Salem, MA : The Crucible

Shane-West-in-Salem

Shane West in the new WGN-TV series “Salem” starting April 20

DDL PRoctor

Daniel Day Lewis as Proctor

liam neeson as Proctor

Liam Neeson and Laura Linney in The Crucible

While not an obsession, I have a great interest in Salem, Massachusetts. A couple of years ago my niece was ready to start looking at colleges, so I took her up to Boston. A college town if there ever was one! While we were there we made a side trip to Salem, which is very nearby. I was amazed at how focused the town is on it’s witchy heritage!  In light of my current obsession’s (i.e., Richard Armitage’s) upcoming star turn as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, more info HERE, I thought I would gather my thoughts on the town and it’s heritage. I know that Arthur Miller’s play is meant to convey a message about the U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “witch hunt” for Communists, it is still set in the time of the Salem witch trials.

When my niece and I got to Salem the first thing we went to see was the Salem Witch Museum, of course.

salem museum

And there’s a gift shop!

The museum has two sections – there is a dramatic recreation of the trials by means of light up dioramas with a narrative telling the story, plus there is an actual museum illustrating the evolution of the portrayal of witches over the years.  It was a lot of fun. (Especially the gift shop!)

You can find more info about the witch trials HERE. Here is an excerpt from the site:

“As years passed, apologies were offered and restitution was made to the victims’ families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that era and view subsequent events with heightened awareness. The parallels between the Salem witch trials and more modem examples of “witch hunting” like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s, are remarkable.”

Another witchy Salem connection to Richard Armitage is, of course, the book “The Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness. Many admirers of Richard Armitage believe that he would be perfect for the cinematic role of Matthew Clairmont, the vampire who gets involved with a witch, Diana, who is a descendent of Bridget Bishop, the first woman hanged as a witch in Salem. More of ArmitageforClairmont can be found HERE.

One more bit of info of modern Salem, Massachusetts. It has really cool stores with all this new-agey stuff and witch paraphernalia!

street in Salem today

I highly recommend a visit to Salem if you are in the Boston area. It was great fun and lots to learn about it’s history, which includes it’s maritime history. And there is an EXCELLENT chocolate store there! YUM!!

Harbor Sweets

 

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About NYCPAT

From New York City. Anglophile, theater-goer, love books, music and LIFE.
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19 Responses to Salem, MA : The Crucible

  1. kelbel75 says:

    Salem sounds very fun and interesting! I like that kind of stuff 😎

  2. KatharineD says:

    Thanks for the guided tour, Marie! I wonder how long RA’s known it was possible he’d be doing The Crucible, and whether he took himself off to Salem to learn the history first hand?

  3. Oh I like how you put all the RA witch related references together! Of course there has to be good chocolate in Salem, it’s so sinful 😉
    And I’m hoping the Salem series turns out decent and not a historic soap

    • Marie Astra says:

      Yeah you never know about historical drama. The new Revolutionary War show Turn has been quite well done, so who knows? I think Salem might lean to the supernatural rather than historical though. Thanks for your comment!

      • I’m thoroughly enjoying TURN, AMC is doing it justice. The reenactment community had been looking forward to it too. I’m not drawn to supernatural so unless the performances draw me in I likely will lose interest in Salem rapidly

  4. Servetus says:

    I have to disagree politely that there was much resemblance between the witch hunts and the HUAC hearings except in Arthur Miller’s mind, and if the museum says that there are strong similarities I’m sorry to hear it. Modern historiography demonstrates pretty convincingly on the basis of documentary evidence from the seventeenth century that the Salem trials were *not* about policing people’s beliefs or convictions. There’s a really great summary of the different explanations for Salem, with extensive, interesting original sources / documentation that I recommend to anyone: Richard Godbeer, The Salem Witch Hunt: A Brief History with Documents. I also recommend, as particularly well written and a good discussion of the surviving evidence, Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed. This book was controversial when it was written but has become a very standard interpretation of this incident in the meantime.

    • Marie Astra says:

      Thanks for the info!

    • kelbel75 says:

      I’m confused about this popular comparison as well. I had not been familiar with the actual Crucible story before all the talk of Richard getting the role. I read the play this morning (and really enjoyed it); knowing the basic story behind the Salem Witch Trials and the people involved, the play itself read mostly historic to me. Miller took the historical incident, made a few changes, and suddenly it’s *his* take on McCarthyism?

      • Servetus says:

        The language and dialogue of the character are usually taken by scholarly critics as a (negative) comment by Miller on the political utility of spreading / creating hysteria in a situation of strong orthodoxy.

      • kelbel75 says:

        I’m probably just looking at it too artistically :/ I really enjoyed reading it though and am looking forward to hearing how Richard portrays this character. there is so much emotion for him to convey, especially in the confession 😎

      • Servetus says:

        yeah, I don’t think there’s any denying it’s a great play — and most viewers of the truly great works of theater are unaware of their political contexts. No one thinks about Macbeth as a response to the beginning of James I / VI’s rule in England anymore, for instance, or the local politics that the original audiences of Lysistrata would have thought about while seeing it. They’re just both great plays, and to my taste The Crucible is in that category.

      • Marie Astra says:

        This is so true! We see art in the context of our time I’m interested to see what Yael Farber’s “re-imagining” will bring! Hmmm

      • Servetus says:

        The main historical similarity is the use of torture / courtroom proceedings to get those accused to “name names.”

      • Marie Astra says:

        Yes. I’ve seen the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” about Edward R. Murrow and his confrontation of McCarthy. Did you see it? Great David Strathairn playing Murrow. And of course, in “The Way We Were” Barbara Streisand gets involved with the hearings. 😀 Not very historical, but illustrating the same principle. The Crucible is such a solid play, it stands on it’s own, IMO, even without the McCarthy comparison.

      • Marie Astra says:

        Well, Miller wrote it during the McCarthy hearings. He himself was questioned and asked to name names. So I take the play to be his artistic response to that experience. What it made him think of, apparently, are the Salem witch trials, where people who were certainly not witches were condemned without evidence. Not that I know that much about it either!

      • Servetus says:

        The Crucible premiered in 1953 and Miller was questioned in ’56. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t responding to the period or the times or to experiences of his friends.

        Those accused of witchcraft at Salem were not condemned without evidence. Several kinds of evidence were offered. They were found guilty on the basis of personal testimony, confessions (some of them delivered under torture); spectral evidence; and the “touch test.” The issue in Salem was that because the English government had collapsed in 1689, the previous witchcraft statute for the Massachusetts Bay colony — which required two direct testimonies of witnesses, prohibited torture, and required a confession from the accused — was out of force. The court at Salem was constituted by elders of the community and theologians, not by lawyers, and events occurred while there was no English government representative there.

        Of the kinds of evidence offered at Salem, both personal testimony and confessions were of the kind of evidence required for a conviction for witchcraft in English common law (and in Europe). (The others were not, and were admitted in this casebecause the court was constituted of non-lawyers). We may not like the kind of evidence they required and offered. But it counted as evidence in that setting, according to their rule of law. It was common and permitted throughout Europe (though not in England; and not in the Massachusetts colony) to torture in order to generate further accusations.

      • Marie Astra says:

        Thanks, Professor! 😀

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