I first came across (discovered) Arthur Miller, an American playwright, at school when one of the books we were assigned to study for English Literature was The Crucible, a play set during the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts between 1692 – 1693. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953 in response to the hysteria surrounding the McCarthy era and the investigations conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.The choice of the Salem witch trials was perfect as a metaphor for that period.
I remember studying the play as if it were yesterday. I remember watching the play on television with my classmates and being utterly captivated and horrified in equal measure by how easily people could be influenced by others and believe blindly what they were being told. Alas, that aspect of human nature is nothing new and therein lies Arthur Miller’s enduring appeal. He wrote about the experience of being human in eternal situations that we can identify with even today.
And today as we celebrate what would have been his hundredth birthday (17 October), Arthur Miller’s plays are as popular as ever. Since June 2014, London has hosted three revivals of his most celebrated (famous) plays, “The Crucible”, “Death of a Salesman” and “A View from the Bridge” and in the last week, BBC Radio has been running an Arthur Miller season.
It’s listening to the radio plays this week that inspired me to write this post. Arthur Miller’s plays are not a light-hearted affair. Indeed, I would say that they are often quite depressing. However, they are powerful, intense and often compared to the Greek tragedies. One actor says that Miller “holds up a mirror and shows us, through the behaviour of other people, how we behave” (Source: BBC article)
To celebrate the centenary of his birth, I’d like to share with you 10 quotes that come from Miller either directly or through his characters.
1. “Just remember, kid, you can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away.” (A View from the Bridge)
2. “Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.”
3. “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be … when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” (Death of a Salesman)
4. “If I have to be alone I want to be by myself.”
5. “Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it.” (The Crucible)
6.“I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been.” (Death of a Salesman)
7. “If you believe that life is worth living then your belief will create the fact.”
8. “I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” (Death of a Salesman)
9. “The two most common elements in the world are hydrogen and stupidity.”
10. “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets”.
Arthur Miller’s plays are not the easiest to follow especially as an English Language learner, but his themes are timeless.
If you want to follow the radio plays, take a look at the BBC Radio Arthur Miller Season.
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Ciao for now