A RAndom musing

imageA random musing on this anniversary of Armitage’s onstage debut in The Crucible: the girls in Salem were the 17th century equivalent of cyberbullies, with equally destructive consequences. Synchronicity? Maybe.

16 thoughts on “A RAndom musing

  1. Certainly the girls as represented in The Crucible. I need to go back and reread my history before I can say it also applies to the actual historical event. It does make me speculate, however, that the issues and intensity of the play may have contributed, in a small way, to RA’s interest in cyberbullying. I see a theme.

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  2. The representation in The Crucible is fairy inaccurate to historical reality. For instance, the real Abigail Williams was 12 when she accused John Porter, who was quite old, I believe in his sixties or seventies. The initial historical accusers came from disadvantaged social groups or disadvantaged situations. Abigail’s parents had just been killed in an Indian raid on the northern border of Massachusetts colony, thereby causing her to lose all of her social status and her dowry, which was her prospect for improving her situation. Betty Parris was the surviving child of the very controversial and locally unpopular Samuel Parris. Historians including Boyer and Nissenbaum, which is kind of the gold standard work on this issue, have thematized the question of social relations within Salem and pointed out that the accusers were usually at social *disadvantage* of some kind to those they accused.

    To me, one fundamental characteristic of a bully is that they are socially powerful in comparison to their victims, and can and do victimize because they believe their prejudices are shared and that they have nothing to lose. The real Salem girls were not in that situation. If you follow the “social relations” explanation for the Salem accusations (there are at least 8 plausible explanations for the accusations, and this is one of the more prevalent ones) the accusers are probably more accurately described as standing in the position of people who felt victimized and took revenge.

    The play is a different matter, although even the play thematizes the fact that the accusers see themselves as put upon and the accused are the economically or “spiritually” privileged (Giles Corey, Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor). Tituba, who incites the girls in the wood, is the classic figure of the oppressed in that play and Farber’s staging took a rather controversial strategy toward making that point. Abigail struggled under her subordination to Elizabeth Proctor, for instance, as does Mary Warren, and their lines in the play confirm this relationship.

    As to whether Armitage drew conclusions about cyberbullying from playing Proctor, I’ll be interested if he says something about it.


  3. I am aware that the play took great liberties with the historical facts, which was why I wanted to go back and reread. Did you mean John Porter or John Proctor? Proctor was, indeed in his early 60’s when he was executed. He was actually far wealthier than portrayed in the play. In addition to his farm, he also owned a tavern, which I believe his wife Elizabeth ran while he was away overseeing his acreage. There was, in certain quarters of the community, a feeling of envy toward him.

    With regards to bullying, I was speaking metaphorically. In either situation, historically or in the present day cyberworld (or anywhere else, for that matter) there is a feeling of powerlessness once the accusations have been made before the eyes of the community, especially if the community has made its collective mind up. In either situation, damage to one’s reputation and social standing has been done, often permanently, and occasionally with fatal consequence.

    Perhaps I am alone I seeing the parallels between what happened to the accused at historical Salem, and what happens to teens especially when they are bullied.

    Can you, by any chance, recommend someone who is a expert in Puritan life in and around 17th century Suffolk, England?


  4. Sorry — Porter / Proctor, it happens.

    I guess I don’t see bullying as a matter of community practice, whereas the accusations in Salem in both history and the play grew out of community institutions. I wrote a lot on the question of “why accusations” and “what accusations mean historically” over the summer so I won’t get into it again. To me the situations are strongly different, which isn’t to say there aren’t terrible things happening in The Crucible or horrible things didn’t happen in Salem. Miller seems to be stressing a particular kind of groupthink which he is relating (appropriately or inappropriately, depending on the commentator’s view) to a practice that historians have come to call social disciplining. re: religion in Suffolk, Diarmaid McCulloch, Suffolk under the Tudors (1986) is a good choice, as it details the political relationship at court that preserved Suffolk dissent until the beginning of the seventeenth century; if you’re looking for a more social view and have access to JSTOR, Paul Seaver, ” Community Control and Puritan Politics in Elizabethan Suffolk,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 9:4 (1977), 297-315. If you’re looking for something else entirely, let me know. There’s a decent article on Winthrop’s pre-Massachusetts connections based on the papers of the Mass Historical Society but I’d have to look up the citation.


  5. Actually, I’m looking for someone who is an expert in social customs of 17th century Puritan England, especially in relation to birth and baptismal customs. Procter was baptized on October 9, 1631, which was a Thursday. My interest is if he would he have been baptized on his birthday, or would they have waited until a church service day, which would be Sunday or I have heard, also Thursday. If they waited until days which had official church services, he might have been born anywhere from Sunday afternoon/evening of October 5th – through the morning of Thursday, the 9th.

    On the other hand, babies died. Would they have wanted an infant baptized ASAP.? If a baby died before being baptized, would it have been accepted into heaven? How urgent was carrying out a baptismal ceremony? How big of a community would the area around Assington, England have been? If the Procter, Sr. property was not far from the village church, would it have been a matter of carrying the baby over to the church the day it was born, or would they have waited?

