On this day: The end of the Salem witch trials

October 12 1692: Massachusetts Governor William Phipps disbands the Salem 'witchcraft' court.

By Jennifer Lipman, October 12, 2010

Nineteen men and women were hanged in 1692 for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. At the time, under British law, consorting with the devil was viewed as a crime against their government.

The events of that year and the characters involved formed the basis for Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible. Born to Jewish immigrant parents in New York in 1915, Miller, who was married to Marilyn Monroe for five years, started his career as a journalist. While still a college student in 1936 he wrote his first play, No Villain.

By the 1950s Miller had already had successes with Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, and had even earned his first Tony Award.

But after his friends and colleagues including Elia Kazan (who directed Death of a Salesman) was called before the anti-communist House Un-American activities Committee (HUAC), Miller decided to dramatise the Red Scare.

He went to Salem and looked into the witch trials, penning a play that warned against the McCarthyite hysteria sweeping America.

The Crucible has become perhaps Miller’s most performed play. In 1996 a film version was made, with the screenplay written by Miller and starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day Lewis.

Arthur Miller died in February 2005.

What the JC said when it was first performed in the UK: It is a historical drama, retelling fully the extraordinary story of the hysteria which swept a Puritan colony, and, on mere suspicion, sent hundreds of innocent people, charged with witchcraft, to the hallows. The analogy with present-day conditions is, of course, evident, and Mr Miller pursues his theme with an unrelenting fervour and conviction, worthy of one of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Here the play has a weakness, for the author in his attack on bigotry, oversteps slightly into the role of a bigot

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Last updated: 2:37pm, November 2 2010