Remarkable Passages: The Crucible

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From Act Two, a scene between John Proctor and Elizabeth (his wife.)

Elizabeth, quietly–she has suddenly lost all faith in him: Do as you wish, then. She starts to turn.

Proctor: Woman. She turns to him. I’ll not have your suspicion anymore.

Elizabeth, a little loftily: I have no–

Proctor: I’ll not have it!

Elizabeth: Then let you not earn it.

Proctor, with a violent undertone: You doubt me yet?

Elizabeth, with a smile, to keep her dignity: John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not.

Proctor: Now look you–

Elizabeth: I see what I see, John.

Proctor, with solemn warning: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more. I have forgot Abigail, and–

Elizabeth: And I.

Proctor: Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’. Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month since she is gone. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!

Elizabeth: John, you are not open with me. You saw her with a crowd, you said. Now you–

Proctor: I’ll plead my honesty no more, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth–now she would justify herself: John, I am only–

Proctor: No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you’re not, you’re not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.

Elizabeth: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John–with a smile–only somewhat bewildered.

Proctor, laughing bitterly: Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!

***

Remarkable is how Miller shifts gears between the characters, shows how Proctor’s anger causes immediate softening in Elizabeth, but not without faint condescension. Emotional postures dissolve and reform, with each line. Miller unpacks both the wronged and pious wife and the guilty and exhausted husband, rendering their wrongs different but equal–the wrong of infidelity, and the wrong of an extended aura of accusation. Sympathy shifts rather incredibly away from the saintly wife and over to the sinful husband.

The play is a classical Tragedy, and I don’t aim to be professorial, but to restore meaning to that exhausted word. A college Professor (I majored in Classics) repeatedly said, near shouted to the class: “When a child gets hit by a bus, that is not a tragedy. A tragedy is not an event, however heartbreaking. A tragedy is an inner journey, taken alone, an interior measure of perception.”

When Proctor refuses to sign his confession and elects to hang, at the end, and Elizabeth closes the play, weeping, with the astonishing words: “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”–We know we have been in the hands of a great tragic composer. The feeling is impossible to describe, except to say it is a contact with everything inaccessible in ordinary life; The divine order.

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