Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Lesson 13: Genre
Genre refers to what type of story a performance tells - each genre has its own style and features. This gives the audience an idea about what to expect from a play. If it's a tragedy, bring the tissues.
'The Crucible' is a historical drama...
A historical drama is a story based on real events, using characters based on real people. Playwrights often adapt the historical events for dramatic effect. They might also add, remove or change characters to make the story work on stage.
Miller based The Crucible on the Salem witch trials in 1692 (see Lesson 9: Witchcraft)
He used these events to make the audience think about the dangers of fear, lies and distrust in modern America.
He wanted the play to be an 'honest' retelling, but it wasn't meant to be completely historically accurate. Miller accelerated the timeline of events and invented the affair between Abigail and Proctor (see Lesson 2: Introduction)
Producing the play in a naturalistic style would highlight the historical drama genre to the audience, as it would help them to feel as though they're watching a real story about real people.
The historical drama genre can also be emphasised through design choices - e.g. by using realistic 17th-century Puritan costumes to reflect the play's historical setting.
...but it's also a tragedy
A tragedy is a story based on the downfall of the main character.
Like most tragedies, The Crucible deals with serious themes, has an unhappy ending and is sad for the audience to watch.
Tragedies traditionally focus on high-status characters like kings or princes - Miller goes against this in The Crucible by having John Proctor, a "farmer in his middle thirties", as the tragic hero.
Most tragic heroes have a key flaw that leads to their downfall - for Proctor, his pride and desire to protect his name and reputation lead to his death.
How can all the actors in the production emphasise that Proctor is an 'everyman'? What can they do in their own performance to assist this?
The play's genres have an impact on the audience
The fact that The Crucible is a tragedy creates an expectation for the audience - a tragedy typically ends with the death of the main character.
A tragedy should cause the audience to experience strong emotions - the release of these is emotions is called catharsis. In The Crucible, the audience might feel scared when innocent people are arrested and then feel sorrow when they're hanged. Experiencing these emotions allows the audience to get rid of them.
As a historical drama, the play may have a powerful impact on the audience because they know that the events happened to real people. This could help them to sympathise with the characters' suffering.
The combination of the two genres shows the audience how real-life events can be tragic. Miller perhaps wanted the audience to consider whether McCarthyism in 1950s America (see Lesson 10: The USA and Communism in 1950s) was tragic.