The long awaited and much debated high school play is under way; my annual “artistic” effort. Since most are not be able or willing to attend it I will share a few specific ideas with those who care to read.
Before the play begins, I take advantage of the “captive audience” and set the scene. What follows is my “opening speech”:
“How could it happen? Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the play you are about to see, is based on “historic truth”. In 1692, the little girls of Salem went mad, and the superstitious, religious fanatics that ran Massachusetts followed them into enormous crime.
Miller tries to give an excuse for the girl’s actions – sexual passion and lust – but in reality they just went crazy. If you don’t fathom how, consider this. In the many summers I have worked at Boy Scout camp, the devil only “visited” once while the boys were there, but when the girls groups came to the mountains, things were always different. Year after year, telling scary stories around the campfire led to hysteria that required spiritual (priesthood) intervention.
The accusations of the girls of Salem would not have harmed anyone if their parents and community leaders had not believed their fantastic claims were indeed possible. The truth would have saved them all.
In the end, nineteen men and women had been hung and one old man, in his eighties, had been crushed to death under a pile of stones; an attempt to force him to lie.
These murders, motivated by ignorance and fear and fanaticism it brings, came upon the community in three concentric circles of destruction. The first to be accused were the homeless vagabonds and ner-do-wells of Salem. But soon the accusations spread to those who had conflicts with the parents of the screaming girls, and to those whose land was tempting to greedy factions in the community. The girls somehow knew whom to attack in order to improve their parent’s fortunes. The final circle called out as witches were any who questioned the supernatural powers of the girls. Thus the few reasonable citizens of Salem found themselves on their way to prison and death.
That most of the victims could have escaped their fate by lying confessions, but refused, speaks to their devotion to the truth.
In the end, supernatural testimony was disallowed in the Massachusetts courts, and hundreds that awaited the noose were freed. The fall of the witch court in Salem broke the power of the Puritan Church in America, and in many ways set the stage for the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Tonight I hope you will contemplate the evil that comes when fanaticism drives reason away. Consider that America is at war with religious zealots who stir up murder in the name of god. As in 1692 – Truth and reason are a shield against the evil of ignorance but they cannot protect us with out help of heroes.
This week (past week) we celebrate Veterans Day. We of cast and crew would like to dedicate our performance to the heroes who defend the freedom we have, that the people of 17th century Salem did not. Freedoms we could not enjoy without the sacrifice of our men and women in the military.”
Now back to the Agora:
Although all of you are invited to attend the play and all can surely read it for yourselfs, I feel to present a few powerful points and consider them with you. These gems of though are presented in order from the play.
1. The Reverend Hale has arrived with his books. Mister and Goody Putnam, frantic to find a supernatural cause for the deaths of their infant children, insist to the minister that one of the girls. . .
Thomas Putnam: “. . . cannot bear to hear the Lord’s name, Mr. Hale; that’s a sure sign of witchcraft afloat.
Hale: *Holding up his hands:* No, no. Now let me instruct you. We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone, and I must tell you all that I shall not proceed unless you are prepared to believe me if I should find no bruise of hell upon her.
Common sense tells us there is no such thing as a witch, but when “leaned” men; and their books say otherwise, blind faith in either can lead us to terrible foolishness.
2. It is interesting to me that, as the story progresses, reason is not used to evaluate the goodness or evil of the accused but rather they are judged by level to which they have conformed to the prevailing superstition of the Puritan Church.
Elizabeth. *With an attempt at a laugh:* You will never believe, I hope, that Rebecca trafficked with the Devil.
Hale: Woman, it is possible.
Proctor, *taken aback:* Surely you cannot think so.
Hale: This is a strange time, Mister. No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack upon this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it. You will agree, sir?
Proctor,*Evading:* I – have no knowledge in that line. But it’s hard to think so pious a woman be secretly a Devil’s bitch after seventy year of such good prayer.
Hale: Aye, But the Devil is a wily one, you cannot deny it. However, she is far from accused, and I know she will not be. *Pause.* I thought , sir, to put some questions as to the Christian character of this house, if you’ll permit me.
Proctor, *coldly, resentful:* Why, we – have no fear of questions, sir.
Hale: Good, then. *He makes himself more comfortable.* In the book of record that Mr. Paris keeps, I note that you are rarely in the church on Sabbath Day.”
What is good and evil has been reduced to meeting attendance statistics. Seventy years of goodness are nothing, but you better get your name on the role.
3. And now the words of the Bible are used as a weapon against reason.
Hale . . . It’s said you hold no belief that there may even be witches in the world. Is that true sir?
Proctor *-- he knows this is critical, and is striving against his disgust with Hale and with himself for even answering:* I know no what I have said, I may have said it. I have wondered if there be witches in the world – although I cannot believe they come among us now.
Hale: Then you do not believe—
Proctor: I have no knowledge of it; the Bible speaks of witches, and I will not deny them.
Hale” And you, woman?
Elizabeth” I – I cannot believe it.
Hale, *shocked:* You cannot!
Proctor: Elizabeth, you bewilder him!
Elizabeth, *to Hale:* I cannot think the Devil may own a woman’s soul, Mr. Hale, when she keeps an upright way, as I have. I am a good woman, I know it; and if you believe I may do only good work in the world, and yet be secretly bound to Satan, then I must tell you, sir, I do not believe it.
Hale: But, woman, you do believe there are witches in –
Elizabeth: If you think that I am one, then I say there are none.
Hale: You surely do not fly against the Gospel, the Gospel –
Proctor: She believe in the Gospel, every word!
Elizabeth: Question Abigail Williams about the Gospel, not myself!
