Same job, different uniform.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is The Crucible still relevant as a cautionary tale?

For those who do not know what I do in my regular existence, I am a professional actor, a writer and dramaturg. I also do windows and laundry, when necessary. Most recently, I finished a short run as John Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and I think it worth noting that Miller's show is, in its own way, a small slice of genius. If you have never read it, I highly recommend you do so; if you have never seen it played, run, don't walk, to the theatre. It is that powerful, and for theatre, that important.

The Crucible, essentially, is an exploration of the nature of hysteria. If the general public begins to bleat like sheep and start searching for reasons to explain their lot in life or their fears, there are those who will be all too ready to take advantage of the situation. The Salem Witch Trials were as much about evening scores and acquiring land as they were about searching out any putative witches and doing away with them. As is true in most human endeavors, it is always useful to follow the money or discover who stands to gain when this or that happens. And is someone does show profit or gain, you can be fairly certain that it was intentional. For myself, reading the play brought to mind immediately the McMartin PreSchool cases in the early 1990s. For those going "er, what?," please check here.

The echoes with Salem and the way in which the law and the courts were manipulated is uncannily similar. At any rate, however much the Witch Trials had to do with religion on the surface, they had almost nothing to do with God, the Bible, or much of anything else pertaining to much the same way that the Inquisition had more to do with power than saving the souls of its victims.

The lesson of The Crucible is simple, but interestingly powerful: we must be on our guard. Hysteria and the lust for power it provokes are historical in nature, yes, but they are also as immediate as yesterday's headlines or today's arrest blotter. People seek scapegoats, and, if necessary, those in power will supply them.

Unless we stop them. Immediately. Without qualm, pause or wasted motion. We have far more to fear from hysteria than we do from anything that might serve to cause it.

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Blogger girlfriday said...

Yet we all seem hysterical at times, don't we?

Brilliant per usual. The Snark. Back with a vengeance.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


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