Giles Corey in The Crucible

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible' is still read and studied across the world for its riveting plot, allegory, and fascinating characters. In this lesson, learn about one of those characters, Giles Corey.

What Is The Crucible?

Arthur Miller's well-known 1953 play The Crucible is an allegory of McCarthyism. To begin, an allegory is a work with a hidden meaning, and that hidden meaning is usually moral or political. Second, McCarthyism was a world view held by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s. It was basically a witch hunt, during which the U.S. government (led by Sen. McCarthy) blacklisted supposed communists during the period known as the ''Red Scare''.

Appropriately, the allegorical play about a 1950s 'witch hunt' is actually about a real witch hunt. The play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and is loosely based on the true story of the Salem witch trials. The Crucible follows the story of John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, as well as his mistress, Abigail Williams, all caught up in the hysteria and paranoia of the witch trials.

Playbill for this drama

Who is Giles Corey?

Giles Corey is a character in the play based on an actual man named Giles Corey. The play stays more faithful than you'd think to Corey's actions at the time of the trials (mostly because he was so awesome there really wasn't a way to improve it).

The real Corey was born in England in the early 1600s. He had a couple of wives and moved to the colonies at an unknown date. From there, the details of the play and reality differ, though. In real life, Corey was a huge jerk, and there are tons of court records about him for offenses ranging from fatally beating an indentured servant to many lesser crimes. Although in the Puritan era many things were considered offenses that wouldn't be now, enough of his crimes still speak to his character, even though a modern lens. In the play, however, Corey is a little more sympathetic and far less cruel. He and his wife (in real life and the play) were accused of witchcraft and tried for being witches.

The punishment of Giles Corey
Giles Corey

Giles Corey in The Crucible

Let's start at the beginning of The Crucible. From now we will deal with the fictionalized version of Giles Corey from the play, although his manner and circumstances of death are still rooted in fact.

From the beginning of The Crucible, Corey is embroiled in a dispute with his neighbor, the farmer Thomas Putnam. Not only this, but in Act 2, his wife is accused of being a witch because she reads books and sells animals that go on to die later in the text. In the 1600s and in a Puritan community, this accusation was quite serious. Someone accused of witchcraft would've usually been found guilty and put to death, which is what happens to Giles Corey's wife. He tries and fails to prove her innocence.

There is a sinister theory behind these accusations of witchcraft, too. Imagine you live in the town and you want someone's huge parcel of land, but you don't know how to get it. What if that person is found guilty of witchcraft and put to death? Under the law of the time, that land would be put up for auction, giving substantial motivation to anyone looking to acquire land. This exact type of accusations is made against Giles Corey as well as his wife.

Martha Corey accused of witchcraft
Martha Corey

''Okay,'' you might say, ''no big deal. Corey isn't a witch, so he can just say no or refuse to answer and it'll all work out.'' Unfortunately, that's not what ultimately happens. In Act 3, Corey rushes to court in order to try and defend his wife from the accusations of witchcraft, shouting to the judge that he has a signed deposition stating Martha's innocence. He also tells the judge that he heard from a reliable man that Putnam was having his neighbors accused of witchcraft in order to gain their land.

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