The Crucible (1996)




Director:  Nicholas Hytner

Starring:  Daniel Day-Lewis (John Proctor), Winona Ryder (Abigail Williams), Paul Scofield (Judge Thomas Danforth), Joan Allen (Elizabeth Proctor), Bruce Davison (Reverend Parris), Rob Campbell (Reverend Hale), Jeffrey Jones (Thomas Putnam), Peter Vaughan (Giles Corey), Karron Graves (Mary Warren), Charlayne Woodard (Tituba), Frances Conroy (Ann Putnam), Elizabeth Lawrence (Rebecca Nurse), George Gaynes (Judge Samuel Sewall), Mary Pat Gleason (Martha Corey), Robert Breuler (Judge Hathorne), Rachael Bella (Betty Parris), Ashley Peldon (Ruth Putnam), Tom McDermott (Francis Nurse), John Griesemer (Ezekiel Cheever), Michael Gaston (Marshal Herrick), William Preston (George Jacobs), Ruth Maleczech (Goody Osborne), Sheila Pinkham (Goody Good).

1692 witch hunts in Salem Massachusetts



This is the story of the Salem witch-hunts of the 1600s with obvious implications for many other of the witch-hunts America periodically engages in: the Palmer raids, Prohibition, McCarthyism, attacks on the moral characters of our politicians, etc.  

This is based on Arthur Miller's classic 1953 play.  Miller himself wrote the screenplay.


Good movie.  Salem, Massachusetts.  A group of girls go running into the woods to cast love spells with the slave woman Tituba.  They get carried away with exuberance and are discovered by Rev. Parris.  In order to avoid serious punishment, the girls pretend that they are stricken and cannot wake themselves.  The townspeople start to panic with talk of witchcraft. 

They call in Rev. Hale from Beverly to help them.  He has had experience with accusations of witchcraft in his community. 

The witchcraft story gets worse when the adults insist that Abigail start naming names.  So she names Tituba as a witch.  Tituba wants to get out of trouble so she names names: Sarah Good and Goody Osborne.  The naming of names soon gets out of control and the girls become hysterical shouting out name after name.   Sarah Good and Goody Osborne are arrested. 

And things worsen when they call in the deputy governor from Boston, Judge Thomas Danforth.  Fourteen more Salem citizens are arrested and sent to jail.  They are to be hanged it they will not confess to working with the devil and start naming names.  Sarah Goode confesses and is spared, but Goody Osborne will not confess and is set to be hanged.   The Judge promises that "The devil shall not rule over one single inch of Massachusetts." 

And more and more people are named as witches and co-workers of the devil.   Martha Cory laughs at the "fools" talking about witches and she finds herself condemned. 

Abigail is obsessed with having John Proctor, who is married to Elizabeth Proctor.  So it is no surprise when Abigail accuses Elizabeth of being a witch.  John Proctor tries desperately to save Elizabeth and accuses the girls of being frauds. 

But will the inflexible Judge from Boston budge from his commitment to the idea of witchcraft?  After all, he would have to admit he was wrong if he now pronounced the whole affair a fraud.   

Winona Ryder is great as Abigail, the ringleader of the hysterical group of girls who get drunk on their own power.  (Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.)  These girls and their hysterical, foolish parents were responsible for the execution of 19 innocent people convicted of witchcraft.  And that's not to mention all the others who spent time in jail.  It would almost be a laughing matter if the same type of phenomenon continues to work in America even to this day.   Daniel Day-Lewis is also terrific, but isn't he always.  Paul Scofield was great as the foolish, obstinate, stubborn, and blind Judge Danforth. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background: 

1689  --  publication of Cotton Mather's Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions.  Witchcraft was in the air. 

1692 (winter) --  the traditional story is that a slave named Tituba was teaching the girls in Salem about conjuring spirits.  She is often described as an Indian.  (The only thing that is known with some certainty is that John Indian, the slave husband of Tituba, had told about a recipe for discovering who was a witch.)

1692  --  in the village of Salem, 9 year old Betty Parris and her 11 year old cousin Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece respectively of the Reverend Samuel Parris started having abnormal "fits."  The girls did such things as throwing things, shouting strange things and crawling under furniture.  Dr. William Griggs examined them and concluded that it must be witchcraft. 

Three people were arrested for afflicting 12 year old Ann Putnam, Jr.: Tituba, the beggar Sarah Good and  the bedridden old woman Sarah Osborne.  All three were marginal people and had no one to stand up for them (which is probably why they were chosen). 

1692 (March 1)  -- the three women were brought before the local magistrates.

1692 (March)  --  other accusations and arrests followed:  the outspoken skeptic Martha Corey, the upstanding Rebecca Nurse, the daughter of Sarah Good (4 year old Dorothy Good who said she was a witch to be with her mother) and Rachel Clinton.  Some of the citizens of Salem started to worry that anyone could be accused of witchcraft.  Even Church membership was no protection.

1692 (April)  --  more arrests:

Nehemiah Abbott Jr.; he was later released;

Bridget Bishop;

Edward Bishop Jr. and his wife Sarah Bishop;

Sarah Cloyce (the sister of Rebecca Nurse);

Giles Corey (husband of Martha Corey);

Mary English.

Mary Esty (sister of Cloyce and Nurse); she was released and then rearrested depending on the whim of the accusers;

Abigail Hobbs;

Deliverance Hobbs (step-mother of Abigail Hobbs);

William Hobbs (husband of Deliverance and father of Abigail);

Elizabeth Proctor and her husband John Proctor;

Mary Warren (a sometime accuser);

Sarah Wilds.


1692 (April 30) --  more accusations:

Rev. George Burroughs,

Lydia Dustin;

Philip English (husband of Mary English;

Dorcas Hoar; 

Susannah Martin; and

Sarah Morey.


1662 (May 10)  --  Sarah Osborne died of natural causes in jail.  (Sarah Good's newborn infant had also died.)

The hysteria spread to Ipswich, Charlestown, Cambridge and Boston. 

1692 (late May)  --  the first witchcraft trails.  (They had to wait until Governor Sir William Phips arrived and instituted a Court.)  William Stoughton was named the Chief Justice of the court.  He had only theological training, no legal training.

1692 (May)  --   36 more people arrested.  The total number of accused came to be 62.

1692 (June 10)  --  execution of Bridget Bishop.

1692 (July 19)  --  five executed.

1692 (August 19)  -- five more executed (Susannah Martin, John Willard, George Burroughs, George Jacobs Sr., and John Procter).

1692 (September 22)  --  eight more executed (Mary Esty, Martha Cory, Ann Pudeator, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd, and Margaret Scott).

80 year old Giles Corey died while being tortured with the laying on of heavy stones upon his body.  (His crime was that he would not enter a plea.)

Blessed be the Reverend Francis Dane who led the opposition to the witchcraft trials. 

1693 (May)  --  the last witch trials took place.  (Another trial in May freed all the rest of the accused in jail.)

1706  --  Ann Putnam wrote of letter of apology for her actions in the witchcraft affair, but still maintained that the devil made her do it. 

not until 2001  -- all those accused of witchcraft were finally exonerated.


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