10 Powerful Facts About The Crucible

In 1692, around 150 people were arrested in Salem and imprisoned on suspicion of being a witch. Twenty people were killed, while many more died in prison. In his 1953 play The CrucibleArthur Miller brings this shameful period of American history to life on stage, in an allegory for the witch hunt of his era: McCarthyism. 

1. THE FBI WANTED ARTHUR MILLER TO CHANGE ONE OF HIS SCREENPLAYS. 

Hollywood was a willing participant in Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to crack down on alleged Soviet sympathizers, blacklisting artists who weren't cleared by the government. In 1950, Miller was in L.A., shopping around a script for The Hook, about union corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront. The head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, showed the script to the FBI—who, along with union head Roy Brewer—came back with ideas to make it more “American," namely by making the gangsters Communists. Miller refused on the grounds that there were no Communist gangsters on the Brooklyn waterfront and withdrew the script. The next morning, he received an ominous telegram: "IT’S INTERESTING HOW THE MINUTE WE TRY TO MAKE THE SCRIPT PRO-AMERICAN YOU PULL OUT. HARRY COHN.”

2. MILLER'S PALS WERE TARGETED, TOO.

As McCarthyism progressed, a number of Miller’s friends and colleagues were scrutinized by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller knew of two actors who committed suicide because of the investigation. Other people, like Charlie Chaplin, fled to Europe. Elia Kazan—who directed Miller’s play Death of a Salesman—was called before the committee and asked to name people he knew to be Communists. He did, and Miller stopped talking to him. In response, Miller was inspired to explore Salem’s literal witch as a means of describing the metaphorical one that was happening around him.

3. MILLER (MOSTLY) STUCK TO THE FACTS …

The Crucible is taken from history,” Miller wrote in The New York Times. “No character is in the play who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692.” Miller did take some liberties, however. For example, the writer changed Abigail’s age to 17 years old instead of 11 years old, and imagined a doomed romance between her and John Proctor.

4. … AND DID HIS BEST TO MIMIC THE ERA'S SPEECH PATTERNS.

To pick up the nuances of 17th-century speech, Miller went to Salem and read the trials' original testimony in the Essex County courthouse. After days of poring over the documents, the language started to click for him. “I felt a bit encouraged that I might be able to handle it, and in more time I came to love its feel, like hard burnished wood,” he said.

5. THE FIRST BROADWAY PRODUCTION WASN'T WELL-RECEIVED.

The Crucible opened on Broadway in January 1953. The unusual staging—in which the actors faced forward without interacting with each other—was viewed as too stylized and lacking emotional depth. "Arthur Miller is a problem playwright in both senses of the word," wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune, adding that the play was "a step backward into mechanical parable." (The New York Times' critic, for his part, disagreed, calling the play "powerful.") Despite mixed reviews, The Crucible won the 1953 Tony for best play. A year later, a new production fared better with both critics and audiences, and the show became a hit.

6. WHEN HE TRIED TO GO TO EUROPE, MILLER'S PASSPORT WAS DENIED. 

In 1953, Arthur Miller was invited to attend the first European production of The Crucible in Brussels. But when he attempted to get his passport renewed, he was denied. His lawyer contacted the Passport Division of the State Department and learned that the government felt it was “not in the national interest” for Miller to leave the country. Miller missed the debut. However, at the end of the performance, the audience, believing he was there, began to applaud and call for the author to stand up. Finally, someone did: the American ambassador, who even took a bow. A bitter Miller later wrote, “Here was the ambassador, an officer of the State Department, acknowledging applause for someone deemed by that department too dangerous to be present.”

7. ARTHUR MILLER WAS EVENTUALLY QUESTIONED BY THE HUAC.

That was just the beginning of Miller’s trouble with the government. In 1956—just before his wedding to Marilyn Monroe—HUAC questioned Miller about his supposed Communist ties. (One committee member offered to waive the hearing if Monroe would pose with him in a photograph. Miller refused the offer.) While Miller answered all questions about himself, he wouldn’t name other people, saying, "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him." He was sentenced to a $500 fine and a 30 day suspended jail sentence. The sentence was overturned after a court of appeals hearing in 1958.

8. JEAN-PAUL SARTRE WROTE THE FIRST SCREENPLAY OF THE CRUCIBLE

In the 1950s, Hollywood wouldn’t touch the text, so the first film adaptation was a joint Franco-East German production. Directed by Raymond Rouleau, a Belgian actor and filmmaker, Jean-Paul Sartre was enlisted to adapt the play for the big screen.

Miller himself wrote the screenplay for the 1996 remake, which starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade.

