I have some students from China now studying this play in Year 11 in Australia. This is interesting, as Arthur Miller has actually written about how the play was received in China. For example, in 2002 there was a new production in New York directed by British director Richard Eyre, a review of which you may see here. Miller recalled the play’s first performance in Shanghai — which is where my students come from.
Eyre often tells the story of having directed a production of “The Crucible” in Edinburgh in 1967, and meeting one of the students from that audience 25 years later: “He said it woke him up to the latent tyranny of a repressive society. He became a politician. His name was Tony Blair.”
For Eyre, “This play thrives across the boundaries of history and geography, culture and race. It’s just as accessible in Lagos [Nigeria] and Beijing as in Los Angeles and New York.”
Miller recalls when “The Crucible” was running in Shanghai in 1967. “The [Chinese] saw the play as being a complete analogy to the Gang of Four,” he says. “I later talked with a Chinese woman who had seen it, and there were tears in her eyes. She said the exact same interrogations took place under the Gang of Four.”
He says that the real message of the play is “to keep God and the civic civilization separate, where they belong. Backing up the government with the imprimatur of the church, any church, is a catastrophe.”
My students need a fairly simple guide to start with. I suggest Wikipedia is as good a place as any. There is a brief Act by Act summary, and some good further references.
A site to support students who want to go deeply into the historical background of the story and of the context in which the play appeared is Understanding “The Crucible” which leads to much that is interesting.
Here is an essay Miller wrote in June 2000: “Are You Now Or Were You Ever?” That tells you a great deal about how and why the play came to be written.
The Crucible is a really wonderful play and brilliant on stage. I have seen two stage productions, one really quite awful in a country town in NSW some years ago. Despite the level of acting I still found shivers going down my spine during the court scenes, and I still marvelled at the rich language Miller found for his characters.
See also these YouTubes about Arthur Miller.
Arthur Miller tribute film (part 1)
Arthur Miller tribute (part 2) This includes The Crucible.