Book Review –  The Crucible / Death of a Salesman / A View from the Bridge  

The Crucible
edited by Soyica Diggs Colbert

Death of a Salesman
edited by Claire Conceison

A View from the Bridge
edited by Julie Vatain-Corfdir

Badged as “student texts” these three new Methuen Drama editions of Arthur Miller plays include extensive fore-notes. Each is effectively a study guide and play text combined. They are, however, without all that banal stuff about how to answer exam questions so the focus is on learning rather than cramming which is pleasing. As someone who has taught all three of these plays in secondary schools and also written five Hodder study guides to different texts, I think they could be very useful – to both GCSE and A level English or Drama students. They would also, incidentally, help an actor preparing a role and needing to understand more about the play he or she is working on.  

We start in each case with a timeline of Arthur Miller’s life and work along with a short biography. Then each book goes its own way with extensive but not daunting information under headings such as Historical and Social Context, Genres and Themes (especially good at the links between 1950s McCarthyism and the 17th century Salem witch hunts in The Crucible) and Performance History, among other aspects. It’s clearly and accessibly written but meant for intelligent young people – there are no side boxes, illustrations or other page clutter.

I especially like the inclusion of a “Behind the Scenes” section which gives, for example, an interview with Ivo van Hove about his 2014 Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge or Ying Ruocheng, actor/translator, recalling working with Miller on Death of a Salesman in Beijing in 1983. This is exactly the breadth that theatre studies and drama students need.

I also like the end notes which gloss words and phrases after the play text in each volume. These plays were written two generations ago and most students will be grateful to be told, in Death of a Salesman, what/who JP Morgan is and to have obsolete slang expressions explained. I remember being asked over staffroom coffee by a much younger colleague, who was teaching Death of a Salesman what Simonize meant (it was a make of car wax) so I was pleased to see that there too. Similarly in relation to The Crucible there’s a note on Erasmus and on katches (informal social gatherings) although I’m doubtful about the assertion that because Abigail Williams says “I’m holes all over” we should assume that she’s self-harming.

Eight further plays will be joining the series in November including All My Sons and The American Clock.

Review by Susan Elkin