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I have a copy of The Crucible by Arthur Miller which alternates between the dialogue of the play and extended notes (by the author) on the nature of the characters and the meaning of what's transpiring and its universality and continued relevance.

This is not, as best I can tell, a "critical" version of the play, or in any way anything other than a plain and simple ordinary edition of The Crucible.

However, I was a bit bamboozled by this sentence in one such passage in Act I:

One cannot help noting that one of his lines has never yet raised a laugh in any audience that has seen this play; it is his assurance that "We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise."

This stood out to me because here he's now referencing performances of the play within the text of the play. To reiterate, these notes are by the author and seem to be part of the text of the play.

But how can the text of the play reference the play's performances and yet still be part of the original text?

The copy I have is Penguin Plays. Nothing and its jacket information or forward indicates that there's anything different about it.

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  • What makes you think the quoted passage is from the "original text" and not from a later revision? Jan 1, 2021 at 15:37
  • I guess that's the question. At what point did the text of this play start being published like this? Why don't editions seem to distinguish between original text and revised? there's absolutely nothing about this copy to indicate that it's anything other than an ordinary version of the play. I've never picked up a play and seen something like this in it. Jan 1, 2021 at 19:54

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The solution, of course, is that Miller revised the text of the play between the original theatre production and the publication of the Penguin edition, and this revision included the addition of the long character notes, so that “any audience that has seen this play” means “any audience that has seen the play so far”, that is, up to the date of the revision.

Revision of drama is commonplace: a script has to be modified to fit the constraints of the theatre, budget, cast, and so on. In rehearsal, problems are discovered and have to be solved: a line does not get a laugh, a scene goes on too long, a character’s motivation is not clear to the audience, and so on. Typically the playwright is closely involved with the first production and can revise the text and help the actors with line readings. When the text of a play is prepared for publication, a playwright might add directions and notes to assist future productions when they will not be present. (Or they might not—some playwrights prefer to leave the text open to interpretation.)

This process of revision is usually hidden and we only get to see the finished product. But in the case of The Crucible, we can trace some of the revisions by comparing a reprint of the 1953 edition of the play with a 1957 edition of Miller’s collected plays. In the 1953 edition, the play opens like this:

TITUBA. My Betty be hearty soon?
PARRIS. Out of here!
TITUBA. My Betty not goin’ die …
PARRIS. Out of my sight! Out of my … (Tituba exits hurriedly. He kneels again. He is overcome with sobs.) Oh, my God! God help me! (Quaking with a bodyful of fear, and uttering undecipherable syllables of sobs.) Betty. Child. Dear child. Will you wake, will you open up your eyes! Betty, little one … (Abigail Williams, 17, enters. A strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an endless capacity for dissembling. Now she is all worry and apprehension and propriety.)
ABIGAIL. Uncle? Susanna Walcott’s here from Doctor Griggs.
PARRIS. Oh? The doctor. (Rising.) Let her come, let her come.
ABIGAIL. Come in, Susanna. (Susanna Walcott, a little younger than Abigail, enters.)
PARRIS: What does the doctor say, child?

But in the 1957 collected plays, The Crucible opens like this:

TITUBA, already taking a step backward: My Betty be hearty soon?
PARRIS: Out of here!
TITUBA, backing to the door: My Betty not goin’ die …
PARRIS, scrambling to his feet in a fury: Out of my sight! She is gone. Out of my— He is overcome with sobs. He clamps his teeth against them and closes the door and leans against it, exhausted. Oh, my God! God help me! Quaking with fear, mumbling to himself through his sobs, he goes to the bed and gently takes Betty’s hand. Betty. Child. Dear child, will you wake, will you open up your eyes! Betty, little one …
He is bending to kneel again when his niece, Abigail Williams, seventeen, enters—a strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an endless capacity for dissembling. Now she is all worry and apprehension and propriety.
ABIGAIL: Uncle? He looks to her. Susanna Walcott’s here from Doctor Griggs.
PARRIS: Oh? Let her come, let her come.
ABIGAIL, leaning out the door to call to Susanna, who is down the hall a few steps: Come in, Susanna.
Susanna Walcott, a little younger than Abigail, a nervous, hurried girl, enters.
PARRIS, eagerly: What does the doctor say, child?

The dialogue is very little changed—in this passage, only Parris’ superfluous “The doctor” has been cut—but the later edition has much more detailed stage directions, for the benefit of future productions without Miller being available to supply them.

Other changes between the two editions are a revision to the act structure (the 1953 edition has two acts, the 1957 revision has four), and the addition of the long character notes. In the 1953 edition, Hale’s entrance is given as follows:

PUTNAM. I’ll have my men on you, Corey! I’ll clap a writ on you! (Enter John Hale, 35, a ruddy bright young man. He is loaded down with heavy books.)
HALE. Pray you, someone take these! (Putnam crosses to Hale’s L., helps him.)

Note the detail of “Putnam crosses to Hale’s L[eft]” in the stage direction—this kind of precise blocking, which appears in many places in the 1953 edition, has been completely removed from the 1957 edition. Directors of new productions of the play need to work out their own blocking.

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