The Crucible: Act 1 Vocabulary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson covers some of the key vocabulary terms used in Act 1 of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible.' Understanding these terms can help you make sure you are grasping the meaning and importance of the action in the play.

Understanding 'The Crucible'

In order to have any hope of understanding Arthur Miller's The Crucible, it's essential to know a few ideas and terms that pop up throughout the play. Gaining a more thorough understanding of Puritans, theocracy, witchcraft, incubi and succubi will help you to better understand not only the action in Miller's play, but also its setting - the Salem Witch Trials.


The Puritan movement was initially focused on cleansing the Church of England from any vestiges of Roman Catholic tradition. This was obviously not terribly popular among those of the Church of England. The Puritans were thwarted from their efforts at 'purification,' and they became a persecuted people. To escape this, many immigrated to the New World.

Puritans are responsible for establishing Massachusetts. In this new colony, they were able to live and worship exactly how they pleased--and they were also able to make laws which prevented anyone from not practicing Puritanism.

The Puritans lived very severe lives. They did not allow things like dancing or celebration. They even cancelled Christmas. No joke. The Puritans did not approve of Christmas. Puritans prized hard work and piety. If one wasn't working or reading scriptures, they feared trouble was near by.

We see the effects of the strain from this kind of living in The Crucible. All of the tragic action of the play was started by a few young girls who went into the woods to dance, because they had no other place in their society for freedom or expression.


Arthur Miller tells us that ''the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together.'' A theocracy is a government run by leaders who are perceived by the people to be divinely guided. Essentially, therefore, the faithful people of a theocracy believe they are being governed by God. This is the sort of government the Puritans of Massachusetts set up. ''It was forged for a necessary purpose,'' Miller tells us, ''and it accomplished that purpose.''

After what we have just learned about the Puritans and their austere living, we can easily understand that a government ostensibly run by the Puritan God would be a severe and restrictive one. This is at the root of what made the Salem Witch Trials possible as the people began to strain under these restrictions. Miller tells us, ''evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted.''


The idea of witchcraft exists even today. It is different in different contexts and locations, but it is important in this play for us to understand what it meant in 17th century colonial Massachusetts. The idea of witchcraft at that time was not always evil--these were a very superstitious people. Gradually, however, superstition began to be associated with evil and with the Devil--and then the people became afraid. Witchcraft for the colonists was predicated on the fear that their neighbors could be in league with the Devil and could use special powers wrought from that relationship to hurt them and their families.

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