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A Dramatic Climax at the End of Act III in “The Crucible”

In the play “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller creates a successful dramatic climax at the end of Act III. Integral to this success is Miller’s continued engagement with the audience. The main reason the climax is so dramatic and suspenseful is that the audience is involved with what is happening on stage. Throughout “The Crucible,” Miller has achieved a powerful relationship with the audience both emotionally and intellectually. The audience in Act III continues to understand the personalities of the characters and an insight into their behaviour and how they react in different circumstances. In Act III, the audience maintains a deep emotional relationship with the characters. They persist in despising certain characters, such as Abigail, who is exemplified as remorseful, untruthful and vengeful. In contrast, the audience develops a more empathic relationship with some characters, such as Elizabeth Proctor and Mary Warren.

The context of Act III within the play lies just after the incarceration of several villagers on the alleged charges of witchcraft, including the wives of three esteemed men within the village, John Proctor, Francis Nurse and Giles Corey. The driving plotline of Act III is these three men’s attempt to redeem their wives; a particular focus is on Proctor’s struggle. Part of Miller’s dramatic success is attributed to how he can manipulate the historical and social context. The historical setting of the play is a theocratic Puritan settlement in 1692 in Massachusetts. The theocracy is a significant part of the play as it leads to mounting frustration for the audience. It is the basis of the plot; Miller also uses the theocracy in Salem to convey an important message about Miller’s own social setting in 1950s America. When Miller was writing the play, he was living in a society where McCarthyism was prevalent.

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The playwright in “The Crucible,” particularly in Act III, conveys how McCarthyism is using communism as a false pretence to ‘hunt down’ McCarthy’s enemies in the same way that Salem is using the guise of witchcraft rid themselves of threats or adversaries. Perhaps Miller is illustrating to the contemporary audience that the hysteria and difficulties of theocracy are strikingly similar to McCarthyism. An important part of the success towards the end of Act III is Miller’s stage directions; they give vivid instruction to the actors on how to portray the emotions felt by the characters. Miller begins the scene remarkably; Proctor becomes enraged when Abigail attempts to call Heaven. Proctor cries, “How dare you call Heaven! Whore! Whore!” in this historical context, the word “whore” has significantly powerful connotations with what the society would see as “evil” and “sin”.

The characters on stage expectedly react to this; Danforth appears to be confused and horrified and shouts at Proctor, “Man! Man, what do you-“we can see how severe the potential charge of “whore” is could be. When Proctor attempts to justify this charge, he is shown on stage as trembling and petrified he shouts, “I have known her, sir, I have known her” this echo of biblical terminology shows the absolute control theocracy has upon Salem and how language from the Bible has managed to integrate into everyday language. The audience can see the impact and power of this scene by the emotion and bewildered reactions. Following this scene of commotion, Miller creates a relatively calm scene; Proctor’s anxiety turns into confidence as he is sure his wife can verify his claims,” my wife cannot lie.” Although not revealing much with speech, Abigail is portrayed in contrast as enraged to the audience.

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Upon Elizabeth Proctor’s entry, there is a situation of suspense and importance; the audience can tell this because Elizabeth sees Proctor with his back turned which conveys to the audience it is a suspenseful moment, and she is ordered by the Deputy-Governor to “Look at me only.” The audience can see the initial impact this has upon her as she appears weak and confused. The scene escalates in tension, and a tremendous amount of pressure is being put upon her. Elizabeth is clearly fearful of the situation and the substantial implications of her testimony as she uses vague descriptions such as “dissatisfied” and repeatedly states her husband is a “good and righteous man.” Elizabeth is intimidated by Danforth; several times during her interrogation, Goody Proctor attempts to look at her husband, and he shouts at her, “woman, look at me!” This phrase shows a derogatory attitude towards women that was prevalent during this period of history.

During Elizabeth’s questioning, Danforth uses violence against her; he holds her face. She is portrayed to the audience as full of agony and the clear impacts of the stress being put upon her. When Elizabeth is eventually shouted at, “Is your husband a lecher?” she replies “no,” and is removed from the courtroom. This enrages the audience how Elizabeth’s answer which has essentially been forced out of her after being interrogated and not for a second, been reconsidered. Empathy is also felt for Elizabeth because of the difficulty of the situation that has been forced upon her. The passion felt between the Proctors is evident here. Elizabeth has lied, putting her life at risk to save her husband’s name; Proctor then shouts, “she only thought to save my name” in desperation to save his wife. This devotion towards each other contrasts with the beginning of Act II, where there was a sense of awkwardness between the couple.

Following Good Wife Proctor’s ejection from the courtroom, The Reverend Hale makes a passionate speech declaring his objection to the situation, “I may shut my conscience to this no more- private vengeance is working through this testimony.” Miller perhaps uses Hale in this situation to represent the audience’s opinion on stage. Hale is finally able to see clearly what is going on, and the audience is relieved that the lies of Abigail may be exposed. Furthermore, there is a prospect of hope as Hale could lead to the demise of Abigail; he cries, “This girl has always struck me as false.” Once Abigail is under pressure, and she is at risk of being undermined, she can control the situation by creating an ‘imaginary’ scene. Abigail lets out a loud chilling cry, which would have a tremendous impact on the audience and stunned both the other characters and perhaps the audience into silence. Abigail and the rest of the girls pretend that Mary Warren has shape-shifted into a “yellow bird,” which would have bewildered an audience.

