- This is where much of the trouble has been stored up
- Here, Abigail and Proctor are briefly alone and their past affair is shown to the audience
- Importantly, we hear a psalm being sung below by the parishoners, whereupon Betty briefly wakes
Setting 3 – The Proctors’ House
- Described as “low, dark” – symbolising the lack of light, of happiness in the relationship between John and Elizabeth
- Here we see the cracks in their relationship
- Hale, pursuing his enquiries, sees Proctor falter over the “thou shalt not commit adultery” commandment.
- From here, Elizabeth is taken away after a poppet is found in the house
Setting 4 – The Court
- At the start of Act 3, “sunlight is pouring through the two high windows in the back wall”
- Again, a symbol that goodness and justice have not yet been driven from Salem
- Contrast with the prison in Act 4 where “the place is in darkness” – justice has been driven from Salem
- This is Danforth’s place of work – we see here how driven he is to maintain the authority of the church – this is clearest when he takes Elizabeth’s testimony by refusing to let her see Abigail or John.
The Salem witch trials provide the perfect setting for Miller’s story of the power of truth and the necessity of justice. Proctor’s conflict both with the church and himself create a powerful narrative which allows the audience to see the effects of justice both misapplied and heavy-handed. The various settings of the acts of the play also provide symbolic resonance as Miller emphasises the way the light of justice is overwhelmed by the darkness of ignorance and accusation. It is the use of setting in the micro and macro senses which gives the play such a powerful impact, as we are able to see that our own sense of justice is not too far removed from that exercised in 1692.