q How is language used in The Crucible to express the emotional intensity if characters in conflict with each other and/or society and to convey the abstract ideas that emerge through that conflict?
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. It is a prime example of dramatic theatre using powerful language to express emotional intensity of the characters in conflict with each other and their society. The language used also helps to convey the abstract ideas that emerge through that conflict by providing insights into the characters’ personality and values through their dialogue.
The language spoken by the characters in The Crucible is intended to give us the feeling of a society which is different from ours in both time and manners. When he was researching for the play, Miller was intrigued by the language of the court records and adapted some of the forms and usages for his dialogue. Of course, he didn’t use the exact form of English that the people of Salem would have recognised as this probably would have proved too difficult for a modern audience to understand. Instead, Miller drew influence from the language spoken in seventeenth century America.
In some characters’ speech, there is a strong element of poetic form.
For example, take a speech of Proctor’s during Act II.
‘I have gone tiptoe in this house this seven month since she (Abigail) is gone. I have not moved from here to there without I think to please you and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart.’
Such poetic dialogue gives the reader an insight into Proctor’s character. It indicates that he is a man who thinks deeply, and is possibly more educated than some of the other characters.
There is a great deal of religious and biblical references found in
The Crucible. As the Puritans took the Bible literally they probably would have quoted it frequently in their everyday speech. While trying to persuade John Proctor to save his life by confessing, Reverend Hale says, ‘I have gone these three months like our Lord into the wilderness’. He is comparing his experience to that of Jesus when, according to St Matthew, he was, ‘led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil’. When Elizabeth is speaking about Abigail in Act II, she says, ‘where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel’, which is a reference to the parting of the Red Sea, when Moses led the Israelites in their escape from Egypt.
In Act IV when Danforth is asked to delay the executions, he replies,
‘God have not empowered me like Joshua to stop the sun from rising’, which refers to Joshua, 10.
Such prominent references to the Bible provide a powerful, dignified way of speaking for the characters. This helps to create the impression of a different society, one which is isolated and deeply religious. It is a deliberate and simple language, which is appropriate to the period in which the play is set, without being too difficult for the modern audience. Within this form of language, some characters are made to be more expressive than others. For example,
Abigail is a very articulate speaker, whereas Mary Warren is more subdued and timid.
The English spoken at the time of the events in Salem was strongly influenced by Latin. Most educated people would have used Latin for written communication and as a result, many important texts were only available in Latin. In Latin, the verb usually comes at the end of the sentence, for example, ‘Up the stairs she climbed.’ As a result of this unusual word order in The Crucible, modern readers may find it difficult to follow, as we have long since moved away from this form of sentence construction.
Miller uses double negative and inverted sentences structures in his adaptation of the language. For example, John Proctor says, ‘I never said no such thing’, and Giles Corey tells Danforth, ‘I will not give you no name’. In