Choose a play which deals with the theme of honour or shame or betrayal.
With reference to appropriate techniques, explain how the dramatist presents the theme and discuss why it is important to your understanding of the play as a whole.
“The Crucible” is a play written by American playwright Arthur Miller in 1953. It explores the tensions that arise in a Puritan community in the seventeenth century, when a group of girls begin accusing innocent people of witchcraft. Central to this play is the conflict that arises between the play’s protagonist, John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and their former servant, Abigail Williams, with whom Proctor had previously had an affair. Through this conflict, Proctor struggles to regain his sense of honour, only achieving this at the play’s end. This essay will show how techniques such as characterisation, language, tension and climax are used by Miller to reveal the importance of this key theme.
John Proctor is a character attempting to make amends at the play’s beginning. He has behaved dishonourably to his wife by having an affair with their servant, Abigail. When the pair are alone in Parris’s house, John shows that he is still attracted to Abigail, saying, “Ah, you’re wicked yet.” The word “wicked” is flirtatious, suggesting that Abigail is someone who does not behave according to the moral rules of Salem. Proctor clearly is still physically attracted to Abigail, even though it is an act of dishonour to his marriage.
However, he goes on in this opening act to state that the affair is over, and that he is attempting to put his life right. He tells Abigail, “I will cut off my hand before I reach for you again.” The hyperbole makes clear that the affair is over for Proctor, though Abigail claims “you love me yet!” This tension between Abigail and Proctor is the crux of the play: Proctor wants to have his honour back, but Abigail will try to prevent him.
John attempts to regain his honour in the eyes of his wife
He wants to buy her a cow.
“If the crop is good I’ll buy you George Jacob’s heifer.”
He accuses his wife of mourning his loss of honour.
“Still an everlasting funeral marches around your heart!”
He feels she is not being forgiving of him.
“Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!”
She says that Proctor himself is the one who will not forgive him.
“The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you.”
John attempts to regain his honour in court
He is willing to ruin his reputation by making public his affair with Abigail
“I have known her…”
Proctor is absolutely ashamed of the affair
“…in the proper place, where my beasts are bedded.”
He shows complete faith in his wife – he says she will never lie; but she lies in order to protect his reputation
“Proctor: Elizabeth, I have confessed it.
Elizabeth: Oh God.”
John reclaims his honour though it costs him his life
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