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Spectral Evidence in The Crucible

Something Arthur Miller wrote in his Why I Wrote The Crucible: An Artist's Answer to Politics, which intrigued me, was the concept of spectral evidence. The court accepted witness testimony that the accused person's spirit appeared to the witness in a dream and caused harm (Brooks). Miller writes:


It was as though the court had grown tired to thinking and had invited in the instincts: spectral evidence – that poisoned cloud of paranoid fantasy – made a kind of lunatic sense to them, as it did in plot-ridden 1952, when so often the question was not the acts of an accused but the thoughts and intentions in his alienated mind (Miller).


Although courts do not accept spectral evidence as valid anymore, the established guidelines people in 1692 saw it as legitimate. In The Crucible, Abigail demonstrates how the power of suggestion and spectral evidence limited Mary Warren's rights as the defendant and manifested an unjust effect. For example, one girl admits they pretend to grow cold and faint. Soon after, Abigail shivers and turns cold, claiming Mary Warren bewitched her. Three other girls follow suit and claim they also freeze. Another example of spectral evidence is when Abigail and the rest of the girls pretend that Mary Warren has taken the form of a yellow bird. Abigail pleads with the bird to not claw at her eyes or hurt her. As the scene escalates, the other girls join in and begin repeating Mary Warren's words as if hypnotized.


Even though Mary Warren cries out that she is physically still present in the courtroom, Abigail's personality and the group's convincing performances terrify the courtroom's people. Mary Warren is helpless against the hysterical girls to convince Danforth she is telling the truth and the others are lying. The collective reinforcement of spectral evidence and the synchronization of the girls' actions supported Mary Warren's guilt. However, one could argue Abigail carefully coordinated these outbursts beforehand or had enough power to manipulate others into following her lead. These two instances show how fear is a powerful emotion to heighten group adrenaline, raise suspicion, and perpetuate hysteria.

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