Reason is destroyed by blind faith in a book and by groundless superstition masquerading as righteousness.
4. Hale then confronts the husband of Goody Nurse, Francis, with an appeal to scripture in the face of reason.
Francis: You cannot mean she will be tried in court!
Hale, *pleading:* Nurse, Though our hearts break, we cannot flinch; these are new times, sir. There is a misty plot afoot so subtle we should be criminal to cling to old respects and ancient friendships. I have seen too many frightful proofs in court – the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!
Proctor, *angered:* How may such a woman murder children?
Hale, *in Great pain:* Man , remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought his beautiful in Heaven.
Some times old respects and ancient friendships are the tools of reason – fear is always the weapon of evil.
5. Before the Judges, John Proctor pleads for reason in the face of another attack by blind faith in superstition. His life of goodness made nothing by tenants that masquerade as religion.
Danforth: You are in all respects a Gospel Christian?
Proctor: I am, sir.
Parris: Such a Christian that will not come to church but once in a month!
Danforth, *restrained – he is curious:* Not come to church?
Proctor: I – I have no love for Mr. Parris. It is no secret. But God I surely love.
Cheever: He plow on Sunday, sir.
Danforth: Plow on Sunday!
Cheever, *apologetically:* I think it be evidence, John. I am an official of the court, I cannot keep it.
Proctor: I—I have once or twice plowed on Sunday. I have three children, sir, and until last year my land give little.
Giles: You’ll find other Christians that do plow on Sunday if the truth be known.
Hale: Your Honor, I cannot think you may judge the man on such evidence.
Danforth: I judge nothing. *Pause. He keeps watching Proctor, who tries to meet his gaze.* I tell you straight, Mister – I have seen marvels in this court. I have seen people choked before my eyes by spirits; I have seen them stuck by pins and slashed by daggers. I have until this moment not the slightest reason to suspect that the children may be deceiving me. Do you understand my meaning?
Proctor: Excellency, does it not strike upon you that so many of these women have lived so long with such upright reputation, and –
Parris: Do you read the Gospel, Mr. Proctor?
Proctor: I read the Gospel.
Parris: I think not , or you should surely know the Cain were an upright man, and yet he did kill Able.
Proctor: Aye, God tells us that. *To Danforth:* But who tells us Rebecca Nurse murdered seven babies by sending out her spirit on them? It is the children only, and this one will swear she lied to you.
Reason against blind faith, and scripture misrepresented to sanction evil.
6. Hale demands that the Judges allow the arguments to be placed by lawyers, a last appeal to reason. The judge scoffingly replies:
Danforth: Mr. Hale, Believe me; for a man of such terrible learning you are most bewildered – I hope you will forgive me. I have been thirty – two year at the bar, sir, and I should be confounded were I called upon to defend these people. Let you consider, now -- *To Proctor and the others:* And I bid you all do likewise. In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not? Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself: granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims – and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all their confession. Therefore, what is left for a lawyer to bring out? I think I have made my point. Have I not?
Perhaps this is part of the reason that supplying a lawyer is no longer up to the judge’s digression in America.
7. Having ruled lawyers were not necessary, Danforth goes forward with the trial and soon show’s how wrong he is. There is evidence found in a poppet (a little doll) which is being used to convict Proctor’s wife of witchcraft. Proctor swears and sites witness that his wife has not kept poppets since she was a girl His call to reason and witnesses is answered by the Minister Parris, with this fantastic argument:
Parris: Why could there not have been poppets hid where no one ever saw them?
Proctor, *furious:* There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it.
Parris” We are here, Your honor, Precisely to discover what no one has ever seen.
So much for the rules of evidence in the world of blind fanaticism.
8. Mary Warren tries to explain how religious hysteria can be mistaken for satanic manifestation.
Hathorne: How could you think you saw them unless you saw them?
Mary Warren: I – I cannot tell how, but I did. I – I heard the other girls screaming, and you, Your Honor, you seemed to believe them, and I – It were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, spirits, and I – I promise you, Mr. Danforth, I only thought I saw them but I did not.
But neither reason or sworn testimony is adequate to stand against fanaticism and fear driven by ignorance. Marry Warren turns on John Proctor to save her own life. She joins in the lie, and Proctor is convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death by the supernatural testimony of hysterical children.
9. Three months later Hale comes to see Proctor on the day of his execution. Hale begs with Elizabeth to convince her husband to admit to witchcraft – even though they now both know there is no such thing.
Hale, *continuing to Elizabeth:* Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crown of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up Beware, Goody Proctor – cleave to no faith when faith brings blood. It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice.
Hale has realized too late the flawed nature of faith without reason.
10. For a while, John Proctor considers giving the lie that he has seen the devil to see. But when the court attempts to use him to accuse others, when they attempt to recruit him into their fanaticism, he withdraws his confession and accepts death.
Hale: Man, you will hang! You cannot!
Proctor, *his eyes full of tears:* I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. *Elizabeth, in a burst of terror, rushes to him and weeps against his hand.* Given them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!
Proctor and the others die, victims of ignorance, superstition, religious fanaticism and fear; they die heroes of Reason!
So once more we return to the claim I make before each performance; that Reason is the only cure for fanaticism and fear, but that while there are so many under the sway of ignorance, we owe our freedom and our lives to those who are willing to sacrifice both for sake. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for “a bunch of pampered Americans who do not understand the wonder of their freedom, the dangers that beset it; or the sacrifice necessary to maintain it”. To keep the evil of Salem in the distant past, in far of lands, and on the high school stage; the line between darkness and light must be maintained by those who are willing to fight for the survival or reason and truth.
Johnny Bounty Application.
2 weeks ago