In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the madness of the Salem witch trials is explored in great detail. There are many theories as to why the witch trials came about, the most popular of which is the girls’ suppressed childhoods. However, there were other factors as well, such as Abigail Williams’ affair with John Proctor, the secret grudges that neighbors held against each other, and the physical and economic differences between the citizens of Salem Village.
From a historical viewpoint, it is known that young girls in colonial Massachusetts were given little or no freedom to act like children. They were expected to walk straight, arms by their sides, eyes slightly downcast, and their mouths were to be shut unless otherwise asked to speak. It is not surprising that the girls would find this type of lifestyle very constricting. To rebel against it, they played pranks, such as dancing in the woods, listening to slaves’ magic stories and pretending that other villagers were bewitching them.
The Crucible starts after the girls in the village have been caught dancing in the woods. As one of them falls sick, rumors start to fly that there is witchcraft going on in the woods, and that the sick girl is bewitched. Once the girls talk to each other, they become more and more frightened of being accused as witches, so Abigail starts accusing others of practicing witchcraft. The other girls all join in so that the blame will not be placed on them.
In the novel, Abigail starts the accusations by saying, “I go back to Jesus; I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!” Another girl, Betty, continues the cry with, “I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!” From here on, the accusations grow and grow until the jails overflow with accused witches. It must have given them an incredible sense of power when the whole town of Salem listened to their words and believed each and every accusation. After all, children were to be seen and not heard in Puritan society, and the newfound attention was probably overwhelming.
In Act Three of The Crucible, the girls were called before the judges to defend themselves against the claims that they were only acting.
Comparing Mistaken Identity in Merchant of Venice, Comedy Errors, Twelfth Night and As You Like It
Mistaken Identity in Merchant of Venice, Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and As You Like It
The ploy of mistaken identity as a plot device in writing comedies dates back at least to the times of the Greeks and Romans in the writings of Menander and Plautus. Shakespeare borrowed the device they introduced and developed it into a fine art as a means of expressing theme as well as furthering comic relief in his works. Shakespeare’s artistic development is clearly shown in the four comedies The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Measure for Measure where he manages to take the germinal idea of mistaken identity and expand it to peaks its originators never fathomed.
In Shakespeare’s first comedy, The Comedy of Errors, mistaken identity is the sole impetus behind the action, as it had been with its original sources. The germinal idea of asking how one really knows who one is is introduced, but the conflicts that occur between appearance and reality are not totally realized. This will be accomplished by Shakespeare’s maturing comic style as he begins to recognize all the varying aspects presented by the ploy of mistaken identity.
In its simplest form, mistaken identity is shown in Twelfth Night where twins are mistaken for each other enhancing the comic confusion of the plot. This basic concept is taken deeper, however, when it is recognized that one twin is actually a girl who would not normally be mistaken for her brother. This only happens because she has resorted to disguise. Viola masquerading as Cessario opens the doors for many double meanings in dialogue through a great deal of playing with words. When her twin brother Sebastian arrives, the comic elements reign as her meek natur…
… middle of paper …
…re to everyone.
These are only a few of the ways Shakespeare altered mistaken identity by expanding the concept to include disguise, self-delusion, and theme. It is impossible to fully develop all the uses and expansions this basic comic device received in Shakespeare’s hands even when dealing with the limited scope of plays we are looking at in this question. It is also impossible to isolate one aspect of this development from the others because Shakespeare intertwined them in such a way that in his growth as a comic writer he took the ploy of mistaken identity and used it in its totality of meaning. Ultimately, mistaken identity is a subtle thread underlying virtually every comic action studied in these four works. Through his development of this simple comic device we clearly see one aspect of the whole that makes up Shakespeare’s creative genius.