The Crucible as a Tragedy Today, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is commonly believed to be a tragedy, but the standards for different types of literature have changed over time, and the tragedy in not a type of literature that has only been around since yesterday. So let’s ask the inventors of theaters and dramas and see what their opinion would be, if they would approve with our definition of tragedy.
According to Aristotle, a tragedy is defined as follows: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the overall kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions” -(Poetics, Aristotle, translated by S. H. Butcher) So in order to prove or refute that The Crucible is a tragedy according to this definition, one has to do so with each part of the definition.
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The first requirement to the play is that it imitates a serious, complete action of a certain magnitude. In the case of The Crucible, the imitated actions are the witchcraft trials of Salem and later the efforts of John Proctor to stop them. This matter certainly is a serious one of great magnitude because of the number of innocent lives that are on stake. However, one could argue that the action is not complete, because the play itself does not give the answer whether or not the witch trials are stopped in the end.
But for the group of people that the play focuses on, the action is complete. Elizabeth lives, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse hang, Giles Core is pressed to death, Abigail flees and reverend Hale has made a final decision in his role in the witchcraft trials. The second requirement is much less complicated: It has to be an imitation of action in the form of action, not narrative. This means that a tragedy lets its audience see the actual story and the imitated action instead of telling it about what happened, like a report would do.
And that is why this requirement is an easy one – Written as a stage play, all the action happens directly in front of the audience as the witchcraft hysteria evolves directly before their eyes. There is only one time in the play when something is reported to the audience, and that is when Paris talks to Detonator about rumors of a rebellion in Andover (Act II, Sc. 3), but the situation in Andover is not the main action f the play, it is only used to support the main action which is still going in Salem. Today some people consider the next requirement as the most important one tort a tragedy: It has to arouse emotions of pity and fear.
Emotions are subjective. Therefore, it is hard to prove that a story arouses pity, fear or both, but we can say that the story is intended to inspire pity and most people will feel it at some point during the play. There are Just too many scenes in the play that are too emotional for the greatest part of the audience to not feel pity for one of the characters. For example each time innocents are hanged most people will feel pity. Fear, on the other hand, depends on the audience itself and how much they are able and willing to interpret the plot.
As long as they do not get Miller’s allegory, only very few will actually be afraid of something. Someone who Just watches the play without thinking about it will most likely not be afraid, because there are no more witch trials, as supposed to someone who realizes that a similar hysteria can happen at any time. The Crucible fulfills this requirement regardless, because it was intended to inspire these feelings and we cannot deny it the title tragedy, Just because some of its audience is too ignorant to understand it, as it does not require much thinking to get the allegory.
The last standard a tragedy has to fulfill is the catharsis of pity and fear, which means the cleansing of these tragic feelings. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller archives this in the very last scene. Up to that scene, the lives of John Proctor and the whole village of Salem seem to be ruined and their destruction inevitable. Right after John Proctor is arrested for witchcraft himself, the audience feels the most pity for him. At this point in the play, it seems like John Proctor has tried everything, even confessing his affair with Abigail, to stop the unjust killings, but it all Just results in his arrest.
It is that injustice that makes the audience feel pity. The climax of the audience’s fear is reached when Proctor confesses to witchcraft, because at that point, it seems like the injustice of the witch trials has won. With his confession, Proctor makes the trials seem Just and fair. For the audience, the evil has won and all hope is lost. But with John Proctor ripping his confession apart, Arthur Miller takes away all the tit and fear. Without Proctor’s confession, he is going to be hanged, but he keeps his pride and his good name. It would be wrong to feel pity for him now, because his death was his very own decision.
In addition, for many people honor and pride are greater values than the own elite. And not only does Proctor save his own honor, en also protects the honor of those who have already been hanged. Again, if he had confessed, it would make them look like witches. John Proctor’s sacrifice also removes or at least lessens the fear of the audience. It shows them that there is heroism and that there will always be hope. Paris mentions quite a few times that without them confessing, the events of Andover might reoccur and that a rebellion could break loose in Salem too.
Because of how much this bothers Par’s, the Miller basically implies to the audience that this is what is going to happen In that way, the play suggest a solution for this kind of problem, namely to speak up against that kind of injustice instead of giving in to it. And as long as people are given the solution to a problem, they aren’t afraid of it anymore. After going over and proving each one of Aristotle requirements for a tragedy, The Crucible clearly qualifies for a tragedy according to Aristotle.