Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Lesson 8: Life in Salem in the 17th Century
Life was tough in 17th-Century Salem - living in a small gossipy town with a bad food supply, no fun or games allowed and seriously nosy neighbours must have been a pretty rough way to grow up...
Salem is a village in Massachusetts
The Crucible is set in the 17th century in the American village of Salem, which was founded in 1626 by a group of English settlers. In 1692, Salem had about 150 houses - what are the key locations in the play?
Puritans led strict and dutiful lives
The settlers who built Salem were Puritans - devout Christians who had broken away from the Church of England. In the 17th century, many Puritans travelled to America to start a new life.
Their lifestyle was simple. They believed people should be modest and work hard. Puritans were also serious - they saw entertainment as sinful, so they banned fun pastimes like games and dancing.
Religion was at the centre of life in Salem and the Puritans dedicated their lives to being good Christians. They greatly feared hell and thought the Devil was always trying to corrupt them.
When times were tough, the villagers in Salem thought they'd been cursed by the Devil, because they couldn't explain why bad things were happening to good people.
Discuss what challenges they may have faced they would blame on the Devil?
TASK: Costume design - A costume designer might design modest outfits for the characters to show the simple and serious nature of their lifestyle.
Choose a character from the play and design a costume for them.
Puritan settlements were short on luxury
Buildings in Salem were constructed from materials the settlers could find from the land, like timber.
Houses would have had little decoration and furniture would have been practical rather than comfortable.
Puritan churches were meant to be plain and humble, so the congregation could focus on prayer without distraction. Luxury was disliked.
TASK: Set design - A designer might use the play's context to make the setting seem more authentic to the audience. Salem's simple architecture is often reflected in the set design of the play.
Choose one of the locations from the play and design the set.
Community was important in Salem
The settlers of Salem were a small, isolated group of people living a tough life. These shared hardships created a strong sense of community.
The community was a theocracy - a society where people see God as their ruler. This mean's Salem's laws would have closely followed the religious laws in the Bible.
In theocracy, the laws are usually enforced by people who are seen to be guided by God, such as Reverend Parris. This gave members of the community a lot of power.
How can a director recreate this claustrohobic atmosphere?
Being different was dangerous
Miller uses Salem's society to show the audience how dangerous it can be when religious intolerance and fear of difference take over people's common sense.
In the play, anyone who challenges the authority of people like Reverend Parris is mistrusted, because they are suggesting that God can be challenged.
If someone doesn't behave as the church tells them to, people think the Devil has corrupted them. This leads to lies and secrets, because people are scared of being judged by their neighbours and by God.
For example, a small lie about dancing in the woods becomes many big lies about witchcraft and curses, because the girls are too scared to tell the truth.
Would you include a scene of the girls dancing in the woods? How can a director highlight the secret nature of the gathering?
Reputations are important in Salem. If one member of the community seems to be offending God, the rest of the group fears for their collective reputation, so they cast them out.