9. THE PLAY TURNED SALEM INTO A TOURIST DESTINATION.

The Salem of today, boasting wax museums and gift shops full of witch tchotchkes, didn’t exist when Miller penned his drama. He writes in Timebends: “Salem in those days was in fact not eager to talk about the witchcraft, not too proud of it, and only after The Crucible did the town began exploiting it with a tourist attraction, the Witch Trial.” Today, the tourism industry in Salem makes more than $100 million a year.

10. THE CRUCIBLE MADE HISTORY. 

In 2000, Miller wrote that The Crucible was “one of the most heavily demanded trade-fiction paperbacks” in the U.S. “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, especially in Latin America, The Crucible starts getting produced wherever a political coup appears imminent, or a dictatorial regime has just been over-thrown," he added. At the time of Miller's writing, the play had sold more than 6 million copies and had been staged steadily since it came out, in productions all over the world. It's just as popular today: the play is even coming back to Broadway in 2016.

Watch 10 Celebrities Read Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven"

by James Carling, Urbancanvas // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
by James Carling, Urbancanvas // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” published in 1845, has been inspiring fellow artists for nearly 175 years. From Christopher Walken to Neil Gaiman, here are 10 celebrities putting their own spin on Poe's iconic verses.

1. Neil Gaiman

Literary wunderkind Neil Gaiman is putting his love of all things creepy to good use this year by teaming up with Worldbuilders—a self-described "geek-centered nonprofit supporting humanitarian efforts worldwide"—to assist their group in their fundraising efforts by staging his own candelit reading of Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem.  

2. Christopher Walken

Everyone does a Christopher Walken impression, but rarely do they come close to matching the unique inflection of the real deal. For the Poe tribute album Closed on Account of Rabies (1997), Walken recited the classic narrative poem as various haunting sound effects moaned and whistled in the background.

3. James Earl Jones

There are very few actors whose voices are as iconic as James Earl Jones's. From Darth Vader in the Star Wars films to Mufasa in The Lion King, you always know when the veteran thespian—who had a stutter as a child—is behind a character because of the deep, theatrical boom of his voice.

4. Vincent Price

The legendary actor—and the creepy voice in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—needs no introduction to horror fans (or to those who remember the old Tilex mildew remover commercials). The clip above isn't the only time that Price was recorded reciting Poe’s poetry. If you want more, check out the hour-long Halloween special An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe (1970), during which Price reads “The Tell-Tale Heart,” "The Sphinx," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Pit and the Pendulum."

5. Sir Christopher Lee

Known to younger generations as the actor who played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings franchise, the late Christopher Lee has more than 270 acting credits to his name, dating all the way back to the mid-1940s. Of those credits, Lee has lent his skills and voice to numerous legendary characters, including Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula several times over.

6. Stan Lee

If Stan Lee hadn't gone into comics, he could very well have been a voice actor—at least based on his 2008 reading of "The Raven," a poem he said he at one point had memorized.

7. William Shatner

To the world, William Shatner will always be Captain Kirk. The character is so closely tied to the actor’s personality that it’s hard not to see them as the same person, which makes it harder to watch—or take seriously—a young Shatner reciting “The Raven” on stage during Dick Clark’s Magical, Musical Halloween (1983).

8. John Astin

Known primarily for the role of Gomez Addams in the television show The Addams Family, John Astin’s eyes and mustache add to the creepiness (and unintentional humor) of his dramatic reading of "The Raven," as he stands in full costume.

9. Basil Rathbone

Many recordings were made of this Shakespearean stage actor and star of many a Sherlock Holmes movie as he read the works of authors like Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, Poe. In the recording above, his voice fluctuates from calm and almost musical to loud and quite terrifying as things begin to escalate between man and bird.

10. Tay Zonday

If you're familiar with the Internet at all, then you probably know Tay Zonday. The deep-voiced YouTube celebrity rose to Internet fame with his song and music video "Chocolate Rain" back in 2007, and he has been using his natural voice to delight and unsettle audiences ever since.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

12 Facts About William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

It’s safe to say that there are few people on Earth who don’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare's tragic story of two star-crossed lovers has been adapted hundreds—if not thousands—of times over the years, and not always exactly in the Bard’s own words. There have been musical versions, opera renditions, and more than 100 film and TV versions of the play. While George Cukor’s 1936 film, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie, and Baz Luhrmann’s modern (for 1996) adaptation are some of the best known big-screen interpretations of the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets, West Side Story is yet another take on the tale. What is it about this 16th-century play that has had such a lasting impression on readers and audiences? Read on to find out more about William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet .

