Pictured in the foreground of the Armitage Army Rumania (Thanks!) wallpaper with Farber quote share by Violet DB (Thanks!) in the image below of The Old Vic’s The Crucible rehearsals in early Summer 2014 are Richard Armitage as John Proctor and Natalie Gavin as Mary Warren, rehearsing Act 4 where Proctor is trying to get Mary to denounce the other girls for pretending and lying about seeing witches or being possessed. John Proctor hopes to exonerate his wife Elizabeth Proctor–along with Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse who are also being held in jail. It got me to thinking about the girls who put them in jail.
As I observed the “character” of the group of Salem girls unfold and evolve from a rag tag bunch of misfits to a respected/feared faction as I watched The Old Vic’s 2014 production of The Crucible on Digital Theatre last Saturday, I noticed aspects about this group of girls and the shifting sands of public opinion around and about them.
For one thing, I noticed that the girls’ body language and use of space changed over time. Initially the girls were dispersed in their placement in a room–such as them being in a panicky loose circle around the catatonic Betty Parrish’s bed [(my cap right)]. The girls each messily thrashed about the room trying to find ways of waking up their friend Betty–them not seemingly acting as a cohesive whole, yet.
But by the end of the play in Act 4, the girls’ movements were highly stylized, them seeming to walk together as one entity into the interrogation room where Proctor and Mary Warren were waiting to accuse them of bearing false witness. The girls’ strides seemed almost synchronized as they walked in a tightly packed side by side grouping. We can see a bit of this pack formation again returning to the rehearsal shot above (and cropped left) with the other girls standing closely together in the background–shoulders touching, staring determinedly, blindly forward. Chilling!
And I kept thinking about cliques in high school–the “mean girls”. You’re in, or you’re out–there is no in between. But with The Crucible, that “herd” mindset was taken to a new and maliciously evil level. It was almost like a scorched Earth campaign as the girls accused anyone and everyone one who had ever done them wrong, dismissed them, or begrudged their lying with their husband as Elizabeth Proctor had of Abigail Williams.
And in accusing others, the girls gained community stature–while the men in charge (Rev. Parrish, Rev. Hale, and Deputy Governor Danforth abandoned any sense god gave them and blindly accepted the girls’ accusations as fact. I’m not sure which is worse–the girls’ false accusations or Parris, Hale, and Danforth’s eager promulgation of them without regard for the innocents they killed, the families devastated, the community disintegrated.
Lastly, I sensed that the illusion that the girls created for others— of a community fighting for its very soul–became a delusion for the girls, themselves. I felt that just as the girls convinced the townspeople of the “witches” in their midst through their pretend frenzies of demonic possession, the girls also convinced themselves of the rightness of their cause. And there is nothing as scary as persons who have gone from strategic pretense to cultish fanaticism.
And the Betty and Abigail choruses of “I saw Goody _____ with the devil” bantered back and forth in more and more feverish outbursts, whipped them up into almost a transcendantly frenzied mindset [(my cap right] –each of them feeding off of the other, supporting each others’ pretense.
I could see the belief in the girls’ eyes for their cause. And certainly belief and retribution were in Abigail Williams eyes. Where in the beginning Abigail pleaded with John to take her back [(left)], Abigail’s eyes at the end of the play were cold, heartless, and unforgiving.
Abigail even felt invulnerable in arguing with Deputy Governor Danforth who briefly doubted her.
“Abigail: I have been hurt, Mr. Danforth; I have seen my blood runnin’ out! I have been near to murdered every day because I done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people–and this is my reward? To be mistrusted, denied, questioned like s—. [slut?]
Danforth, weakening: Child, I do not mistrust you —
Abigail, in an open threat: Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it! There is — Suddenly, from an accusatory attitude, her face turns, looking into the air above–it is truly frightened.”
Abigail Williams had plenty to begrudge the world. Abigail was sexually used by the married man John Proctor, then thrown away, cast out of the Proctor home. Initially, Abigail sought to have John Proctor back–back in her bed where she could wield her power of sexual favors over him. But as Abigail realizes over time that their reunion is not to be, she intentionally or unconsciously decides that if she is not to have him, then she shall seek to exact her revenge upon John Proctor. And that she surely did.
So the moral of this story is not merely hell hath no fury as a woman/Abigail scorned, but that even powerless girls when working in concert with each other can coalesce into a formidable force of wills–in this case, devastatingly so.