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Despite being a four-act play, The Crucible can be analyzed in terms of the traditional five stages of tragedies. The introduction (also called the exposition) introduces the elements necessary for understanding the action of a play. The exposition of The Crucible takes place in Act I. Here, Miller sets the scene and reveals key information about most of the important characters in the play and the conflicts which are soon to explode. Proctor's guilt over his liaison with Abigail, Abigail's mischief, Putnam's pettiness, and Parris' fear of witches are all central to the events which are soon to unfold.
In the rising action of a play, the conflicts, themes, and events introduced in the exposition begin to be set in motion. The rising action of The Crucible begins in Act I, with Parris and Mrs. Putnam encouraging the belief in witchcraft, and continues through Act II, in which personal prejudices and accusations replace seemingly harmless suspicions and questionings. As the action rises, reason is increasingly replaced by hysteria, as those who are weak, misled, or simply evil fuel the fear of witchcraft, while the good, strong, and innocent become victims. The rising action also moves the focus onto the central character of the play, John Proctor, who has the power to take action, but is prevented from doing so by his guilt over committing adultery and fear of exposure as a sinner.
The climax or crisis of a play is its greatest moment of emotional intensity and the high point of the rising action. The Crucible's climax occurs toward the end of Act II. Having finally been provoked beyond the breaking point by the arrest of his wife, Proctor decides to fight against the falsity he sees corrupting the church and society by refuting Abigail's charges, even if it means his adultery will be revealed. In an emotionally charged moment, he declares to Mary that Elizabeth will not die for his sake.
In the falling action of a play, the action begins to resolve toward the conclusion, or denouement. The falling action of The Crucible begins in Act III and continues through Act IV. The inability of Proctor and his allies to sway the court and stop the corruption and Proctor's subsequent moral dilemma over whether to save his life or be sacrificed form the falling action. As Proctor wrestles with his decision over whether to sign the confession or not, the reader is exposed to the turmoil of a soul caught between justice and peril. His momentary corruption represents both the end point of the falling action and the final degradation of the protagonist.
The denouement represents the resolution of the conflict in a play and often entails the protagonist's death. The redemption of Proctor in his choice to tear up his confession and allow himself to be sacrificed to prevent the corruption of society forms the conclusion of the plot and the moment of catharsis in The Crucible. At the point when Proctor places the needs of society over himself, he gains the proportions of a tragic hero. The magnanimity of Proctor's self-sacrifice provides his society with the hope of redemption for its sins and failures, and his impending death recovers for him his own sense of goodness and provides him with the hope of grace.
In addition to adhering to the standard plot structure for a tragic drama, Miller also adheres to the unity of time and place. The entire play takes place in the small town of Salem in only four locations, a different setting for each act. In addition, the totality of the action takes place in a tight span of time; less than six months pass in the course of the drama. As a result of these unities, the play is easy to follow and understand, whether viewed on stage or read.