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The girls are described as “transfixed” and “hypnotized” (upon the bird), showing how convincing their performance must have been. During Abigail’s “genuine conservation” with the bird, she says, “But God made my face Mary…envy is a deadly sin” Miller’s use of the word “sin” perhaps implies that Abigail is appealing to Danforth by making her language correspond to the Bible also by using the term “sin” Abigail makes Mary appear more sinister to the rest of the characters on stage and make her appear to be associated to the ‘devil.’ The girls’ mimicking of Mary has a remarkable impact upon the atmosphere and pace of the scene, all the shouting between Mary and the girls adds to the drama and builds up excitement in the scene. The audience becomes horrified at the situation; with Abigail’s power and dominance, she can shift the accusations from her to an innocent, which must disgust the audience. On the other hand, compassion is felt towards Mary because of the horrendous situation she is put in. It seems Miller’s original impression of the girls as ruthless appears to be fulfilled during these scenes.

Following The Reverend Parris’ plea to “cast out the devil,” Mary, unsurprisingly, cannot take the circumstances of being pressured much longer and becomes hysterical. She “screams” and has an “evident fit.” The suspense building during Mary’s questioning has come to a climax, and the scene becomes overwhelmed with drama when Mary accuses Proctor of wizardry. Proctor’s reaction to the accusation of being “the Devil’s man” is petrifying, a previously outspoken, perhaps even courageous in his attempts to bring justice to the court and free his wife, is “stopped in his tracks.” He becomes “numbed” this illustrates the horror that Proctor faces and the horror being faced on stage. Once Mary has turned back to “love God,” she is reached out for by Abigail, who ironically portrays the other characters as charitable. This perhaps is symbolic of her victory.

Miller perhaps uses this for dramatic purpose to convey to the audience how the hysteria of Salem has progressed into near insanity. Danforth, following this, exclaims that he is “combined with anti-Christ,” “befouled with Hell,” and “keeping a black allegiance” these powerful phrases express his disgust at Proctor, and it creates a powerful effect upon the scene. These accusations against Proctor made by Mary would have been considered horrifying claims in a theocratic society, dramatically increased in severity because Danforth reinstates these claims. Miller’s build-up in tension throughout the act leads to the final most dramatic part of the Act and arguably the play. Proctor’s reply, “God is dead!” which relates to his belief that God is not part of Salem anymore, especially the court, would have outraged the courtroom in this society and stunned the other characters into silence.

The audience, who must realize the importance of religion within this settlement, would be shocked at Proctor’s courage in making these statements. They would comprehend the magnitude of the implications the statement would have. He makes a final speech declaring his belief that Danforth and the others know the proceedings are fraud in their “black hearts,” and he expresses his contempt “I see his filthy face. And it is yours, Danforth.” Similar to the previous remark, this would have substantially affected both the audience and the other characters. They are astonished and stunned into silence; all the building up in tension and suspense throughout the Act has led up to this final moment, and the consequences are incredibly powerful.

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In conclusion, Miller manages to create a successful dramatic climax at the end of Act III. Fundamental to this success is Miller’s involvement with the audience; throughout the escalation of tension during the act, Miller has been able to captivate the audience by the use of moments with drama, tension and suspense. Another way he achieved the involvement of the audience was by making them feel emotions so strongly towards certain characters, perhaps empathy for Mary Warren or hatred towards Abigail Williams. An additional method Miller employs to interest the audience is by manipulating the historical and social context. To appeal intellectually to the audience of the play, Miler, in particular, the contemporary audience, Miller’s underlying message is to illustrate the absurdity of McCarthyism by comparing it to the Salem witch-hunt.

The engagement of the audience is crucial to the dramatic success of the whole play; this is because the drama occurring on stage at the climax of the play would be completely irrelevant if the audience were not motivated during the Act. The historical setting of the text itself is crucial to the dramatic success at the end of Act III. The context of a theocratic society greatly impacts the entire play; it adds to the hysteria, drama and ultimately the frustration of the audience. This is illustrated by all the main scenes within Act III involving religion, such as Abigail’s vision of Mary Warren sending her spirit upon her and the accusation of Proctor’s dealing with the devil by Mary. In my opinion, I think that the theocracy is a major factor contributing to the dramatic success of the climax; it is the reason why Proctor’s exclamation of “God is dead” is so powerful. Finally, Miller’s creation of a dramatically successful climax is based upon the importance of involvement with the audience and Miller’s implementation of social and historical context in ‘The Crucible”.

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A Dramatic Climax at the End of Act III in "The Crucible". (2021, Aug 04). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from