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.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

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7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.