1. William Shakespeare wasn’t the first person to write about the Montagues and the Capulets.

The Montagues and the Capulets—the two families at the center of the family rivalry that makes Romeo and Juliet’s love an impossible predicament—were kicking around long before William Shakespeare got a hold of them. In “Divine Comedy,” the epic poem that took Dante more than 10 years to complete, he makes the following reference:

"Come and see, you who are negligent, / Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi: / One lot already grieving, the other in fear. / Come, you who are cruel, come and see the distress / Of your noble families, and cleanse their rottenness."

Dante’s “Divine Comedy” was written more than 250 years before Shakespeare was even born.

2. Romeo and Juliet is based on an Arthur Brooke poem.

Cribbing ideas from other writers was a totally normal thing to do back in Shakespeare’s time, so it’s hardly surprising that the story of Romeo and Juliet isn’t exactly an original one. The Bard based his star-crossed lovers on the main characters in Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.”

Much like Shakespeare’s tale, Brooke’s poem is set in Verona, Italy. According to the British Library, “Brooke’s poem describes the ‘deadly’ feud between two wealthy, noble families—Capulet and Montague. Against this backdrop of ‘blacke hate,’ he tells the ‘unhappy’ tale of a beautiful youth, Romeus Montague, whose heart is entrapped by the wise and graceful Juliet Capulet.”

3. It wasn’t always called Romeo and Juliet.

When it was first published, Romeo and Juliet went by a much more descriptive—and much longer—title : The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

4. The first publication of Romeo and Juliet is thought to be an unauthorized version of the play.

Romeo and Juliet was originally published in 1597, in the First Quarto. But Shakespeare scholars have long argued that this version of the play was not only incomplete, but unauthorized. The 1599 version, published in the Second Quarto, is the version of Romeo and Juliet we all know and love today.

5. The ending of Romeo and Juliet was hardly a surprise.

Romeo and Juliet kicks off with a prologue that tells the reader exactly where the play is going:

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

So much for suspense! What the prologue does do, however, is set the stage for the actors to fill in the details of the very broad strokes of the play’s first lines.

6. Juliet is just 13 years old.

We know that Romeo and Juliet are a young couple in love—but it’s easy to miss just how young Juliet is. In Act I, Scene III, Lady Capulet says that Juliet is “not [yet] fourteen.” She is actually just about two weeks shy of her 14th birthday. Romeo’s exact age is never given.

7. The couple’s courtship was indeed a whirlwind.

Romeo and Juliet,Act II- Scene-VI
Sir John Gilbert, Melhoramentos Edition // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Talk about a whirlwind romance! Given that we know Juliet is just 13 years old, her impetuousness might seem more understandable. But from the time they meet to the time they marry, Romeo and Juliet have known each other less than 24 hours.

8. There is no balcony in Romeo and Juliet ‘s “balcony scene.”

One of Romeo and Juliet's most iconic moments is what has become known as “The Balcony Scene,” which occurs in Act II, Scene 2. There’s just one problem: The word balcony is never mentioned in Shakespeare’s play. There’s a good reason for that, too: according to Merriam-Webster, the earliest known usage of the term, originally spelled balcone, didn’t occur until 1618—more than 20 years after Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. According to the play, the scene takes place at Capulet’s Orchard when “Juliet appears above at a window.”

9. It wasn’t until 1662 that a woman played the role of Juliet.

A 17th-century image of Mary Saunderson, an English actress.
A 17th-century image of English actress Mary Saunderson.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

As anyone who has seen Shakespeare in Love knows, back in the Bard’s days and up until 1660, all stage roles were performed by men. But in 1662, actress Mary Saunderson stepped onto the stage as Juliet; she is believed to be the first woman to play the iconic role.

10. One writer dared to give Romeo and Juliet a happy ending.

Irish poet and lyricist Nahum Tate, who became England’s poet laureate in 1692, had a penchant for messing around with Shakespeare’s words. In addition to rewriting Shakespeare’s King Lear as 1681’s The History of King Lear—in which he tacked on a happy ending to the tragedy (Cordelia married Edgar)—he did the same with Romeo and Juliet. Unlike his version of King Lear, which became quite popular, his alternate ending for Romeo and Juliet didn’t seem to stick.

11. One theater director eliminated Rosaline from the play altogether.

When we first meet Romeo, it is not Juliet but another woman, Rosaline, upon whom the young lothario has set his sights. But then he meets Juliet and all bets are off. When staging his own version of Romeo and Juliet in 1748, actor/playwright David Garrick opted to lose the Rosaline character altogether as he believed it lessened the impact of Romeo’s love for Juliet and made him seem too “fickle.”

12. Romeo has become shorthand for a male lover.

Romeo and Juliet has had a lasting effect on the English language, including its popularization of words like ladybird and phrases like wild goose chase. But Romeo, too, has his own dictionary entry: in addition to being defined as “the hero of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet who dies for love of Juliet” by Merriam-Webster, Romeo has also come to mean “a male lover.”

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