    That’s my interest.


  6. Someone else asked me this exactly question recently, and I told her what I know about the general background, although I don’t know what they did in Suffolk or how Proctor’s parents interacted with the situation. I asked the person who asked me what the source of her information was and never got an answer. But. The answer to your question is heavily dependent on what the source of the original information about the date of baptism was.

    After 1606, the Church of England regularized baptisms. All baptisms had to be conducted by a Church of England clergyman and recorded in a church register. Not doing so subjected parents to a financial penalty. If the information about the date of a baptism comes from an official church register, then the date could have been his day of birth, or a day later, or some time later. Anglican clergy said the offices daily and it would have been possible for the baby to be baptized with its godparents in a village church, even in the absence of a congregation, which was not necessary for the sacrament to be consummated. Protestants in the seventeenth century had moved away from the Catholic practice of immediate baptism, so that informal midwife baptism, which had been common before the Reformation, was gradually disappearing. The Protestant Reformers in general had simplified the post-death cosmology such that the belief that an unbaptized infant would not go to heaven was gradually abating in all of England. As that sentiment faded among Protestants, it became less important to all parents to rush their children to the baptismal font. Puritans in particular believed in predestination, and as that belief took on power (not least because it made people less worried about their post-death situations), infant baptism became unimportant. However, an Anglican baptism points to a date of birth that is relatively close to the date of baptism. It seems likely, though, that Proctor’s parents were serious Puritans (given the date of their departure from England), so that if this baptism was performed by an Anglican clergyman, then only to fulfill the letter of the law.

    If, on the other hand, Proctor was baptized as an infant in a Puritan setting, then it’s hard to say much about the date in relationship to his date of birth. A baptism could have been held at meeting, but I can’t tell you anything about the frequency of meeting in 17th c. Suffolk, and such meetings were sometimes held semi-secretly (although because Suffolk had good connections to the national Church, this may not have been as prevalent for Suffolk Puritans as it was for others — one reason that historians theorize motivated the Puritan migration to Massachusetts Colony was the breakdown of Church/dissenter relations at the end of the Tudor period.) As Puritans practiced believer’s baptism, they didn’t even always have their infants baptized (the exception in New England was infants where both parents were members of the church, who got a baptism that didn’t, however, make them fully covenanted members of the church). However, Puritan baptisms did have to occur in the presence of a congregation, which would militate for the baptism occurring on a Sunday or else on a “lecture day” or weekly meeting / service for prayers / psalms, etc.

    I had meant to look up, for the other person who asked me, the date at which the law about mandatory church attendance fell away in England, I forgot. I’ll put it on my conscious list, though.

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  7. I’m think I may be working with the same person you speak of.

    I should have a copy of a primary source document (Parish registers for Assington, 1598-1683; Church of England. Parish Church of Assington (Suffolk)) within a couple of weeks. Librarians from Harvard and UMASS have helped me track this down (this is the part of librarianship I love the most). The LDS church has copies of it on microfilm and will send it down from Salt Lake to the local Family Research Center, but they are closed for renovation until mid-July.

    Its interesting that this is a Church of England document. Based on what you shared, it narrows it down to within three or so days.

    If nothing else, I will have an interesting example of “why you should never trust Wikipedia” to share with my incoming Freshmen during library orientation in the fall.

    What was really scary was that I was chatting online with a librarian in Salem and she said ” let me look on Wikipedia”. I sure hope she was a volunteer and not a trained librarian.


  8. Yeah, that substantially increases the likelihood that the DOB is close to the baptismal date.

    What does wikipedia say?


  9. March 30, 1632. Other sites have the 10/9/1631 date. Some sites say he was born on Massachucetts, some say England. That’s why I went looking for primary sources.


  10. You know about the calendar / dating shift, I assume. A lot of times early modern dates don’t indicate whether they are using new dating or not.


  11. I’m meh on wikipedia. I wouldn’t go there for most detailed and accurate historical information, but for some things it’s fantastic — popular culture stuff, for instance. As with any encyclopedia, you need to confirm information you find there.


  12. That’s why I was a more than a bit surprised that the other librarian looked for historical information there. That was one of the first lessons in our master’s program. Don’t use Wikipedia as an academic source.


  13. You have to find an expert in the source that you’re using to learn what the relevant reference is. My primary research took place in Germany so I used a tool called Grotefend’s Taschenbuch der Zeitrechnung (mostly b/c the southern German imperial cities used varying dates to begin their years). In general, for dates that predate 1700, we can say that the Gregorian calendar was 10 days ahead of the Julian calendar. However, the Julian new year also began on a different date, usually March 25th. So you’d have to check what dating system your source was using to make sure you had the year correct as well.

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  14. well, maybe someone at the historical society wrote the page (j/k) 🙂 We actually have an upper level course at my current campus that is partially focused on writing wikipedia pages. So those pages are supervised by a professional historian.

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