I haven't read this since I was a high school sophomore, so teaching it to MY sophomores is quite the experience. They are getting really into the story and power of the words they are reading out loud (every student is taking turns reading a part out loud, which is really adding to the dramatics of the play).
I made sure that we covered a lot of the historical context before diving in. It helps that the district I work in has aligned the history and english curriculum for sophomores together. The classes follow each other so that the students are building on the knowledge that they are taking from each class between the literature we study, and the era it was written in.
It also helps that I am teaching U.S. History, so I see some of my students twice a day. This has really helped us dive into this play.
The Crucible was written in 1953, in the midst of the McCarthy era, and those ideas are truly prevalent in the play. Suspicion, accusations, and lies plague the characters. The Salem Witch trials make the perfect foil for that era and the kids have been making huge connections between the two.
I am also getting far more out of it than I can remember from my first reading. I am surprised by the intensity of each line, and I am drawn to the other characters more than the main heroes (the character of John Proctor is my students' favorite. They "hate" the villains). Reverand Hale is one that I am insanely interested in. He comes to Salem (in the play), in the first act to diagnose what is wrong with the sick girls. He has a reputation and is there to look at the suggestions of witchcraft, but he begins to change in the second act. I am trying to remember back to the other time I read it, but I am pretty sure he undergoes a large change.
Another character I am enthralled by is Abigail, the ringleader;
"Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!"
So violent, and so vicious. But she is a woman scorned by the man she loves (John Proctor), so it makes watching her more interesting.
The one question the kids continually asked after finishing Act 2 is why the accused don't just admit witchcraft to save their lives. In one of my classes, this erupted into an intense debate about the lengths you would go to in saving your life. Most of the class said they would lie, but we'll see what happens when we finish the play, won't we?
I can't wait to see what they say about the end and that last powerful scene.