Sometimes an accusation is enough to destroy a life
What's it all about?
Arthur Miller's classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 - 'one of the strangest and awful chapters in human history' - and the McCarthy communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. This is the story of how the small community of Salem, Massachusetts is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice. It is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations. It is based on a true story. Although written to highlight the dangers and stupidity of the McCarthy witch-hunts, today it is equally relevant. Accusations stick and lives are destroyed - has society really moved on since 1692?
This is a large cast for a play as the story involves most of the people from an entire village as well as the witch-hunters and judges who visit Salem. There is likely to be some doubling. As this is set in 1692 Massachussets, we'll be playing it with slightly odd accents - a hint of American, a hint of Irish, a hint of Dutch. Nothing too strong, but the accent is there. Most of the ages are advisory but where there are families, the age differences between characters will be cast for believability. This is a play based on real people and real events and the audience needs to believe it with us.
I have split the characters into Major and Supporting to give you an idea of the size of the parts. Some characters, such as Danforth, do not appear until later in the play. Only two characters (Hale and Proctor) appear in all four acts. I have already worked out the doubling-up that we will use to reduce the cast from 21 to 17. This was done through some doubling-up and also by cutting a couple of characters who had all of four lines between them.
Major Male characters
Middle-30s. A farmer. An important man in the town with a lot of respect but also a great deal of resentment from those he refused to align himself with. He dealt with hypocrites by dealing out his own brand of biting sarcasm and judgment. He is, however, a troubled soul who has sinned, not only against his wife but also against the moral code that he subscribes to. Because of this, despite all the power and respect he appears to have in town, he regards himself as a kind of fraud. His inner feelings towards himself and others, however, do not necessarily appear at the start of the play when he appears as a strong, imposing figure with an 'unexpressed, hidden force'. Later, when he is drawn into the witch-hunt by Abigail, his inner pride conflicts with common-sense and his sense of self-preservation.
60s. A grave, wrathful man of some humour and sophistication which does not, however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause. Also appears in the third act, but is the key 'villain' of the play - although history would never reflect any villainy on him. He is without hesitation when it comes to matters of examination, argument and execution, if he finds guilt. The audience will no doubt find him gullible in the extreme, for he is completely taken in by the girls who make the accusations, but could miss the point for he has found witchcraft and villainy before and has dispensed swift, harsh justice. Does not appear until the third act and from then on doesn’t seem to stop talking.
Giles Corey Early
80s. Although old, there is still power, both physical and mental, behind the lines and grey hair. An inquisitve, canny man who only aligned himself with men of conscience and those who garnered respect through the actions, not just their words. No man has ever been blamed for so much, even before the madness in Salem, although he didn't give a hoot for public opinion. He was a crank and a nuisance, but within he was a deeply innocent and brave man.
Reverend John Hale
Late 30s. The man who was called upon to ascertain whether witch-craft was present in Salem. He looked on this as a beloved errand and felt the pride of a specialist whose unique knowledge has at last been publicly called for. He had uncovered a falsely-accused witch previously, but this did not alter his view that Satan walked on the Earth and he spent a great deal of time pondering the 'invisible world'. From the text: "His goal is light, goodness and its preservation, and he knows the exaltation of the blessed whose intelligence, sharpened by minute examinations of enormous tracts, is finally called upon to face what may be a bloody fight with the Fiend himself." He is at all times careful, measured and even-tempered. He is at a loss as to how the situation in Salem develops into a nightmare from his fair judgment.
Reverend Samuel Parris
Middle 40s. In history, he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. Tended to be self-righteous and too full of his own importance to either make friends easily or to draw people in to the Salem church where he preached.
Major Female characters
Early 30s (could be older). John Proctor's wife, she is fully aware of his affair with Abigail following his confession to her. Although she is in love with him, a large amount of trust and respect is now missing from their marriage, replaced with suspicion on her part and defensiveness on his. She is implicated in the witch-craft in Salem by Abigail, who Elizabeth believes seeks to kill her and take her place at John's side.
17 years old and Parris' niece. According to the script 'strikingly beautiful', but the beauty hides a vicious, vindictive streak. She has an endless capacity for dissembling - and she is very good at it: manipulative and calculating. Has had an extra-marital affair with John Proctor and it is this fact that draws the Proctors into the story.
Aged 17. 'A subservient, naive, lonely girl'. Although she 'only looked' during the witchcraft, she is hysterically terrified of being accused and terrified of Abigail who promises her that she will be dragged in. She is the Proctor's servant. Later, when she becomes embroiled in the court proceedings, she is easily swayed by others and is a very frightened young lady.
Supporting Male characters
Marshal Herrick (composite character, includes ‘Cheever’)
Early 30s. The town's Marshall (and clerk of the court), Herrick views his actions in bringing the accused to court with an amount of shame as he is not always sure of his actions. This character is a composite made up of two smaller parts.
60s. A bitter, remorseless judge. Appears in the third and fourth acts.
Thomas Putnam (doubling Francis Nurse)
50 years old, or thereabout. A well-to-do hard-handed landowner with many grievances, some of which were justified. Because of this, he was slightly paranoid and many accusations against the people of Salem were in his handwriting.
Francis Nurse (doubling Thomas Putnam)
Late 70s. The only man who garnered respect from both sides during the period of the play. An owner of much land and property who started from nothing and rose to prosperity, he was resented by those less fortunate and less well-off.
Supporting Female characters
Ann Putnam (doubling Martha Corey)
45 years old. 'A twisted soul - death-ridden, haunted by dreams.' Always thinks the worst of people and of any situation. After giving birth seven times to still-born babies she is desperate to find out what is wrong with her daughter, Ruth, who is also implicated in the witchcraft.
Martha Corey (doubling Ann Putnam)
Voice only for opening Act III Mid-60s. The accused wife of Giles Corey.
Middle 40s. Rev Parris' negro slave. Originally from Barbados, she is accused of conjuring the spirits of the dead. When confronted by Reverend Hale, Tituba is the person who first starts the 'naming of witches' from which the madness starts. It is never entirely clear whether this is done to get herself out of trouble or whether it is what she believes actually happened.
Early 70s. Frail and white-haired. A very calm woman who can bring stillness to any room simply by entering. Wife of Francis Nurse, she was victimised during the witch-hunt, although the attacks on her were probably due more to a land dispute between the Putnams and the Nurses in days past than to any basis in fact.
Supporting Younger Female characters
Aged 10 (we’ll be casting 14-16), Rev Parris' daughter. One of the girls caught up in the alleged witchcraft. Despite the age required, the person cast as Betty will be required to give an extravert, hysterical (though not funny!) performance – she will be required to act as though hit and collapse on the floor.
Aged 16. Another girl involved in the accusations.
Aged 18. A 'fat, sly, merciless girl'. She is the Putnam's servant. She is implicated in the witchcraft - having been witnessed dancing naked in the woods. But don’t worry – we’re not doing that bit!